Section: Features

Humane Society works to solve overpopulation of stray cats

Humane Society works to solve overpopulation of stray cats

A volunteer holds a gray tabby. Cats are socialized for at least 20 minutes a day. | ERYN POWELL

There is an increasingly high population of stray, abandoned and homeless cats in Knox County. Knox County Humane Society (KCHS) does its best to alleviate this problem by caring for and rehoming as many of them as possible. Because KCHS does not have jurisdiction over all stray and abused animals, it can only shelter those cats which are surrendered to them.

The cat shelter offers individual cat “condos” that provide each cat with two floors of living space as well as essentials such as litter, toys, food and water. In addition to private living space, the cats are often brought by volunteers into cat and kitten play areas where they can interact with people and each other.

Sometimes pet owners surrender their cats to the shelter because they can no longer care for them, other times they are surrendered by members of the community who find them as stray cats and cannot take care of them themselves but are willing to pay the shelter’s $15 surrender fee so that they might find a home.

When KCHS admits a new cat or kitten, the animal is quarantined for three days and given a health check. If the results of the health exam reveal that the cat or kitten has leukemia, AIDS or an upper respiratory infection, KCHS has no choice but to euthanize them. After passing the health check, each cat is vaccinated, dewormed and microchipped.

Antonia Loyer, KCHS’s volunteer coordinator and adoption counselor, noted that one reason for the overpopulation of homeless felines may be their reputation for being independent and aloof. Yet of the hundreds of cats that Loyer has seen coming through KCHS, she has interacted with very few that are not interested in forming close bonds and friendships with humans. “There are so many similarities between cats and dogs,” Loyer said. “But … so many people won’t give a cat a chance … There’s a bad stereotype for cats for people who aren’t familiar with cats, and it’s hard to overcome that.”

According to Randy White, president of the Knox County Humane Society, one reason pet owners either abandon or surrender their animals is the high costs of vet expenses. In April 2017, KCHS opened a low-cost vaccination and wellness clinic that treats both cats and dogs. The clinic offers a much more affordable solution to pet owners who cannot pay high vet prices. While the clinic is unable to offer everything that a veterinary office would, it does spay and neuter, perform wellness checks and provide some other necessary procedures, vaccinations and medication.

“And of course, the vets aren’t thrilled with us for [opening the low-cost clinic] because we’re cutting the price,” White said. But, as White also pointed out, KCHS is not in direct competition with veterinary offices because most pet owners who take advantage of the clinic’s services are not clients of these offices. They are pet owners who, without KCHS’s clinic, would leave their animals untreated. KCHS’s low-cost clinic is a way that the organization meets this need and thereby secures the safety and well-being of many animals in the community.

Loyer not only coordinates, oversees and trains KCHS’s volunteers. She also works with and gets to know the shelter’s cats, preparing them to be adopted by the right homes. Loyer creates a list for her volunteers of “certain cats that really need more attention because they’re a little hesitant with people or they just need to get out more.”

In addition to completing two or three chores around KCHS, volunteers are expected to help give the cats the socializing time that they need.  “We like volunteers to mingle with all the cats,” Loyer said, “so that the cats become familiar with all these new faces.”

Knox County Humane Society welcomes new volunteers and encourages anyone interested in volunteering to visit their website at www.knoxhumanesociety.org.

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