Spring brings overpopulation, disease risks for pets

By Shannon Jenkins

As nights get warmer and days longer, breeding season gets rolling, especially for stray cats.

This presents a variety of problems in Clayton and Henry counties, including overpopulation and disease within the animal community.

"The root of the problem is pet owners," said Robin Rawls, vice president of the Board of Directors for the Clayton County Humane Society. "Most of the stray population were pets at one time."

Those strays then produce feral felines, which are wild. Rawls said if people spay and neuter their pets and keep them confined within a yard or home, breeding season wouldn't be such a nuisance. "People in Clayton and Henry don't put their animals up," she said.

Because of the larger numbers of kittens being born in the spring, Rawls said euthanasia rates increase, more cats are hit by cars, starvation and disease are more predominate and, of course, the stray cat population sky rockets.

"We have a hard enough time placing an adult cat," Rawls said. "Now we're faced with placing litters of kittens – about five or six at a time."

A population explosion can add to the existing problem of feline AIDS, also known as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), and leukemia. For example, Rawls said a colony of about 50 strays could double or triple during breeding season, increasing the spread of these deadly diseases.

According to the Atlanta Humane Society, failing to spay or neuter pets can result in a variety of problems for pet owners as well, including aggression towards humans and other animals, marking territory by urinating inside the home, having the overwhelming need to escape and developing prostate and uterine cancer.

The gestation period for cats, Rawls said, is approximately two months, and they can start mating and reproducing at 5 months old. Typically, cats are pregnant in February and March and start having kittens in April and May, she said. This season seemed to get off to an early start. Rawls said she saw her first litter of the year around late February, which means the mother was impregnated around late December or early January. "That's very unusual," Rawls said. As far as puppy season goes, she said the popular time for dogs to give birth is late summer and early fall.

For Henry County Humane Society volunteer Tisha Phillips kitten season is well under way.

"In the past 24 hours, I have had about 10 calls from people who have litters of kittens," Phillips said.

And these aren't calls from irresponsible pet owners, she said, but people who have spotted strays in their neighborhoods.

"Nobody wants to claim the cats," she said. Most callers, she said, don't want to take responsibility for strays because the cats are not theirs.

"If you're not willing to take responsibility then you're perpetuating the problem," Phillips said.

There are a lot of options for having strays neutered and spayed, Rawls said, including low-cost and no-cost programs.

Typical costs to spay and neuter cats, Phillips said, ranges from $85 to $170 at veterinarian offices and up to about $65 at low-cost centers.

Anyone willing to have strays neutered and spayed should call the humane society in Clayton County at (770) 471-9436 or in Henry County at (770) 914-1272. For more information about animal shelters and programs in metro Atlanta, visit www.spotsociety.org.