County shelter struggling with seasonal influx of cats


Jessica Gutschmidt of Manassas and her 6-year-old son, Tyler, look at some of the kittens awaiting adoption at the Prince William County Animal Shelter. (Jim Barnes/For The Washington Post)
August 3

The Prince William County Animal Shelter is looking for good homes for cats. Lots of cats.

The shelter’s feline population has spiked recently. According to shelter officials, the facility is housing about triple the number of cats it has the capacity to maintain in a safe, healthy environment. Shelter officials are spreading the word to encourage people to adopt the cats, and to have their cats spayed and neutered to reduce the population of unwanted cats.

The shelter’s outreach efforts appear to be having an impact. Last Sunday afternoon, a cluster of people crowded into the small lobby area at the front counter, waiting for a chance to view pets available for adoption. At one end of the counter stood Ben Montgomery of Rappahannock County, cradling his new kitten, which had just received a microchip. He said he had not decided on a name for the 9-week-old female.

The surging feline population is putting a strain on the shelter’s staff and veterinary services, officials said. “We’re just making space wherever we have space available,” Animal Control Lt. Pauline Shatswell said. The shelter has had to bring out temporary cages to handle the influx of cats, placing them on the floor and in hallways, she said.

Kim D. Chinn, a spokeswoman for the Prince William County Police Department, said that the cat population typically surges in the summer. “It’s the time of year cats give birth,” she said.

Shatswell said that the shelter normally sees a big influx of cats about this time. “But we’ve seen more than normal [for] this time of year,” she said. Annika Young, a shelter volunteer, said that the shelter’s cat population recently topped 200, although it had fallen slightly since then thanks to some adoptions.

The animal shelter is an open-admission, public shelter that must accept all animals brought to it regardless of the animals’ behavior or health. Overcrowding occurs each year from late spring through summer because too many kittens are born of cats that have not been spayed or neutered, shelter officials said.

Unwanted cats and kittens are often left on the street to fend for themselves and are picked up by animal control as strays, officials said. Other cats are surrendered to the shelter by people who are moving away or going on vacation, or who find unwanted cats on their property.

“Some are adult cats that are turned in because people are moving and can’t have an animal,” Chinn said. “Or [they] find out that a family member is allergic. Some are feral [cats] that have been trapped.”

The risk of untreatable disease spreading among the animals in the shelter’s care increases with the rise in shelter population, and cats that become sick might have to be euthanized, officials said.

“We hold any cat that is considered an adoptable cat for adoption,” Shatswell said. “However, if it becomes sick, or if temperament changes so that it is no longer adoptable, then we have to euthanize it.”

As long as a cat is healthy and happy, the shelter keeps it until it is adopted, Shatswell said. “That’s part of the reason we’re overflowing, because we are trying to find good homes for all the adoptable cats,” she said.

Shelter officials said there are several ways the public can help: by adopting a cat or two, becoming a foster parent for cats, helping the shelter by donating time or supplies, and spaying or neutering their cats.

The county animal shelter is at 14807 Bristow Rd., off Route 234 across from the county landfill. For information about pet adoption, visit the shelter’s Web site at www.pwcgov.org/animalshelter.

Barnes is a freelance writer.

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