The toll of setting Kitty free

By Carla BenjaminApril 4, 2019

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(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Have you ever been walking on a nature trail and heard a cat bellowing for your attention? How did she end up there all alone?

Here is one possible answer: A family that relocated left her behind, or "set her free."

According to the American Pet Products Association, approximately 35 percent of all households in the United States have at least one cat, which is approximately 85.8 million cats.

Additionally, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cites there is no official government agency for calculating statistics on pet abandonment -- hence, no way of knowing how many cats in America are "set free."

According to one ASPCA re-homing survey, 1 percent of dogs and 2 percent of cats were set free from the 590 dogs and cats that were re-homed.

Why do owners set cats free? Many people forget that domestic/house cats have had their food and shelter provided for in a stable environment and have become dependent on their family.

Research shows that there are many adverse consequences of leaving a house cat outdoors when moving.

One is emotional toll. There is a myth that cats are solitary pets and are less social and emotional than dogs. This really depends on the individual cat's temperament.

Studies from the Journal of Veterinary Medicine show that cats can form a strong bond with one person. When they are set free, this bond is severed. Cats are often confused and distressed to the point of not eating and sometimes death.

Many of the cats eventually rescued from the streets may exhibit trust issues as a result of the abandonment.

Second is environmental challenges. Young cats lack the "wisdom" to avoid other animals as well as other basic survival skills. On the other hand, older cats may not adapt quickly enough to survive the wild.

Cats that are set free have insufficient skills; experience of territory to compete with feral cats, possibly resulting in death; and are vulnerable to attacks.

Another challenge comes from exposure to adversities such as extreme weather conditions, other predators (such as raccoons, opossums and foxes), cruel humans, malnutrition, and disease such as rabies.

Studies show that feral cats have a life expectancy of about five t o seven years as opposed to 12 to 18 years for well-cared for indoor domestic cats.

Possible solution: Before adopting a pet, do your research. Ensure that you are willing to adopt a pet for its entire life span -- not just while it is convenient and new to the family.

Animals are living creatures with emotions. Consider the possibility of multiple family moves and the potential expense for boarding while on vacations.

Additionally, ensure an adopted pet is spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted additional family members and health complications that can arise.

Although the ideal solution is to keep pets with their human families for the pet's lifespan, there may be unexpected hardships.

If there are economic concerns, many organizations can help locate subsidized veterinary services, food, training to correct behavioral problems, and licensing fees.

For a list of specific organizations, search the web for each state.

If you find that for some reason your pet cannot accompany you to your next home, other re-homing options may include leaving them with a responsible family or a friend, a veterinary clinic or a rescue shelter.