I mentioned earlier this week that my nickname with foster kitties is often 'grabbyhands'. I have a tendency to want to get all up in a cat's business and make sure they are doing well. With foster kittens, this can be a necessity as far too often they fail to thrive and knowing so as soon as possible can turn things around and save a life. Also, imposing yourself into their day to day lives makes them better companion animals, and more loving and people orientated.
But there are times when being too hands on is actually detrimental to a cat's well-being. This is what I face in my current foster situation, my foster mother is so uncomfortable with my presence that my just being there stresses her out and the more stress she has the harder life is for her. Feral mothers who are overly stressed can abandon their kittens or have their health deteriorate to the point where her life is also in danger. Fostering a pregnant or nursing feral mother cat can be a lesson in restraint. People who foster want to touch and snuggle kittens but it is often in the feral kitties best interest for us to be hands off.
Hands off? with a tushie this cute?
That takes more strength than I have.
Shelters across the country are finding that a "hands-off" approach to cats might actually be beneficial. This seems counter to all we think we know about rescue as we want to get cats off the street and save them, make sure they are safe and fed. Because shelters often have more cats than they can deal with they are starting to reexamine the entire situation.
One shelter, Lowell Humane Society of Lowell MA, recently did an experiment to see if doing something different might help. They presented their findings at the recent New England Fed Conference that I attended.
They started off with the national statistics that only 2% of pets brought into a shelter are reunited with their families and that cats are 13% more likely to be reunited with their families if not removed from their neighborhood. Since cats can travel half a mile or more while they are outside, you might never meet their true owners.
The shelter put a paper collar on any stray cat and asked the people who wanted to bring them in to put them back where they were found. On the collar, they put the contact information of the shelter so the owner could understand what happened and the shelter has an opportunity to discuss neutering and microchip services. The hope was that this would help the cat as well as the owners and it would keep the cats out of the shelter. But would it work?
It turns out that it did. 72% of owners called the shelter. The shelter had the opportunity to educate and help these owners keep the cat out of the shelter system.
If a cat turned out to be one of the 28% the person who found it could bring it back in, and then the shelter would do their best to make it one of the 2%, but if not, then they would put the cat up for adoption. This gives the owner more time to find the cat, as most shelters have a simple three-day hold. I don't know about you, but when my cat went outside, I didn't start worrying about the cat until it didn't come home after 24 hours, which is one-third of the time the cat generally has at a shelter.
There are some obvious exceptions to this practice, such as bad weather, illness, legitimate danger in the environment or the person who wants to bring the cat in doesn't want to invest the time in bringing it back in.
But keeping 72% of your incoming cats out of your shelter with such minimal effort, that is a pretty impressive program! "If a shelter is able to reduce euthanasia by even one cat, that is an achievement to be celebrated" Million Cat Challenge.
If you would like more information on what the Lowell Humane Society did, you can contact them via email or their website or Facebook.
Meanwhile, I'll do my best to ignore my foster kittens.. I fear I am going to fail miserably.