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Golden Years: How Pets Add Life to Senior Living

“My face may be white, but my heart is pure gold.  There is no shame in growing old.”  

A pet’s love knows no boundaries, and there are few discomforts that their companionship cannot ease.  While this holds true for all stages of life from children to seniors, in times of happiness and health, to times of loneliness and recovery, those who experience the greatest benefits may be the ones who need it most.     Like pet therapy for children and people with disabilities, animals also have a special power for spiritual healing and physical well-being in senior citizens.

The popularity of pet-friendly senior housing has grown tremendously, and with good reason.  According to A Place for Mom, the nation’s largest senior housing referral service, of  all the inquiries they receive more than 40 percent ask if pets are permitted.

seniorcatHaving a  pet offers seniors much-needed companionship in a time where they are likely to feel lonely or forgotten.  The stress of moving and surrendering some or all of their independence can be eased by the presence of an animal.  By nurturing a beloved pet, they are given mental stimulation, a sense of purpose, motivation to keep active, and may even be more likely to take better care of themselves.   The benefits are endless.

To take advantage of the power of pets, senior housing complexes have multiple ways of incorporating furry friends into the routine. Some allow their residents to have in-house pets (weight/species restrictions vary), while others have ‘community pets’ that have free roam of the place or hang in communal areas.  Even more communities employ visiting therapy animals to brighten up everyone’s day. Scientific studies have proven that just 15 minutes spent connecting with an animal can lower heart rate, decrease blood pressure and release serotonin.   Over time, these benefits can reduce depression and even prevent serious health complications such as heart disease and strokes.

So whether your loved one has a full-time furry companion, or just the ability to spend time with one on a regular basis, the benefits are outstanding.  Cooperation with the animal rescue community allows seniors and living centers various opportunities to take advantage  of this incredible bond.  Seniors for Seniors-type programs match senior citizens with a senior pet, and some even waive adoption fees.   For those who aren’t able to care for an animal full time, pets can be ‘shared’ among multiple residents.  Alternatively, seniors can foster through a local rescue organization and keep pets on a short-term basis, allowing them to save multiple lives through their own.  Some assisted living centers even have Pet Care Coordinators that share in the responsibilities and management of in-house pets.

If you are considering pets for yourself or a loved one who is in senior or assisted living, contact the organizations director or reach out to a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom.  For a list of pet-friendly senior and assisted living communities by state, go here.  Of course, the care of the animals is of the utmost importance for everyone involved, so speak with the appropriate representatives, depending on your situation.  If you someone you know is currently a pet guardian, consider including the animals in an estate plan or trust to ensure their long-term comfort and well-being is secured.

“Senior pets: their affection is timeless, their devotion is endless, and their love is forever.”

 

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Awesome Kitten Facts (You Probably Don’t Know)

Leonardo da Vinci said, ‘The smallest feline is a masterpiece” and who could disagree?   Facades of the toughest men become softer simply by putting them in the presence of a litter of kittens. From the moment kittens are born, their lives become a circus of adorable antics as they grow, learn and explore the world around them.   We can’t seem to get enough of these precious little ones!

Kittens are Helpless at Birth

Newborn babies need special care and a mother's love to grow.

Newborn babies need special care and a mother’s love to grow. (Credit to Flickr user Kami Jo)

 

Mother cats give birth after a gestation period of about 65 days.  Some mammals, such as foals, can run within mere hours of birth, but kittens are entirely dependent on their mother for weeks and undergo incredible sensory and phsyical growth during this time.  Kittens are born both deaf and blind, and won’t open their eyes until 1-2  weeks of age and even then their vision will be blurry.  It will take another two months before they fully develop the incredible eyesight adult cats are known for.

 

Also, newborn kittens are unable to regulate their body heat so snuggling for warmth is crucial in the first few weeks.  The time that mothers and babies spend cuddling and nursing is an important form of bonding and beyond adorable!  Orphaned kittens require additional external heat, such as a heating pad.

Tabbies, Calicos and Tuxedos, Oh My!  

There are hundreds of feline color combinations, but did you know that kittens within the same litter can all be different?  Cat genetics is a crazy thing.  Mixed-coat litters- such as a calico, tabby, and tuxedo- are not all that uncommon, and to make matters more confusing, one litter can potentially have two different fathers!  Because of the role of genetics, only 1 in every 3,000 calico cats are male and those rare few carry an extra sex chromosome, XXY, and are infertile.  Orange tabby cats, on the other hand, are more likely to be male.

Unique as a snowflake! All cat noseprints are one of a kind. (Credit to Flikr user Minxlj)

Blue Eyes and A Button Nose

If kittens can be born with so many different coat patterns, why are they all born with the same blue eyes?  Because, similar to humans, the pigment melanin takes a while to be deposited into the iris.  Cat noses, however, are entirely unique from the moment they are born.  In fact, no two cats’ nosesprints are alike-  just like fingerprints.  This kind of makes eskimo kissing your cat even more precious, doesn’t it?

What to Expect: Your Kitten’s First Year 
While many people think of kittens as being itty bitty, ‘kitten‘ refers to juvenile cats who are under a year old.  Cats don’t reach adulthood until about a year, so the first year is a crucial time for learning cat ettiquete and honing their skills: social behaviors, cleaning and bathing, physical feats like jumping and hunting.   The first few months of a kitten’s life is highly social and the peak time for interaction with other kittens, which is why adopting young kittens in pairs is beneficial to their social and behavioral well-being.

‘Teenage’ kittens like Beck here are still learning through play! Kittens don’t reach adulthood until at least a year of age. (Photo Credit: Pet Adoption Network)

In the the latter part of a kitten’s first year, they tend to focus on personal growth and solitary behavioral skills, though being around other cats remains a highly positive influence for many.  Playfulness and curiosity doesn’t disappear once cats are ‘adults’-  it lingers for years in many adult cats, often throughout their whole lives.
Kittens, Kittens, Everywhere!  
While cats are not ‘adults’ until after a year old, they become sexually mature at a much younger age.  Typically, felines reach sexual maturity at about six months of age but it can happen even younger, at just four months!   Once they reach puberty, both male and female cats being to exhibit a slew of unfavorable behaviors and are able to reproduce.  They will even mate with their own siblings if given the chance, so getting your cats fixed as young as possible is ideal and safer for them in the long run.
Remember, all homeless pets are born because their parent was not spayed or neutered, and even newborn kittens are not exempt from being euthanized at shelters.  Some people feel that allowing their cat to have ‘just one litter‘ before being spayed is okay, so they can get to ‘experience’ the process.  However, even if you find good homes for every kitten your cat gives birth to, that means another one in a shelter won’t.  If you’re dying to see newborn kittens first hand, contact a local rescue and ask about fostering a pregnant or nursing mom.  You’ll get everything you’re longing for, without increasing the number of pets that don’t make it out of shelters alive.
Too Cute to Handle 
Come on, you know you want to foster a litter of kittens, right?  But do you know if you’re ready? Watch this video, and if you can handle the cute, you’re ready.   Behold, the power of kittens at play!

How to Introduce Cats

For families looking to add a new kitty to their ‘pride’ of felines it is important to know how to properly introduce them.  Improper introductions lead to increased stress and tension (for both the cats and humans), dramatic stand offs and hissing fits, and an overall destruction of household peace.

Fortunately, cats are resilient when it comes to learning to coexist with one another. Some cats love other cats, while others prefer to spend their time alone.  But more often than not they can live happily ever after in the same household, even if they are not best friends.  It is extremely rare that cats are so incompatible that they cannot live together- so you have plenty of reasons to be optimistic!   Just keep in mind, cats don’t like change, so you’ll need to be patient and give them an adequate adjustment period.

Bring Home the Newbie

The best course of action is to start the new addition in a separate room or closed-off area of the house.  This could be a spare bedroom, office, bathroom, laundry room, etc. For the first few weeks, the new cat will need their own litter box and food dishes (depending on the number of cats, you might want to keep the extra sets anyway).  Keeping the cats initially separated allows them to smell and hear one another, without the stress of a face-to-face confrontation.  Don’t worry- they will have no trouble sensing one another’s presence.

Be prepared for hissing, it is an expected reaction.   After a few days (though sometimes longer) the hissing through the door will begin to subside.  Your cats may become curious and paw underneath the door.  It’s a good idea to swap their bedding or toys so they can really get used to each other’s scents before officially ‘meeting.’  If they are still doing a lot of hissing and growling, feed the cats their favorite wet food on either side of the door.  They will start to associate being near one another with being fed- a positive first impression!

Face-to-Face

Once you’ve noticed that through-the-door interactions are becoming more relaxed, you can allow them to have supervised visits. These are most successful if done when both cats are likely to be calm, such as after a meal or post-play session.

Though you probably won’t need to use it, keep a spray bottle handy in case of a serious fight (no need to spray for hisses, growling, or swatting).  Open the door and allow them to sniff.  Have a bag of treats ready to toss to both cats (remember, tasty rewards = positive first impressions!) If things are going well, allow them to keep exploring; if not, put the new cat back into the bedroom and try again later (keep up the feeding by the door technique).

Remember that hissing, standoffs, and paw swats are common- and they will get past this stage, but you need to be patient.  Some cats adjust in a matter of days, for others it will take weeks.  Don’t punish them for reacting; they need to adjust at their own pace, and punishments will only reinforce their fear that the new cat = negativity.

Over the course of the next few weeks, you should notice some progress.  It may be slow progress, at a baby-steps kind of pace, and there’s a good chance you’ll take a step or two backwards, but again, this is normal.   Allow your cats to eat from separate dishes and have their own sleeping area until they are comfortable sharing.  Continue feeding, offering treats, and playing with the cats when they are together.

More notes about adopting a new cat:  There are certain feline characteristics that determine who they are most compatible with.   Adoption volunteers can help you find that new addition that is most likely to be a good fit.  It usually depends on the personalities of your current pets and the household dynamic.  For example, do you have an older cat with a low energy level, or a younger cat who needs someone to roughhouse with?  Is your current cat dominant around other cats? Or perhaps they’ve never been around cats before?  These kinds of questions will help us to suggest candidates from among our cats that would be compatible with both the people and pets in your family.

Myth, Mysticism and Misconceptions About Black Cats

macbeth

MacBeth, an all black boy who was adopted in the summer of 2014, and has brought only good luck to his family!

Black cats are probably the most iconic feline.  Their mysticism permeates the beliefs and folklore of many cultures across the globe, and can be found in music, literature, even comic books.  Due to their association with witchcraft and the spiritual world, much of the folklore about black cats is ominous.  Although these beliefs have roots that are thousands of years old, some have lingered and continue to haunt- not us- but the black cats of today.

In America those that are superstitious tend to associate black cats with witches and bad omens.  In Greek mythology, there is a story about Galinthias who, in one story, is turned into a black cat before being sent to the underworld with Hecate, the Goddess of death and witchcraft, thus making black cats an omen of death.  A common superstition in India is that if a black cat crosses your path, you will have bad luck (many people think this superstition stems from the Americas, but it does not!).

It only gets worse in the Middle Ages when cats were closely associated with heretics (heretical groups prayed with, and sometimes to cats), and so leaders of the Catholic Church at the time spoke out against them.  In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII went as far as to declare that “the cat was the devil’s favorite animal and idol of all witches.”  For many, this solidified the feline/devil connection without question.

During the Black Plague, people eagerly accepted this scapegoat and cats were rounded up and killed. Of course, we now know that the Black Plague was spread by fleas that thrived on rats, so killing the cats led to a sort of Bubonic boom as the rat population prospered.  The few people that did keep cats (sometimes doing so against the law), often did not fall victim to the Plague. It is possible that people were skeptical of their powers of immunity, thus strengthening the distrust of cats and their familiars.  We don’t know the exact number of cats that were murdered during this time, but the bones of 79 cats (whose remains were dated 13th century) were found in a well in England, suggesting mass killings.

Fast forward to the witch hunts in Europe and Salem, Massachusetts where many presumed witches simply took in or cared for stray cats, but the association with the devil was still lingering in the minds of many.  During this time, the belief that witches could transform into black cats to escape death also took hold.

YOUR LUCK HAS CHANGED

These are certainly the most negative anecdotes of black-cats superstitions throughout history, but they are not the only ones.  In fact, they might be outweighed by the positives ones: tales that see black cats as good luck are present in many, many cultures.   For example, in the United Kingdom, seeing a black cat means your luck will change for the better.  In Japan, this is especially true for single women, since black cats are thought to attract suitors. In Scotland,a black-cat visiting your porch is a sign that prosperity is in your future.  In Italy, a sneezing black cat is considered good luck.

THE MODERN BLACK CAT

For the most part, people have accepted these myths for what they are- nothing more than ancient superstitions.  Still, one  in ten people still believe black cats are unlucky.  If you ask me, its people that are bad luck for black cats, not the other way around.  Many adoption groups and shelter volunteers, including here at Pet Adoption Network, truly believe that black cats are more likely to have a long wait before being adopted.  National studies have proven that black and dark cats are more likely to be euthanized.

Chances are its not due to the ten percent of people who are superstitious about them, but rather to other factors like the fact that black cats are harder to get good photos of, they may be considered ‘boring’ or ‘plain’ by potential adopters, and simply get overlooked when the cat in the cage to their left is an orange tabby or Siamese mix.

BlackCats

Anyone who has ever been owned by a ‘mini-panther’ knows how wonderful they are, and that the stigma surrounding them is simply nonsense.  However, the fact remains: black cats need YOU to help dispel the myths, and find them the homes they deserve.  Share this info-graphic and check out our adoptables’ stories.

 

**At PAN we believe October should be a month for celebrating black cats, not for fear mongering… so unlike some organizations, we do not hold black cats back from adoption during the month of October.  Withholding black cats implies that any old witch can fly in on her broomstick and take home a cat from us.  On the contrary, we hold our adoption applicants to the same high standards any month of the year, for any cat.**

 

Rescue Pets Are Priceless, Not Free

You can’t put a price tag on saving an animal’s life, or on the relationship you have with them.   However, adopting one still requires you to dig out your checkbook.   Some people are surprised at the cost of a group’s adoption fee (or that there is a donation fee at all).  They expect it to be minimal because, after all, the pets aren’t ‘for sale’ anyway.    Unfortunately, rescue groups are non-profit, always on limited funds, and without donation fees from adopting families, we would go under in no time.

What Donation Fees Cover

Some potential adopters have the mindset that adopting an animal is basically doing us, the rescue group, a ‘favor’ and therefore we should be grateful, and not ask for fees.  Remember that in rescue no one is out to make a profit.  In most cases, we barely break even.   Adoption fees cover (barely) our basic costs, such as:  spay/neuter, vaccinations (first vaccines for kittens/puppies require multiple boosters), deworming and flea treatment, testing for diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in cats or heart-worm in dogs) as well as food and litter.   If you were to get these services done at a veterinary clinic, you’d be spending significantly more.  When adopting from a rescue group, you’re really getting a packaged deal and saving money in the long run.

Why No Pet Should be Free

Having adoption fees is important, aside from the fact that they cover a rescue’s expenses.  Most people won’t dole out that kind of cash unless they’ve been planning to adopt and have considered the weight of the commitment.  This deters ‘impulse’ adopters, and reminds people that being a pet guardian is a serious dedication- monetarily, emotionally, physically, and timely- and should not be done spur of the moment.  If someone has trouble affording the adoption fee, it might not be a good time for them to adopt.  Of course, you don’t need mountains of money to be a great, loving pet parent, but you do need to be realistic about the costs and be able to meet those requirements to keep the pet in good health for the rest of his or her life.

It is also worth mentioning, however unpleasant it is, that donation fees help prevent animal abusers from obtaining animals from rescue groups.  Usually (but not always) people who intend to abuse an animal will search for free ones- especially on Craiglist and from ‘free to good home’ ads in neighborhoods and bulletin boards.

Why Fees Can Vary by Rescue

If you’ve been browsing various shelters and rescues in your search for the perfect new addition, you might have noticed differences in the costs and what is covered.  This doesn’t mean that one group is better than another, just that each organization is in a different financial situation, and works on different scales.  Therefore, they adjust the fees to their needs.  For example, a large, county-wide shelter with in-staff veterinarians is typically able to have lower fees because they do higher volume adoptions, get donations that exceed their costs, and aren’t paying someone else for veterinary services.  They might have sponsors, and likely have a larger staff that includes a grant writer to get state and national grants.  Smaller, foster based organizations like Pet Adoption Network, have fewer volunteers, no paid staff, no physical facility.  Therefore, our fees may not always compete with other shelters.  However, you’re getting a great deal, in terms of savings, in either scenario along with a ‘priceless’ happy ending.

Two Cats are Better Than One!

Thana & Tarot sittin' in a tree!  These two are not related, but bonded in their foster home.  They were adopted together and couldn't be happier (or more spoiled!)  Photo Credit: T. Shparaga

Thana & Tarot sittin’ in a tree! These two are not related, but bonded in their foster home. They were adopted together and couldn’t be happier.

Just about everyone who adopts a cat says,  ‘Oh, I wish I could just take them all home!’ If only!   Very few people are in a position to care for a cluster of cats, but opting for a single kitten is not usually the best idea either.   If you are looking to adopt a kitten under 6 months old and you don’t already have another cat, you really should at least consider adopting a duo.

Social Growth Kitten-hood is a crucial time for development, just like infancy is for human babies.  Kittens learn from their mother, their siblings, their environment, and any other cats in the household.  They learn how to hunt, play, socialize, and communicate.  They figure out who is in charge, what is appropriate behavior, and how to perfect their motor skills and physical abilities.  In many situations, a mother is not always present, making time with their litter mates even more important. (Remember, cats are kittens, physically and mentally, throughout the first year or two of their life.)

Importance of Play Playtime is not just fun and games: there are lessons to be learned in every pounce, every stalk, every bite.  One of the most important lessons is that of the inhibited bite.   Wrestling and roughhousing with other cats helps kittens to learn an appropriate level of playtime aggression.   If a kitten bites too hard, the other cat is not going to tolerate it.  Over time, this will teach them how to gently ‘bite’ without any pressure, and also encourage them to play without their nails extended.

Single Kitten Syndrome When a kitten spends the first six months or so of his life alone, he won’t learn what is acceptable, and will often exhibit undesirable behaviors towards people and other cats.  ‘Single kitten syndrome,’  though not a medically diagnosable condition, is the term for such behavior. Of course, not all single kittens will turn out this way, just as not all only-children are spoiled and bratty, but it is commonly seen and best to be avoided. It seems a little counter-intuitive, but a kitten raised alone does not learn independence.  Rather, they are more likely to become overly dependent on a human, distraught during separations, and less able to deal with minor stressors.   Other behaviors associated with single-kittens include chasing and biting ankles, excessive neediness, boredom, and loneliness. Those last few are often coupled with destructive behaviors because, like kids, a kitten left alone for a few hours must find a way to keep himself occupied.  Here at Pet Adoption Network, we’ve heard it over and over again.

Still, someone might say, the kitten doesn’t need a playmate because I’m going to be her best friend; shower her with love and toys and lots of treats.  Isn’t that good enough?  Not really, because a human, no matter how much they offer, can never be a substitute for a feline companion or replicate behaviors crucial to teaching a kitten how to be a well-adjusted cat.

Cats are like potato chips ‘You can’t have just one!’  Have you heard that saying before?  Apparently, it holds true!  In 2012, of all the homes with cats in the United States, 55% of them were multi-cat households.    So, there’s a really good chance you’ll end up with another anyway, but its easier to do it all at once.  The longer a cat stays solo, the harder it is to introduce a second (it’s nearly always possible to do so,  it just takes much longer.)  Having a cat that is good with other cats is important in the unfortunate case that they ever need to be re-homed; it greatly increases their adoptability and makes their experience in a shelter environment less stressful.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to adopt a pair is the sheer cuteness.  A kitten playing alone is pretty darn adorable, but two kittens playing and cuddling together?  Infinitely more adorable; its almost too much to handle.  Almost.

What about the expenses?  Aside from the initial costs of adoption fees (many groups, including Pet Adoption Network, offer discounts for adopting pairs), a second cat is not much more expensive or more work than one, and they can share many of the same supplies like toys, litter boxes, and food dishes.   Kittens separated from other members of their species at a very young age can develop a pathological fear of other animals. No one knows what the future holds for you and your cat. A well-rounded cat that is acclimated to other animals can only have an easier time in life- even going to the vet will be less stressful. 

If you really can’t handle or have more than one cat, that’s OK.   There is still someone perfect for you!  There are always cats that would prefer to be your one-and-only, and while they aren’t babies, they can be as young as 6 months and full of kitten spirit.  Any rescue group will help you find a cat that is a good match for your family and lifestyle, so please take their advice.  That way, you know the cat will be as happy as possible, and you will be, too.

And now, I’ll leave you with some more cuddling cuteness of Thana & Tarot.

 

Do You Play With Your Cat Daily? Here’s Why You Should

There are few things more entertaining than watching a cat thoroughly engaged in play, and it is also one of the most vital aspects of a cat’s well-being.  Unfortunately, many cat owners underestimate it’s importance.  Daily interactive play sessions can improve your cat’s overall health and decrease the occurrence of negative behaviors.  Additionally, it can become a bonding ritual for you and your cat.

OCplaying

Both wild and domestic cats sleep most of the day, but wild cats spend nearly all of their waking hours in active pursuit of food.  Since house cats get their meals served to them on a silver platter, it is important to recreate that hunting time to keep them physically fit and mentally stimulated.  Without proper outlets to expend energy, cats become bored, overweight, or depressed.  Often, without interactive and energizing play, cats will find other ways to disperse their pent up energy and stress, typically through negative behaviors like excessive howling, compulsive grooming, increased need for attention (not always a bad thing!), or general household destruction.

First, let’s clarify what ‘interactive’ playtime means.  It does not mean tossing your cat a few fuzzy mice and calling it a day, it requires a teeny bit of work on your part to get your cat moving.  You need a toy your cat will love, usually a pole, string, or dangle type (my favorites include Cat Dancer and Da Bird) to get him or her pouncing, bounding, leaping, and ambushing.

Remember that playtime is as much a mental exercise as a physical one, so it keeps your cat’s mind sharp and body active.   Allowing cats to express their hunting instincts (and to ‘catch their prey’) builds their confidence, so this is a wonderful tool to encourage timid cats to come out of their shell or become more confident around others in a multi-cat household.

How to Play: Playtime should occur on a regular basis, ideally twice a day for 15-20 minutes each time.  When using pole, string, or similar toys, don’t just dangle it in front of their face.  Try to imitate how your cat plays or how she might hunt.  If your cat starts to pant, you’re doing it right! Let her catch and grasp the ‘prey’ sometimes so she feels successful.  Be sure to have a short ‘cool down’ session towards the end, just like you would during a gym workout.  Rotating the toys periodically will make old ones new again, and  keep things fresh and exciting.

Feline behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s ‘My Cat From Hell, ‘Jackson Galaxy, goes over more about play in this video.

If you don’t think you can commit to regular playtime, you should consider buying a puzzle feeder.  Puzzle feeders require the cat to work a little in order to reach the food, which like playtime, stimulates a cat’s hunting instincts an keeps them active.  As a bonus, puzzle feeders force a cat to eat slower, which is good for overweight cats and those that eat too quickly and vomit afterwards.  The Stimulo Interactive Cat Feeder is a great one, and if you buy it from this link, proceeds will benefit Pet Adoption Network. Other interactive games, like the CatAmazing puzzle-box, are wonderful for keeping your cat or cats kindled while you are at work.

Other Tips:  Don’t do play-time on or around your bed- if you do, kitty will associate physical activity with that area and might keep you up at night.  Also, don’t use your hands or fingers during play, especially with kittens.  This reinforces the idea that fingers are toys- something to go after and teeth on- and will encourage negative biting behaviors.  You might consider following playtime with feeding time to hone in on your cats ‘hunt-kill-eat’ instincts, which is typically followed by grooming and sleeping.  This tip is especially helpful if your cat is keeping you up at night.

Remember, an active cat is healthier and a mentally-stimulated cat is happier; therefore, they will not need to redirect energy into destructive behaviors.  Playtime will benefit not only your cat, but your home and your bond with them.

 

How Pediatric Spay/Neuter Helps End Pet Homelessness

Most people are aware that many, many animals are euthanized each year because there aren’t enough people adopting them, and allowing your pet to have even one litter of kittens or puppies takes away the chances of those in shelters.  Spaying and neutering is an essential step in preventing further animal homelessness, and every pet should be fixed as early as possible.

kittenspay

Cats typically become sexually mature around six months of age, but this can happen as young as four months.  Spay/neuter surgeries are traditionally done around six months of age, but can safely be done much earlier with many benefits.   Although not all veterinarians are trained or comfortable in performing pediatric spay/neutering (also called prepubescent or juvenile spay/neuter),  the procedure is supported by the ASPCA, American Humane, Petsmart Charities, and the American Veterinary Medical Association.  Every year, more and more clinics are offering the procedure.

Pediatric spay, which refers to any procedure performed before 6 months of age and as young as 2 months or 2 pounds, reduces the risk of accidental pregnancies (one healthy, adoptable pet is killed in a shelter every 11 seconds, so why take a chance?)  Additionally,  both the surgery and recovery time is shorter in younger animals, and for females, performing the surgery prior to the first heat cycle “nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer and totally prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer,” according to America Humane.

Those apprehensive about the procedure cite various concerns, including obesity, stunted growth, and urinary tract issues.  However, studies over the past two decades have disproven any increased occurrence of these in animals who were spayed under 6 months of age.

Claims of short term problems have also proved to be rather inconsequential.  People for Animals (PFA), a high volume spay clinic in Hillside, New Jersey published a study in 2012 of 963 cats and dogs who underwent pediatric spay/neuter.  Of these, 97.5% had no behavioral or physical concerns within 10 days of the surgery.  Minor complications, such as temporary change of appetite, mild infection at incision site, and coughing/sneezing, were noted in 2.5% of the patients.  Major complications were reported in only 0.8% of patients, and not all of these complications were due to surgery.  PFA’s conclusion from the study was “Early age spay/neuter at People for Animals clinics is safe and is not associated with significant postoperative complaints.”

Of course, as with any surgeries, post-operative monitoring is required, and only healthy animals should undergo the procedure.  Whether used in rescue, Trap-Neuter-Return situations, or for pets already in homes, pediatric spay/neuter is both the smarter method of sterilization, and a critical tool that helps us to end pet overpopulation and be more responsible in our care of cats and dogs.

Gimme Shelter: Winter Feral Cat Care

It is hard to imagine that any animal can survive such harsh wind, snow and frigid temperatures.  Most wild creatures, like squirrels and birds, have great adaptations to help them through (nonetheless, they do appreciate extra seed or corn being left out for them!), but our feline friends need more help to ensure survival.  This post will go over ways to give that help to any feral cats that you might be caring for this winter.

GIMME SHELTER 

Some feral and stray cats, such as those that live in the crawlspaces of apartment complexes, have plenty of warm, dry places to sleep,  but most aren’t that lucky.  When the temperature drops, or there are storms or strong winds, outdoor cats need somewhere to cuddle and conserve body heat in order to make it through the winter.  Whether you choose to go pre-made or DIY, there are a few things to keep in mind: whenever possible, two entrances are always better than one. Cats feel more comfortable when they have an extra escape route, and if they feel more comfortable, they are more likely to utilize the shelter. This is not always possible to do, but ideal.


The entrances should not just be basic holes because this will allow rain, snow, and wind to enter too easily.  Be sure the openings have some kind of flap, cover, tube, or awning to add an extra protective element.  Openings should be just large enough for a cat to pass through, about 5 inches, to deter wildlife from entering.


All shelter floors should be lined straw, which allows cats to burrow under and stay warmer. Do not use hay- it has no insulating properties!  Remember it like this: HAY is for HORSES, STRAW is for CATS.   Newspaper and blankets are not effective insulators either,  and can actually causes cats to lose body heat.  Heated blankets and pads are wonderful additions if you have an electrical outlet nearby. 

Easy DIY Options

Although DIY options aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as the pre-made designs,  they do the job just as well and cost significantly less.  Most can be made with items easily found at any hardware store.  Please note, cost estimates often include the cost of buying extra, so if you make a second or third shelter, you won’t pay as much for them.  For example, if insulation only comes in 20ft rolls, the cost estimate will include that, even though you’ll have extra left over to use for a second shelter.  Thus, your first shelter might cost $50, your second only $30, etc.

Rubbermaid Bin:

Buy two rubber-maid bins, one slightly smaller than the other.  Place the smaller one inside the bigger one, add insulation material (see below) in the dead space, add straw (you can also add reflective material such as Reflextic tape to the inside walls and bottom to reflect a cat’s body heat back onto his or her body).

Easy, affordable, sturdy.  Note the tubing at the entrance.  Visit Spay & Stay's website for instructions.

Easy, affordable, sturdy. Note the tubing at the entrance. Visit Spay & Stay’s website for instructions.

Coleman Coolers:

Coolers are wonderful because they can be bought cheaply at thrift shops or garage sales, and are already insulated, so there is less work for you.  Simply cut openings and fit them with flexible rubber tubing or flaps, add straw, and you’re good to go!  The lids allow for easy cleaning and maintenance.  Again, using reflective tape or Mylar blankets add extra warmth protection.

This cooler was purchased for just $5.00 at a Goodwill.  The metal tubing for the entrance was only another $5.00 from Home Depot.

This cooler was purchased for just $5.00 at a Goodwill. and the metal tubing for the entrance was only another $5.00 from Home Depot. Remember, having two entrances is ideal.


Styrofoam Cooler:  Styrofoam material is often used as shelter insulation, but in some cases, a Styrofoam cooler can be used on its own.  Because they are not weatherproof, they would need to be used only in or under another protective
element like a deck or shed, and only if they could be replaced when needed.   These are easy and very inexpensive.

Small, but cozy and easy.

Faux Rock shelters: These are expensive and can be difficult to cut an opening in, but are a great alternative to use when cat shelters, for one reason or another, need to be camouflaged.  Prefabricated faux rocks can be purchased at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and garden stores.

fauxrock

Perfect when shelters need to be hidden from neighbors!

Ashot’s Insulated Shelter Design:  Made from a 2ft x 8ft x 2 in sheet of hard Styrofoam, it is pretty affordable, but does require a few tools: table saw, utility knife, caulk gun, etc.  Directions for building available here, or if you are in the NYC area, they are available for purchase from someone who makes them (pricing not currently available).

This is a great design for people that are handy- instructions can be found here: http://www.nycferalcat.org/CatWinterShelterBuild.pdf Also available for purchase in NYC.

This is a great design for people that are handy- instructions can be found here:
http://www.nycferalcat.org/CatWinterShelterBuild.pdf

Insulation choices: spray insulation (kind of messy), Styrofoam, bubble wrap/solar pool cover type material, egg cartons with Reflectix tape (see the ’18 Gallon Tub’ instructable from the Maryland Feline Society), etc.  These options are used in the ‘dead’ space of a shelter’s walls, or to line the inside of the shelter.  Additionally, lots of straw should be added inside the shelter to allow a cat to burrow.

Pre-made Options  These ready-to-use options are perfect for people without building skills or the time to make them, but typically cost more than the DIY options.


Dog Igloo:

dogigloo

Sturdy and easy to find at pet stores (and at garage sales for much less), but they often do not have a flap or covering on the wide entrance which means they need to be placed under a deck, in a shed, etc. unless you fix on a weatherproof flap.

Feral Cat Cylinder:

Cylinder Shelter

These are pretty cute and cost $99.00 plus shipping at Amazon.

Feral Villa

FeralVilla

These come in two versions: unfinished for $48.95, which needs paint, roofing, etc. and a completed style for $72.95.

Thick-n-Thistle

thickandthistle

Comes in two sizes including a heated option. Price for small/non-heated starts at $159 with free shipping.

Remember, if you are caring for outdoor cats, shelter and food is not enough.  These cats MUST be spayed and neutered, or you are doing a great disservice to the local rescue community, not to mention, you’ll spend a lot more money feeding the babies than you would paying for the spay/neuter surgeries.  For general information on Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), visit Alley Cat Allies, the nation’s leading feral cat advocate.  For local TNR resources and clinics in the Monmouth County area, please visit Pet Adoption Network’s ‘Helping Stray’s’ section. 

Best Rescues of 2013 from Pet Adoption Network

As we prepare for another busy and rewarding year of rescue, it is inspiring to look back at the rescues of 2013.  
Here are some of the most memorable stories:

Clive and Callum 

Callum & Clive, full of love.

Callum & Clive, full of love.

These one-and-a-half year old brothers came to us from a horrific situation: a mentally ill person had kept them confined in small pet carriers from the time they were very young. He had found them as babies living outside, and thought he was doing the right thing by taking them in.  Unfortunately, these sweet tabbies spent over a year with barely enough room to turn around, let alone the room to play, chase things, or stretch.  Although their hind quarters were weakened from lack of exercise, their spirits were strong.  Callum, long haired and regal, was immediately excited to play with new things, like feather wands, but Clive, sweet and gentle but coy, was afraid of toys at first and took a bit of time to find his light-hearted side. Both are friendly loving despite their struggles, and have recovered physically and been adopted. Humane Law Enforcement officers, local animal control and Pet Adoption Network volunteers participated in this rescue.

Bright-eyed Burlew (and his sisters, Chalice and Ambrosia) are all still looking for their furever families!

Bright-eyed Burlew (and his sister, Chalice) are all still looking for their furever families!

Burlew  A 9-week old copper-eyed, orange and white tabby named Burlew, and his siblings, were eating from a dumpster in Ciffwood Beach.  They were all captured in humane traps and taken in to one of our foster homes.  After a week or so, it was clear that Burlew had come down with a terrible virus – he stopped eating and would vomit immediately if force fed.  He quickly wasted away to nothing but bones and was extremely dehydrated. A trip to the vet confirmed our suspicions: there was no cure, no panacea for his condition.  His only chance was intense and round-the-clock supportive care to keep his body strong enough to fight this off.  His dedicated (and experienced) foster family gave him subcutaneous fluids three times a day to  stave off dehydration and force fed him in tiny amounts every hour or so to keep him from starving, in addition to administering antibiotics by injection.  Despite all the needles and discomfort, Burlew remained high-spirited and affectionate- a real survivor.  After more than a week of refusing food, he finally took a few tentative licks of wet food.  Everyone was overjoyed; this was the start of his recovery. Strong and healthy for months now, Burlew is still waiting for his forever home and someone to share a pillow with at night. (UPDATE: Burlew was adopted in February!)

Sunfish

This is what a silly, sweet Sunfish looks like!

This is what a silly, sweet Sunfish looks like!

In one of the areas where we do trap-neuter-return (TNR), there was a single elusive kitten that we were unable to catch.  For weeks we tried to trap or net her, but we could never get close enough to her because she had a really good hiding spot: an abandoned sailboat stored upside down  that was too heavy to lift or move by hand, and set on the ground in a way that made it extremely difficult to reach the cavity where she was hiding.  It’s likely that she was born in this very spot.  Finally- when she was old enough to start enjoying wet food, and we were exhausted from failed attempts- we lured her out and into a trap.  Success! And so the kitten was named Sunfish to remind her- and us- of her unique, nautical beginnings.

 

Always has his eyes on the sky!

Always has his eyes on the sky!

Teak  One March night, a Keansburg resident noticed a beautiful tabby cat high up in a tree- who would not (and likely could not) come down on his own.  After being turned down by the local fire department, the woman hired a tree-cutting service to rescue him!  Some PAN volunteers lived in the neighborhood and had gotten involved, and this is how the high-flying cat was brought into foster care with P.A.N that night, and named ‘Teak.’  His new adoptive family, including two sweet children, decided to rename him Tarzan. So appropriate and so adorable for this branch-swinging feline!

Doc & Flashlight 

Getting life-saving fluid therapy, too weak to move.  Then, after a full recovery.

Getting life-saving fluid therapy, too weak to move. Then, after a full recovery.

These two 3-month old tuxedos were found in a cardboard box in Red Bank on the hottest and most humid day of 2013. They were suffering from heat exhaustion, starvation and dehydration. They were lying in their own waste and circled by flies. We rushed them to one of our foster homes and discovered that the female was too weak to even stand, and her body temperature had dropped dangerously low (a sign that she was losing her battle for life). We gradually warmed her and then hooked her up to a bag of fluids. After she was treated, the male got his turn with the lifesaving fluids. Once they were properly hydrated, we offered these weak little souls some puréed food and they ate desperately. It had obviously been a good while since their last meal. It was another 24 hours before the female could get her legs under her, but within a few days the pair had their strength back and were putting on weight and starting to play. In spite of the fact that they were obviously mistreated and abandoned by humans, Doc and Flashlight, now about 8 months old, couldn’t be more cheerful and lovable (not to mention cute). They are both lap cats, and get along great with other cats and dogs, too! They are still waiting for a forever home. They do not need to be placed as a pair, as they will make new friends where ever they go.

Blaine

This past fall, during one of our usual Saturday adoption days, a man stopped in and asked if we would help him find a loving home for the 8-10 week old orange tabby he had been fostering for about two weeks.  Of course we said yes, and then we heard this baby’s incredible rescue: the man and a friend had been driving on route 35 one evening and saw something hovering on the top of the cement median.  They safely pulled over and ran out- it was indeed a kitten, a fiery orange tabby with one of the most boisterous, dare-devilish personalities Brave Blainewe’d ever seen. We thought Blaine, after the stunt artist, would be a fitting name.  What an incredible story! We won’t ever know how or why Blaine got to the median, but we are grateful that everyone worked together to save him.  He found a home the very first day he was shown at Petsmart.

Balthazar  Balthazar (who goes by many names, including Mr. Big and now Charlie) is a big, black, long-haired cat who was found living in a feral colony.  His appearance- ragged, scarred, beat up- had MrBigCollageearned him a reputation in the neighborhood as a tough and mean street-cat, but after he was captured and was recovering from his neutering surgery and his wounds, we discovered he was far from a tough guy.  Instead, he was a sweet and gentle giant who was most likely dumped there and was not fit for living such a tough life.  After some time and lots of TLC, his true look- gorgeous and regal- finally surfaced.  Balthazar had a wise, wizardlike sense about him, like he had seen more things than we could ever know.  Now he is living the luxurious life, one of sunbeams and comforters and windowsills.  His new mommy sends us regular photo updates on Facebook (which makes us happier than you could ever know!).