Cat overpopulation is a nationwide problem no one can seem to answer.
The abundance of stray cats in the lakes area is becoming a headache for homeowners, law enforcement officials and, probably most of all, the Heartland Animal Rescue Team.
In the last year, HART took in more than 1,200 cats and had to euthanize about 900 of them. Only 17 were claimed by their owners and taken home while the rest were adopted out.
HART executive director Holly Ailts calls it the "disposable cat problem," where people feed stray cats on their property until they have kittens or cold weather hits and then they take them to HART.
Heartland Animal Rescue Team is being overrun by cats. On an average day the shelter takes in 20 cats and only adopts out four. The shelter is now only accepting stray cats brought in by the public when they have room to house them. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Almost every cat coming in to HART doesn't have an owner," Ailts said.
She said intake numbers spike in the late summer and early fall and the shelter is still being overwhelmed by the number of cats being taken in.
"We don't know how to find 1,000 more homes each year" to offset the euthanization numbers, she said. "We can't manufacture homes for these cats."
On Monday night HART took in 15 more kittens. The shelter wasn't even open. Because they can only legally house 57 cats at one time and the shelter is already full, Ailts said 15 cats will have to die to make room for the 15 kittens.
"We took in 15, now we have to let 15 go. We see a cat come through the front door and our heart sinks," she said, aware of the reality incoming cats face. "It's good stewardship to only accept as many as we can provide for."
In an attempt to reduce the amount of cats being euthanized, HART was recently forced to change their policy of accepting every animal left with them.
They were taking in 20 cats a day and adopting out, at the most, four.
Now HART only accepts cats if they have room. Ailts said HART staff have been turning away people who took in cats or boxes full of kittens.
"We know this is going to cause a ton of frustration," she said. "We try to give the public a place to put a cat that wasn't their own but we're trying to lower euthanization numbers as well."
Because HART is being overrun with cats the shelter often has trouble keeping them healthy. Upper respiratory diseases are extremely contagious and spread through the shelter quickly when a sick cat arrives.
HART tries to keep the illnesses at bay by keeping only 12 healthy cats in the Cat Room where the animals are viewed for adoption.
All animals adopted from HART, unless they're too young, have been spayed or neutered. Ailts recommends people feeding unwanted stray cats get them altered to prevent the disposable cat problem from getting worse.
Ailts said cat overpopulation is a problem every shelter is having and everyone is doing what they can to save as many cats as possible. Area veterinarians and HART board members are working together to find how to best serve the Brainerd lakes area and its cats.
Ailts also suggests anyone who's been considering adopting a cat go to HART now to help alleviate the space crunch. Foster homes are also being sought. Anyone interested in fostering an animal should contact Donna at 829-9647.
"Cats deserve to live a domesticated life," Ailts said. "They don't do well in the wild."
HEIDI LAKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5879.
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