CARROLL, Md. (AP) — When visitors enter the Humane Society of Carroll County’s cat adoption area, they are greeted by Oscar and Ted.
Oscar and Ted are good pals. They sleep next to each other in their cage.
Ted, gray with striking yellow eyes, nuzzled the cage. Oscar, with orange and white fur, meowed.
They came into the Humane Society together. Executive Director Carolyn “Nicky” Ratliff wants them to leave together as comrades in a forever home.
So she is offering both of them for the price of one adoption. If, and when, they are adopted, another cat will take their place.
It’s a never-ending cycle. One cat leaves. Another arrives. No matter what Ratliff tries, she said she can’t find enough homes for them all. It’s why 1,905 cats and 180 kittens were euthanized at the Westminster shelter last year, she said.
Last year, the Humane Society of Carroll County accepted 2,700 cats brought in for various reasons, a number Ratliff called ridiculous. Just 257 cats and 247 kittens were adopted.
“It’s a huge problem,” she said, just minutes after getting an alert from staff that four more felines had arrived at the shelter Thursday afternoon. “I can’t solve it. The public has to solve it.”
Ratliff has a solution, one that would require the assistance of the community. Spaying and neutering cats would help control the pet population. She echoes the same refrain former “The Price Is Right” host Bob Barker did at the conclusion of every episode.
And yet the cats and kittens keep coming in. Concerned homeowners turn in skinny strays. Overwhelmed owners, unable to care for their animals, simply drop them off. It’s typical for staff to arrive in the morning, check the after-hours drop-off area, and find multiple cats that had been left behind overnight.
The cats are administered a behavior test. The friendly ones are put up for adoption, and the particularly nasty ones are euthanized, Ratliff said. She can’t spare one of her 33 available cages for an animal with a nasty disposition, nor does she want a prospective owner to adopt an animal that would attack them.
Ratliff wants as many cats as possible to find safe homes. She wants to reunite strays with their owners. She’s devoted her 35-year career in animal control to it.
She’s noticed progress with spaying and neutering dogs. In 1987, the Humane Society brought in 375 puppies. In 2012, that number decreased to 57.
The number of kittens has mostly maintained, she said. In 1987, 1,219 kittens four months or younger were brought in. In 2012, that number was 1,023.
“There are too many cats and not enough homes,” she said.
It’s a longstanding problem that is particularly difficult in the spring when new litters of kittens are born, she said.
The kittens, cute, playful and wide-eyed, make it challenging for more mature cats to find homes.
“This is kitten season right now,” Wendy Goldband, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Humane Society no-kill shelter in Reisterstown, said. “So we get in litters of kittens at a time. Then we have to find fosters to help bottle feed them. It’s like feeding a baby around-the-clock.”
Many adoptive families are drawn to kittens. Ratliff cautioned that a kitten’s personality changes over time. By adopting a mature cat, an owner is most likely to see behavior remain the same over time.
The tiny balls of fur are cute. But there are simply too many of them in Carroll, Ratliff said. She would prefer the cat population be controlled. It would mean fewer cat euthanizations and a higher percentage of felines in happy homes.
For those who leave food out for stray cats, Ratliff suggested getting them spayed or neutered. For those who know a low-income family unable to pay for spaying or neutering, she suggested they take up a collection amongst friends to allow them to afford it.
“Help them get it done,” she said. “Otherwise, it’s just more cats. It’s heartbreaking.”
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