'Kitten season' comes to Haywood

Annual population boom a sad time for cat lovers
By Stina Sieg | Jun 08, 2012
Photo by: Stina Sieg It's "kitten season," that time of year when the county's animal shelter and animal rescue agencies take in more kitties than they can handle. This kitten, above, is one of the lucky ones, as it was taken in by Sarge's Animal Rescue Foundation, a no-kill organization.

Who doesn’t love kittens? It’s hard not to ask that question when visiting the Haywood County Animal Shelter this time of year.

It’s spring and “kitten season” is in full swing, which means the place is taking in unwanted litters almost daily. On a recent trip to the shelter, there was cage after cage of multicolored, adorable puffballs, many playing, mewing and flirting with visitors. The scene was both sweet and extremely sad. The dark truth is that the county puts down a large number of the kittens it takes in, especially in the spring.

Simply, there are too many kittens born during this annual population boom for all of them to find homes.

It’s a heartbreaking situation, especially for those who live it daily. Jean Hazzard, director of Haywood County Animal Services, knows first-hand how tough it is. She’s the one who makes the decision every Monday and Thursday which kittens (and cats and dogs and puppies) can stay and which must be put to sleep. Sickly animals and tiny babies without their mothers are often the first to go.

“It depends on the medical condition, their viability,” Hazzard said, explaining that animals can be put down after five days at the shelter. “If they’re healthy and they’re doing good, and we have room, they stay longer.”

Unfortunately, space is often tight — especially this time of year. Hazzard can’t help but feel a little powerless, as her department only really has time to enforce laws, not educate the public about how to stem this kitten flood. She knows that education — about spaying and neutering, specifically — is what’s needed, however. She’s happy to report that things have gotten better in recent years due to local programs like Haywood Spay/Neuter, which offers such services at low rates, but admits there’s still a long way for Haywood County to go.

It’s difficult situation for her to understand, as she sees many benefits to fixing one’s animals, in addition to it being the responsible thing to do.

“It helps with less roaming, it helps with the aggression level, everything,” she said.

She often tries to tell people that, but many aren’t ready to listen. Penny Wallace, the executive director at Haywood Spay/Neuter, has found the same thing to be true.

“It kind of gets repetitive,” she said, describing all the arguments she has used in the past. “We try to be as persuasive as we can.”

Much of her persuasion has to do with money, as her nonprofit offers deep discounts to people wanting to fix their animals. Normally, people can “alter” their pets for $30 each, while a $10 rate is offered to those on public assistance. Currently, however, the group is running a $10 special on all cats, thanks to a grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Wallace expects the grant, which is good for 200 cats, should last through the month of June. She hopes this extra incentive will be a motivator for those on the fence about getting their cats fixed.

While her group can trap and fix feral cats (a program that’s been working quite well to keep feral cat colonies from growing), she has to rely on pet owners to do the right thing. She can give all kinds of evidence and reasons why fixing pets is good but, realistically, she knows there will still be some holdouts at this point. Maybe there always will be.

“It does bother me,” she said. “But I can’t give up.”

Luckily for Haywood County’s kitties, there are a few people around here this dedicated. Linda Sexton, a passionate volunteer at Sarge’s Animal Rescue Foundation, makes frequent trips to the county’s animal shelter. Once there, she chooses certain animals and brings them under Sarge’s care. Since the organization is staunchly “no kill,” Sexton has to make sure to pick pets that look “adoptable.” Often these animals live at Sexton’s property for a short time and with foster families before they find new homes.

“The cutest ones we try to get pulled,” Sexton said. “And the ones that don’t look so cute or don’t look so healthy or there are too many of the same color — they get put down.”

In 2011, Animal Control took 1,622 cats, 401 of which were adopted, and 120 were transferred to organizations like Sarge’s. The remaining 1,100 were euthanized.

It’s an extremely harsh reality to deal with daily, and Sexton admit it’s always painful. Especially during this time of year, there are so many animals (and kittens in particular) than she can ever help. So, the former oncology nurse does her best to not get drawn into the sadness of the situation and look to the positive. She can see the percentage spayed and neutered pets going up and she can also take solace in the number of animals Sarge’s saves annually. For example, no less than 189 cats found new homes in 2011 thanks to the organization.

Sexton knows this but also sees how much more the local culture has to evolve when it comes to the spay/neuter question. Like many involved in animal rescue, it’s hard for her to have patience with people who refuse to fix their pets.

“There’s no excuse for it anymore,” she said, bluntly.

For more information on Haywood County Spay/Neuter, call 452-1329 or visit www.haywoodspayneuter.org.

For more information on Sarge’s — which hosts adoption days every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 256 Industrial Park Dr. — call 246-9050 or visit www.sargeandfriends.org. Star Ranch, another animal rescue organization, can be reached at www.star-ranch-rescue.com or 400-4940.

For more information about the Haywood County Animal Shelter, call 456-5338 or visit www.haywoodnc.net.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Linda Sexton | Jun 11, 2012 15:57

Thank you Stina for your caring to write about this situation.  We will all keep trying until there are no more pets put to death because no one wants them.

Posted by: Russell & Penny Wallace | Jun 12, 2012 18:35

Terrific attention getter.  It is not necessary to kill all of these animals.  There are communities all over the nation that have achieved low pet birthrate and no-kill (euthanasia of 10% or less) shelters.  Action is needed by the citizens of this community to let our elected representatives know we want to achieve this too.

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