Falling Off the Mountain

Falling Off the Mountain

By Joy Smith

I’ve been sitting on the top of the world for a few months now. A world full of cats that are safe because of FieldHaven. We recognized that Yuba County needed someone to step in and help their terribly under resourced shelter. A shelter where animals entering the facility had a bleak chance of ever coming out alive.

Since the beginning of the year we brought the Live Release Rate to nearly 90% from a dismal 34% during the same time period in 2017. Ninety-nine cats were killed compared to 503 in 2017. That’s about 404 cats and kittens that are alive because of our direct involvement and commitment. All in just 6 months.  Read my previous blog here.

We did it by using a multi-pronged approach to saving the animals; transfers to other shelters (including FieldHaven), RTF (return to field), foster programs, promoting adoptions, providing veterinary care for treatable animals (they don’t have a budget for sick or injured cats) and public education.

That should make someone feel pretty good. Yes, dammit – it did feel good! Until now.

The bubble is bursting. And the edge of the mountain is looming closer.

Yesterday, the Yuba County shelter announced that, for the first time this year, they will need to start euthanizing cats and kittens for space.

It’s a stab in the heart. I had been warning myself, our staff and volunteers that it might happen. I tried to stay strong to cushion the inevitable blow. It didn’t work. I feel defeated, discouraged.

Why is this happening? We were doing so well. We were sending so many adult cats to other shelters. Our fosters had eagerly stepped up to the plate, caring for young kittens until they were old enough for spay/neuter and adoption. We’re fixing the ferals and returning them to their community. All great.

Well, here’s why this problem is twofold.

One, FieldHaven, as well as our transfer partners, are all bursting at the seams with kittens. When kittens start arriving adult cat adoptions slam to a near halt. It happens every year. When there’s a room full of adorable, captivating kittens to choose from the adults get overlooked. They linger in shelters for months until the kitten supply dwindles. Then for a few short months, before the next kitten season begins, the adults shine in the adoption spotlight.

We have reached capacity within our own kitten foster program. The irony is that we have fosters who are more than willing to take in kittens. They are a huge part of our sheltering system. Fosters take underage kittens (frequently euthanized at many shelters without foster programs) into their homes to care for them until they reach adoptable age. We have over 60 foster homes and at any given time we have between 150 to 180 kittens in our foster care program.

While each kitten has a home to be raised in there is the cost to FieldHaven for managing the program, taking care of all of the kittens, providing veterinary services, running the shelter, maintaining adoption programs – and all that goes along with it. Our average cost to care for a kitten, including overhead runs well over $200. It’s very simple, the bank account is saying we can’t afford more right now. My heart says YES, my head says No.

Yuba County provides FieldHaven zero support to transfer animals out of their municipal shelter. We are saving the county significant funds in taking the animals out of their system, yet we get no financial assistance from them.

The truly ironic part of the situation is that feral cats, the ones that are at highest risk of euthanasia, are safe. As soon as their stray hold of 72 hours is up they were euthanized. But, at Yuba County we implemented an RTF (Return To Field) program several months ago. This means we spay/neuter each feral and then returns them to their place of origin. The cost of this life-saving program is shouldered by FieldHaven. It’s actually a very inexpensive way to save lives. At our average cost of about $60 per cat, it’s significantly less expensive than the cost to euthanize and dispose of a feral cat’s body.

While the ferals are safe, sweet, playful kittens are not. Nor is the lovable lap cat who has lived her life in the comfort of a home only to be surrendered to the shelter because someone passed away, is moving or for any of numerous reasons people decide they don’t want a cat in their life anymore.

Yes, those kittens and adults may be euthanized today or tomorrow. And the day after that. And next week.

The thought is toppling me off my world.

No matter how much I prepared for this in my mind, the reality of it really sucks.

Secondly, many will blame the shelter or staff. The team there is working so hard within the constraints of their own extremely limited resources to care for as many animals as they possibly can. The real fault lies with the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department, which manages the shelter, which is allowing this tragedy to happen.

Try and ask them why. Maybe you’ll get an answer. I haven’t been able to and I’ve tried. It’s time for Yuba County Sheriff’s Department to start doing something positive for the animals that are under their watch. Maybe together we can get them to act.

What can you do to help save lives today?

  • Go to the shelter and ADOPT!
  • Sponsor an adoptable cat or dog. FieldHaven is processing the sponsorships. Donate here.
  • Do NOT take animals to the Yuba County shelter unless there is no other choice.
  • Write or call the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department and ask them to provide more support to the shelter.
  • Go sit at the shelter and talk to people as they come in and encourage them to not surrender their pets. Education is crucial during this campaign.
  • If people are bringing in strays, especially litters of kittens or puppies, persuade them to take them home and raise them until they are at least 8 weeks old and less likely to be euthanized.
  • If the kittens are older than 10 weeks and not extremely social recommend TNR. Unsocial kittens (especially older ones) take up huge amounts of resources to socialize then
  • Donate to FieldHaven so we can continue the feral spay/neuter program and facilitate our foster program.
  • Currently the Yuba County Shelter desperately needs volunteers but the Sheriff’s Department requires any new volunteer to go through the same background process as an Animal Control Officer, effectively stopping any programs and resources to provide them with Foster and Adoption programs.  Ask the Sheriff’s Department to modify their volunteer requirement.
  • Volunteer with FieldHaven in the following areas (these are where you can have the most impact during this time.
    • Adoptions, when one cat is adopted we can take another one in
    • Customer Service at our shelter
    • Host a fundraiser – for every $250 raised, we can bring one kitten into our foster program.
    • Learn about Trapping/TNR
  • For out of area people:
    • Find out if shelters near you are accepting kittens or adoptable cats.
    • Are you good at social media? We can use your help to keep growing our exposure.
    • Host an online fundraiser. Tell your friends that for every $250 donated we can save one more kitten.

My heart says we NEED to stop this killing. But my head asks “how?”

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