The idea that cats can’t stay in their “forever” homes isn’t something we like to think much about, but it’s something that happens more often many people imagine. A recent study by the ASPCA showed that over five years, 1.7% of households who currently have or have had pets rehomed one or more cats in the past 5 years. With 42.9 million US households with cats, that’s 729,300 households who rehomed one or more cat. That’s a lot of cats!
These cats ended up primarily in shelters (40%) or with a friend or family (30%). Surprisingly, 19% reported that they surrendered their cats to a veterinarian, making vets the third largest place that cats are rehomed. Smaller numbers went to live with strangers. Sadly, 2% of households reported setting their unwanted cats free, which works out to an estimated 14,586 households over five years leaving cats to fend for themselves.
How can families who think they don’t have options help keep these cats with them?
A large number of cats, 42%, are rehomed because of problems related to the cat. These may have been problematic or aggressive behavior or health problems that the family couldn’t handle.
The most common issues that makes cats end up in shelters are litterbox issues. Many people struggle with cats who won’t use their litter boxes and don’t understand that there may be fairly simple solutions like cleaning the box more often, providing more boxes, or using a different litter. See What Your Cat is Telling You by Going Outside the Litterbox for some additional ideas about things that can cause this common issue.
A large number of cats (19%) ended up rehomed because of housing issues, such as landlords who don’t allow pets or not having enough space.
It’s unfortunate that pet security deposits and even additional monthly fees for “pet rent” can add to monthly fees, especially when these extra fees are sometimes in place not to compensate landlords for potential damage but to raise revenues from families with pets.
There are a handful of organizations in US communities who may help with rental housing issues for pet owners, such as the Family Forever Foundation in Orlando, Florida. Due to the difficulty that families with pit bulls have finding rental housing that will accept them with their dogs, a number of organizations specifically for that purpose might have information you could use to find pet-friendly rentals in your area, too. See this list of organizations for assistance in your area.
Another cause of housing-related relinquishments not mentioned in the study but worth considering is military deployments. Thankfully, a growing number of organizations is available to foster cats and dogs for deployed military so that they can rest easy knowing that their four-legged friends are safe and waiting for them back in the US upon their return.
In our difficult economy, 7% reported they couldn’t afford the cost involved in having a pet. When people end up jobless or underemployed, it’s understandable that they worry how they will afford to feed their cat and they may look for another home to be sure their furry friend is cared for. They may not realize that many parts of the country have recognized that providing assistance keeping pets in their homes is less expensive than taking them into the shelter system, so help may be available. For example, Orange County Animal Services has a pet pantry that provides food to struggling pet owners.
Some communities even some programs specifically geared toward helping seniors on fixed incomes keep their pets. These types of assistance programs are often referred to as pet pantries, so you can use that keyword along with your city name in a web search to see what help is available nearby.
Over a quarter of the cats rehomed were because of personal or family health troubles, allergies to the cat, a new person in the household who didn’t like the cat, a death in the family, a new baby in the household, or for a lack of time to care for the cat. These all fall under the general category of family problems, and they are some of the most difficult to resolve without seeing the cat leave the household.
Allergies are a highly-cited reason for giving up cats, but depending on the level of allergy, many people are able to cope with their cat allergies. Children who grow up in homes with cats are less likely to develop allergies to them later on, so managing your allergies now may pay off for your kids down the road!
You don’t have to give up your cat because you are going to have a baby. Your cat won’t kill your baby by sucking the baby’s breath, despite the persistence of the old wives’ tale. Fears of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy are oversold by doctors who seem to find “get rid of the cat” an easy answer rather than looking more closely at the risk factors.
It’s always sad to see cats looking for new homes because their primary caregiver passed away. These cats are often difficult to rehome because they may be frightened or confused. Some hospice organizations now integrate pet care and rehoming services, often in partnership with rescue organizations, which can help find temporary placement until the family is able to take them back or even permanent homes for these unfortunate cats.
Every cat whose family is sadly considering rehoming him or her can’t be kept in their home, but there are a lot of resources out there that can help keep some cats safe and happy with their families.
References and Further reading
Open Journal of Animal Sciences, Goodbye to a Good Friend: An Exploration of the Re-Homing of Cats and Dogs in the U.S.
American Pet Products Association, APPA National Pet Owners Survey
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