We recently hosted the Civilian Academy at the shelter so we could talk about our programs and services and explain how the city deals with animal problems in our city.  A question came up about why our redemption rate for dogs was 86 percent but for cats it was only 24 percent?  It got me going on my soapbox and I thought I’d keep the rant going.  Basically it’s “why do we treat dogs and cats differently in our society?”

No one would open the door for their little chihuahua, or terrier mix and say “bye, have a good day and be back before dark!”  But people do that all the time for their cats.  Do we think cats can take better care of themselves outdoors than dogs?  We see them hit by cars along the side of the road, we know that they are chased by dogs and killed by wildlife.  We hear from irritated neighbors about them killing the birds and butterflies that they are trying to attract to their property and using their gardens as litterboxes.  And certainly, we can attest that many wander too far and become lost.  So no, I, at least, do not think they are safe outdoors.

This might have been true at one time when we lived a more rural lifestyle but as we’ve become more urbanized and industrial and personal property has shrunk, the world has become more dangerous for free-roaming animals.  I think the dangers in Rohnert Park are as great for cats as they are for dogs.  So why, in our society’s mind, do we still think of them differently?

Not only that, but as an animal-lover, if you see an unaccompanied dog walking along your street you probably would jump into action.  Get the dog into your yard, or other safe area, and start searching for his family.  Not so if a cat strolled by.  We are used to seeing cats roaming free so it may take weeks before you realize that a new one is in the area and maybe not looking so good.  The reverse is true too.  If your dog isn’t at home to greet you, the reaction is immediate.  Gather a search party, print out the flyers, start calling the shelters and so on.  Yet I can’t tell you how many people calling the shelter about a missing cat will say something like “I haven’t seen her in a few days,” or “He often disappears for a week or so, but it’s been longer than usual.”  Meaning the search has been delayed and the cat could already have gone through our system and been adopted.

I think we feed into this perception in subtle ways.  Most shelters have different adoption fees for dogs and cats, with cats being lower as though they are less valuable.  I know that part of this is the old supply and demand concept; cats are abundant in most shelters, and we’re competing with the “free kitten” ads on Craigslist.  But I do think it sends a subconscious message.  So does the fact that in most localities felines are not required to be licensed, and if they are, again, it is for a lower amount than dogs.  How is this fair?  When you think about it, with cats having more access to free-roam and hunt, they are more likely to encounter rabid wildlife than our dogs.  And since licensing is really a rabies safety program, to ensure vaccination, it should cover cats as well!

Fortunately, we now have an alternative to offer pet parents that feel locking up a cat in a house 100 percent of the time is cruel.  Very few people leash train their cats and take them for walks, as we do our dogs, so they often are completely housebound if not let out to free roam.  That is until the concept of a Catio, or Enclosure, hit the web.  What a wonderful way to help a feline feel like he is part of nature and able to do natural behaviors but be safe at the same time!  Check out enclosures at cdpets.com, google the Cat Fence-in System, and search Catios for DIY ideas.  Your cats, and your neighbors, will thank you!

Upcoming Events:

“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home.  FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and the City of Cotati.  Call for an appointment, 707-584-1582.

Fix-it clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $100 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents.  Call 588-3531 for an appointment. 

Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at mzeldes@rpcity.org

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