Sweet surrender

BHS launches cat-rehoming program

Dustin Alexander, of BHS, cradles Minnie, who is looking for a new home.

Dustin Alexander, of BHS, cradles Minnie, who is looking for a new home.

Photo By melissa daugherty

In the past month and a half, Dustin Alexander, Butte Humane Society’s communications and development manager, has fielded countless calls from members of the community worried that the nonprofit would no longer facilitate feline adoptions.

That’s because, beginning on Feb. 1, the Chico Animal Shelter stopped accepting stray, feral and surrendered cats.

“I spent one to two hours a day talking to owners,” said Alexander Tuesday morning (March 19) at the organization’s administrative offices on Fair Street. “Telling them, ‘We have not closed the Cat Adoption Center.’”

What people often don’t understand is that the city shelter and BHS are separate agencies, though the two work in cooperation, with BHS taking many of the city’s animals into its adoption programs. The shelter’s new policy of not accepting cats is in line with the stance many municipalities have taken in recent years, after decades of having an open-door intake policy yet making little or no headway in reducing the overall cat population.

Since the beginning of March, BHS has been conducting a pilot program allowing for the surrender of certain adoptable pet cats, and on Wednesday, March 20, that program was opened up to the general public. The Cat Rehoming Program requires those wishing to surrender a cat to fill out a detailed application form (found on the BHS website at www.buttehumane.org) that asks questions ranging from the animal’s age to what its personality is like.

Cats eligible for the program must be spayed or neutered and in good health. Each animal will be checked by a veterinary technician, Alexander noted, and then, depending on the availability of space at the Cat Adoption Center, accepted into the adoption program.

A visit to the clean and well-run facility this week revealed dozens of healthy adoptable cats scattered among a few rooms, lying on specially constructed PVC-pipe beds of various heights, peeking out of chests of drawers, and climbing on other cat-friendly accessories.

Alexander said the 31 cats up for adoption constitute a fairly small number, though behind the scenes dozens of other cats are being prepared for adoption. Only recently, with its adoptable-cat population on the lower side, BHS has begun partnering with animal-welfare agencies outside of Chico, taking in adoptable animals from such areas as Oroville, Corning and Orland.

“We’re pretty stuffed full at all times, so this is a new thing for us,” he said.

Alexander and Heather Schoeppach, development and outreach team member for BHS, recall only one other time in which the organization’s population of cats dipped significantly. That occurred back in 2009, when the BHS ran both the shelter and the adoption programs, and the facility won a $50,000 makeover through a contest sponsored by an online pet-product retailer. (The city took over shelter operations in February 2012.)

The publicity, they say, helped clear out most of the cats at the facility.

Alexander was quick to point out, however, that kitten season is just around the corner, and while things have been quiet over the winter months, he expects the cattery will be hopping now that warmer weather has triggered the feline breeding season.

BHS likely will take in its share of kittens and cats from the city shelter, which makes exceptions on its intake policy for orphaned kittens, as well as sick and injured cats that require rehabilitation or euthanization.

On the city side, Tracy Mohr, animal-services manager, said she has been encouraging members of the public to use social media and sites like Craigslist to rehome pets themselves since the new policy went into effect, and the shelter staff will now also refer residents to the BHS’ Cat Rehoming Program.

Both Mohr and Alexander noted that the city carefully considered the no-surrender policy before adopting it, meeting with animal-welfare organizations from throughout the region. There was consensus it is the right thing to do, they say.

In short, there aren’t enough adopters to give each stray cat a home, so taking all of those animals to the shelter means they will linger at the facility or, in the case of feral cats, be euthanized. The public is counseled to come together to spay and neuter stray and feral community cats, taking advantage of low-cost programs offered by BHS, Paws of Chico, Pawprints Thrift Boutique, and other organizations.

Mohr said most residents seem to have accepted the new no-surrender policy fairly easily, although she, too, has had to deal with concerns from the public.

“We have had people call and they’re upset, but once we have a conversation with them and say why it’s beneficial to the cats, they’re understanding,” she said.