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Page last updated at 11:55 GMT, Wednesday, 28 July 2010 12:55 UK
Animal charities: The importance of being neutered

Look East's Fae Southwell visits Wood Green animal shelter

Animal charities have reported a steep increase in the numbers of abandoned cats and kittens being dumped at their rescue centres.

Wood Green, Blue Cross and the Cats' Protection League said their Cambridgeshire shelters are all full.

They have stressed the importance of neutering cats and kittens.

Alan Maskell, from Blue Cross said: "Some people say that neutering is too expensive, but there's a lot of help out there if you can't afford it."

Alan, the centre manager at Blue Cross's Cambridge shelter said there were currently 80 cats on the site, half of which were kittens.

There were also 60 animals on the waiting list which could not be taken in until some of the current residents were re-homed.

Alan Maskell and Billy the cat
Alan Maskell, from the Blue Cross, and Billy the cat, at the Cambridge shelter

'Neutering battle'

"A couple of years ago the numbers had gone right down and we thought we were winning the neutering battle," he said.

"But now the numbers are on the increase.

"There used to be a kitten season - May to October - but now it's a year-round problem."

Linda Cantle, deputy head of animal welfare at the Wood Green shelter in Godmanchester said they had exactly the same problem.

"We've got 300 cats on our waiting list. The pens are full and we've got a number of other cats in temporary foster care because there's no room for them here."

Responsible ownership

Animal charities and welfare organisation agree there is a simple solution. Neutering.

Linda said: "It comes down to people not neutering their cats and letting them have more and more kittens.

"As lovely as kittens are, they do grow into adult cats and people need to be responsible for them. Cats can live for over 20 years and the veterinary costs really can be quite high.

Kittens at the Cambridge Blue Cross shelter
These four kittens were found hiding in a pipe in Cambridge

"One adult female cat can be responsible for 20,000 kittens over a five-year period if her offspring also go on to have kittens."

Alan added: "A lot of people tell us that they don't get their cats neutered for financial reasons, but there's plenty of help around.

"Both ourselves and the Cats' Protection League (CPL) offer schemes and vouchers, and honestly, it's a lot cheaper to get them neutered than not. And in the long-run it's a lot healthier for the cats."

Snip and Chip

Wood Green has joined forces with the CPL to try to encourage responsible pet-ownership.

The Snip and Chip scheme offers free neutering and microchipping at various locations around the UK, including areas of Peterborough.

The organisation also holds regular awareness-raising talks for schools and community groups.

Alan Maskell said, however, that the message was simply not getting across to enough pet owners.

"Sometimes it's simply because people actually encourage their pets to breed," he said.

"They assume that it's easy to find homes for kittens, but of course it isn't - we're proof of that."

Buzz (left) and Honey
Honey (right) and her three kittens were found in a garden shed

Unhealthy litters

He maintains that refusing to have your pet neutered is not just irresponsible, but cruel to the animal.

"We had a young cat - only about 18 months old herself - come in to us with a litter of four kittens and she was already pregnant with her second litter.

"And we've had cats come in with second litters, already pregnant with their third.

"By this time, the cat's usually quite debilitated, and the third litter doesn't really stand much of a chance of being healthy, because of all the effort the mother's put into the first two."

'Traumatic' experience

Cats can become pregnant at a very young age. Alan has seen kittens of just five months having litters of their own.

"At that age they're only about half the size they will be, and having kittens can be physically traumatic when they're so small themselves."

Meanwhile, animal charities, which rely on the public's generosity for their funding, are having to bear the costs of the influx of unwanted pets.

"We're here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year looking after them," said Alan.

"It's not cheap to run a shelter. There's the housing, the feeding, the lighting and the staffing, but the majority of the costs come from the veterinary care.

"Not everything that comes into us is healthy, so each animal initially goes into an isolation unit with individual pens. It's designed with a through-flow air system so the air doesn't circulate from pen to pen, cutting down the risk of any viral infection spreading.

"In the summer months we have more cats and kittens, and as lots of people are on holiday it takes longer to find suitable homes for them, which adds to the running-costs.

"There are around 10 million cats in the UK and that's too many," Alan said.

"There's no need for there to be so many cats around, and we're really struggling to cope with the unwanted ones."

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