On a rainy Wednesday, it was by sheer luck that the morning volunteer at Nine Lives saw the blue tote with holes punched in it. The container was beside a mailbox, which the shelter no longer uses, so no one would have checked for mail. Inside the tote was a gray striped cat, wet and cold, much like the towels and food inside with him. Had the rain been relentless, the situation could have ended up much worse.
Animal abandonment is a crime in Massachusetts, but according to Diane Saunders, a volunteer at Taunton Animal Care Facility, it happens more often than it should, and prosecution is rare since abandonment is usually done at night and people are not identified.
The staff at Nine Lives suspect that the owner of the striped cat, now named Harry until he finds his forever home, probably contacted area shelters such as Taunton Animal Care Facility to surrender him. However, the shelters could not except the cat because of overcrowding and the owner resorted to dropping him off in the tote.
The Taunton shelter fields about 15 to 20 calls or emails a week for surrenders of dogs and cats. Nine Lives Cat Shelter receives approximately 21 calls or emails a week. During kitten season the number goes up exponentially, and often times multiple cats come with each call. Nine Lives has about 83 cats in house and more in foster care while Taunton has 20 to 30 during spring and summer months. Though it is hard to turn away anyone who can no longer care for their pets, once in a while they must do so.
“We have not set a maximum because that is really hard to do,” said Jean Harnden, director at Nine Lives. “We are definitely over what we should have in the shelter right now.”
“The [Taunton] shelter is very rarely not at max and during those times that it is, it is short lived,” Saunders said.
Harry’s case is not all that uncommon. At the Taunton facility cats are continually abandoned loose at the shelter or left in carriers or boxes at the shelter door. A month ago, on a Sunday when the shelter is not open, a volunteer discovered a cage with four 4-week old kittens and the mother left in the sun.
“It is endless, and I am not sure what the solution is,” Saunders said. “Irresponsible pet ownership is a large problem. I often wonder if these families who abandon have children, for in the past notes left on carriers seem to be written in a child's script. What lesson is being taught to children? Not one of compassion, thoughtfulness or responsibility, I am sure.”
“It is very traumatic for the cats,” Harnden said. “They are left outside the shelter, or in the case of the last cat, in a tote by the mailbox. Some are left with food, some aren’t, and the poor things are scared to death. Some have medical issues that need to be taken care of.”
With the economy, cat surrenders have gone up over the past few years. When people lose their jobs, they have to either get rid of added costs, such as caring for pets, to make ends meet. Other times people must sell their homes and can’t take pets with them to their new home. Harnden and Saunders also noted that people give away their animals because of allergies, animals not getting along with one another, sickness, and many other numerous reasons.
Harnden says that a huge way to minimize animal abandonment is to spay or neuter pets so unwanted litters do not appear.
“Providing safe housing and responsible homes is the goal of a shelter, but reducing the number of homeless pets entering a shelter needs to stay in the forefront of thinking about pet overpopulation,” Saunders said.
The correct process for surrendering a cat at Nine Lives would be to e-mail or a call the shelter. The cats taken in should come from Norton. There is no cost to surrender a cat, but the shelter requests a donation to help with medical services that cat needs before it can be adopted out.
The surrender fee at Taunton Animal Care Facility is $25. Animals for surrender are accepted from Taunton residents and the shelter has to be notified prior to bringing the animal and a surrender form is required. All medical records need to come with the animal.
For more information visit the Nine Lives and Taunton Animal Care Facility websites. Norton Animal Shelter, also located at 84 Hill St., may be contacted at 508-286-2655.