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Ana Ceballos, Spring 2014

San Diego animal shelters euthanize cats at a higher rate than dogs

A cat waits to be adopted at the El Cajon shelter, Friends of Cats. By Ana Ceballos

At animal shelters in San Diego County, more cats are going to heaven than to a new home.

A growing trend over the past three years shows an increase in relinquished cats, who are ultimately put down during their stay at some of San Diego County’s animal shelters.

The number has ticked up for shelter cats mainly because their health condition by the time they arrive to the shelter is often untreatable, said Daniel DeSousa, who serves as deputy director of the county’s department of animal services.

One name in the bulk of animals feeding into the growing trend is Wally. A 6-year-old cat — unclaimed and unadopted — was euthanized while sheltered at Friends of Cats, a no-kill shelter focused on placing healthy cats into “homes” in El Cajon.

Wally, who suffered from an untreated respiratory condition, found refuge at Friends of Cats at the beginning of this year,  but was euthanized two months later because of poor health. It was inhumane to keep him alive, shelter workers said.

In many cases, like Wally’s situation, pain is used as the barometer to assess whether or not an animal should be killed. Despite bearing the ‘no kill’ title, shelters throughout the county perform euthanasia as a “matter of compassion,” DeSousa said.

In the county, nine out of 14 animal shelters are considered ‘no kill.’

“The term ‘no kill’ is often misunderstood by the public,” DeSousa said. “I cannot think of a shelter where the animal would be left to languish and suffer rather than providing them with the care they need.”

Animal care involves everything from medical treatment to vaccinations to providing a safe and comfortable environment for the animals, DeSousa said. On average, a shelter will spend about $5,000 a year when treating an unhealthy pet.

If treatment fails, a joint decision is made between the Department of Animal Services and the entire San Diego Animal Welfare Coalition on whether or not to “kill any unhealthy or unfriendly animal.”

“The goal at our shelter is to treat animals and help them return to a healthy and adoptable condition, but then there’s always those which we must euthanize,” said Janet Bianchini, Friends of Cats manager.

MULTIMEDIA: Terry Hogan, Friends of Cats Board President, talks about the challenges and benefits of his cat shelter in El Cajon. Friends of Cats overlook more than 200 cats ready for adoption.

Shelter animals by the numbers

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, there were a total of 8,658 shelter cats in San Diego County. Of these cats, more than half were euthanized. The charts below show the difference in quantity between shelter dogs and cats that are being euthanized.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 12.12.25 PM Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 12.13.16 PM


With an influx of shelter cats in the county this year, the number also went up to the cats that were put down. This year, there were two main reasons why the number of cats euthanized increased, DeSousa said.:

  • The shelter does not have enough resources to treat the animal.
  • It is inhumane to keep the animal alive.

This year, fewer than 30 percent of the total number of shelter dogs were euthanized, while 52 percent of the total number of shelter cats were put down. To put that into context, the number of cats being euthanized makes up 23 percent of the total intake of animals in San Diego County’s shelters.

One reason cats are euthanized more than dogs is that owners don’t make as big of an effort to find lost cats, DeSousa said. He said the problem is more about owner’s neglecting their pets than the cats running away.

“For cats, the reclaim rate this year was under 3 percent. So we are left to ask, where are all the owners of these animals and why are they not coming to the shelters to reclaim them?” DeSousa said.

Shelter workers say it is difficult to see a cat lose its life from an unhealthy condition — which happens often. The main challenge in treating animals is funding. At Friends of Cats, it costs about $5,000 a year to treat an unhealthy cat, but sometimes it’s not humane to keep them alive, Friends of Cats Board President Terry Hogan said.

Another problem is low-owner reclaim rates. The less owners reclaim their lost pets, shelters are left looking for adopters and rescue groups to take the animals that are friendly and healthy.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, cat adoptions were lower compared to last year. There were 8.2 percent fewer cats adopted in San Diego compared to an increase of 1.8 percent in dog adoptions. The chart below explains this change in animal adoptions throughout the county.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 12.06.47 PM

When adoption makes a difference

As county shelters struggle with funding, the adoption process becomes faster. A good year, Friends of Cats Board President Terry Hogan learned, would be receiving more than $500,000 a year in funding to afford salaries, food, healthcare and rent. If the money is there, shelters can afford more employees and eventually care for more animals.

For Thumper and Jake, two cats from the San Diego Animal Shelter in Bonita, their adoption took less than 12 hours to be processed. By the end of the day they settled in their new home in the College Area.

Jake and Thumper

Jake and Thumper settle in their new home in the College Area. By Ana Ceballos

“I live with three other guys and we have all adopted an animal. I’m the only one with cats though,” Courtney Tess, Thumper and Jake’s new mother, said.

Tess has always prefered cats over dogs, but she said most people going to shelters are looking for dogs to adopts, including her own roommates.

“We named Thumper, Thumper because he does this weird thing with his leg like the bunny from Bambi. He was not the healthiest cat at the shelter, but there was definitely a connection,” Tess said.

For Scott Rogin, one of Tess’ roommates, who adopted a puppy earlier this year, there’s no greater satisfaction than seeing the progress the animal makes after being adopted.

“I can see it in the dandruff-free hair and the mood. But it’s really like the bumper sticker says, ‘Who rescued who?’” Rogin said.


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