Michelle Kulej was the first staff member to arrive at PAWS Companion Animal Shelter the morning of July 10. By the front door she saw a calico cat sitting neatly next to a bowl of cat food. It wasn't the first time Michelle arrived to find someone waiting. Sometimes it was a box of abandoned kittens, wiggling together for warmth; other times it had been a frightened dog tied to the handrail.
As Michelle carefully approached the cat, she expected her to flee, but the cat remained still, gazing up with bright eyes. She gladly let Michelle take her inside the safety of the shelter. An hour later Michelle discovered that the beautiful cat was more than 55 miles from her home in Tacoma, Washington, and her name was Pearl.
How she got to PAWS, no one knew. But how she got home was no mystery: a microchip. If it weren't for this inexpensive piece of technology, Pearl would have taken a place among the other cats in PAWS' care, while PAWS adoption staff and volunteers worked diligently to find her a new home.
Michelle scanned Pearl with a specialized scanner—as staff do with every lost dog or cat who comes to PAWS—and detected a unique number encoded in the tiny, rice-sized microchip implanted under her skin. After obtaining the guardians' info from the chip manufacturer, Michelle called Pearl's family with the good news. They were ecstatic that PAWS had found their feline friend safe and sound, and that we had taken the time to search for them. Just a few hours later a tearful mom and the joyous kids arrived to take Pearl home.
This cheerful reunion is, tragically, all too uncommon for lost cats. Staff and volunteers will tell you that many of the stray cats who arrive at PAWS were obviously cared for and loved by someone. But of the stray cats who make it safely to a shelter, a meager two to three percent are claimed by their guardians, compared to approximately 30 percent of dogs. When a cat goes missing, people often mistakenly assume the cat has "gone off to die," or "will come back in a few days."
This is just one of the reasons why cats in our communities are in crisis. In Washington State, cats are euthanized twice as often as dogs. While cats outnumber dogs in our homes, they are more often neglected and more often relinquished to shelters. So why is the most popular pet in America treated like a second-class pet citizen?
Local laws fail at protecting cats the same way they do dogs. In most jurisdictions lost or free-roaming cats won't be picked up by animal control and brought to a shelter, and many cities don't require owned cats to be licensed, which would enable them to be easily reunited with their families. Many cats are allowed to roam freely unsupervised and encounter dangers of cars, predators, diseases and numerous other hazards. Unwanted and unplanned litters of kittens abound—products of still too many unaltered felines.
But here's the good news: there are simple solutions to save thousands of lives, steps that most anyone take.
Provide ID for your cat. While a microchip provides crucial insurance for cats like Pearl (every dog and cat adopted from PAWS receives a microchip), a simple collar and ID tag with up-to-date contact information make it easy for people in your neighborhood to find you without taking your cat to a shelter.
Keep your cat safe at home. On average, indoor cats live longer, healthier lives, and can be kept happy with toys, playtime and window perches. Give your feline companion an outdoor play enclosure, supervised time outside, or walks on a specialized leash and harness. Call PAWS' free Behavior Helpline at 425.787.2500 x860 for more ideas and leash training tips.
Spay or neuter your cat. A female cat can get pregnant as young as five months old, and have up to three litters a year. That's a lot of kittens. The one-time surgery needed to "fix" your cat can also prevent certain diseases and improve many behaviors. There are several low-cost options for people who can't afford it, including at PAWS where a spay/neuter surgery for any cat of a low-income individual costs just $40 through our low-cost spay/neuter program. (Check paws.org for details or call 425.787.2500 x849).
These simple steps will help lift our feline friends out of crisis. PAWS is working hard to save cats' lives, but we can't do it alone. Please, join us in this crusade.