Spring and Summer are kitten season! Yes, really, kittens have a season, even parts of the USA that don’t have much change of seasons, like where I am in Southern California. Kitten season has an upside, and a dark side. If you’ve been waiting to adopt a baby kitten or – for even more fun – a pair, during kitten season there are bucketfuls to choose from. It’s still early in the season in many parts of the country, so the dark side hasn’t totally taken over, and shelters and rescues aren’t overflowing with baby felines just yet. But by June, the tide turns, and as statistics show in so many communities, more and more unweaned kittens are pouring in each year. There are just not enough homes for them all.

How many kittens?

Statistical information from some city shelters is accessible, if overwhelming. Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) offers transparency in publishing all their intake & outcome figures online, with stats from every month from 2007 through today. Unweaned kittens, which is kittens under 8 weeks of age, even get their very own report.

In the past year, the report shows 9,726 unweaned kittens were taken in by LAAS. Notice the jump from 421 in March to 1,177 in April. That’s kitten season starting to lift its sad little head. Sad because if you scroll back up, you’ll see that 7,254 of those tiny babies were euthanized: that’s only 25% that are saved. (Compared to 40% of cats 8-weeks and older, and 75% of all dogs including unweaned.)

So… protest at the shelters?

I don’t think getting mad at the shelters helps. Shelters are a band aid. Here in LA shelters make underage kittens available to any approved rescue partner immediately, and follow up militantly for proof that they were spayed & neutered before they were adopted out. The shelters save as many as they have room for in their back cages, mostly the ones that are 1 or 2 weeks away from being adoptable, so they can save as many as possible. Rescues step in and save as many as they have foster homes and donations to care for them too.

California state law says you can’t adopt out pets that aren’t spayed or neutered (a good thing since trying to track down and get pets fixed once they leave a shelter has a very high fail rate) but it does mean that a kitten has to be at least 2 pounds to be able to get fixed – and adopted. In the Los Angeles city shelters, those efforts resulted in hundreds of unweaned kittens being saved: last year 528 adopted, 271 rescued. But still, that’s only 25%.

To stop the influx, you have to know…

Where do all those kittens come from?

Popular theories include:

  1. Most people are totally unaware of the magnitude of the kitten epidemic, and so breed & buy kittens from stores aka kitten mills.
  2. Most people are unaware that kittens can get pregnant starting when they are about 5 months old.
  3. Many people are unaware of (or can’t get to) the low- and no-cost spay/neuter programs available and think they can’t get their cat fixed.
  4. Some people don’t believe in fixing their cat, and don’t care that means so many kittens are killed as a result.

What can be done?

One part of the solution: educate the unaware. If they care, it will help. Talking about kittens with your friends, family, a coworker, someone standing next to you in line?  I share my sadeness over how many kittens don’t find homes, and how so many people don’t know how young kittens get pregnant. If they are interested, I will share my local statistics — not some un-graspable vague nationwide “millions” number, but that 7,000 baby kittens (and 13,000 kittens & cats) are killed each year in Los Angeles simply because there aren’t enough homes, fosters and rescues for them all.

The other parts: more people who fix their cats at 4 months old, more people who do not buy from pet stores or breeders that add to the numbers of kittens in the world to make a profit, and more peopole who foster, rescue and adopt kittens from our shelters and rescues.

What do you think?