The COVID-19 crisis is affecting our lives in many ways, and people around the world are having to change the way they live. However, it is not just humans that have been affected by this pandemic, as there are wider implications that have had an impact on animals. One example of this is the animals living in shelters, as many have bee forced to close due to staff members being in lockdown. According to The Guardian, shelters in New York City are inundated with thousands of stray kittens every year. During the current coronavirus crisis, there is only the Animal Care Centers of NYC and the ASPCA offering emergency services.
As the major shelters are not currently taking in the stray cats, it means that volunteer groups are left to handle the situation. They are overrun with more cats than the volunteers at these small shelters can handle. Surprisingly, Instagram has become a useful tool in tackling this crisis. Some of the smaller shelters have used this social media site as a way of successfully crowdsourcing their rescue efforts and getting donations from the public to help them tackle the feline crisis. One example of a volunteer-run shelter that has used this method of raising funds is Flatbush Cats. They currently have 130 thousand followers on their Instagram. Another small rescue shelter that has used their Instagram to get help at this time is Little Wanderers, who have more than 68 thousand followers.
Both shelters have posted heartfelt posts on their Instagram accounts in a bid for donations from animal lovers and well-wishers. This has helped them to gain the much-needed funding they require to get the cats the medical attention they need. It has also helped them to find volunteers to take the cats to the veterinarians, and to rehouse as many kittens and cats as possible during this difficult time. Despite all this help, there are still many challenges as Lisa Scroggins, the founder of Little Wanderers, has highlighted. She says that she is constantly seeing young cats with eye infections or hearing about cats that have died after climbing into car engines.
The rescue shelter founder has also spoken of how they are inundated with more than 100 direct messages each day on Instagram from people who are begging for their help. The Little Wanderers’ Instagram posts have reflected the struggles they face. One such post described how over a four-day period, they had rescued seven litters of kittens. This included one litter of four kittens in a Bronx backyard that were terrified and drenched. The post had a caption that described just how exhausted the volunteers are due to their constant efforts to rescue cats. It is stories such as these that are touching their followers’ hearts.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, there were many agencies working alongside each other to rescue the cats and to keep the stray population of New York under control. These included independent volunteer rescuers, animal shelters, humane societies, and non-profit organizations. Unfortunately, the current pandemic means that over half of these groups are not operating, and there are some very serious potential consequences of this situation. When the cats are rescued, they are spayed to prevent them from breeding and increasing the problem of unwanted cats living on the streets. This is a service called trap, neuter, return, or TNR. Charities and non-profit organizations generally run these projects, and this has made a significant difference in controlling the feral cat population in many major cities across the United States.
One method that volunteers use to capture the cats for these projects is to encourage the locals to withhold food. This is because there is evidence that catching cats is easier when they are hungry. This allows the volunteers to capture the cats, take them to the vets for neutering, and then return them to the streets. This is not happening right now. This means that the kittens born during the crisis will have the ability to breed in around four months’ time as nobody has the time, staff or resources to capture them and have them spayed. By the summer and fall, there will be new litters of kittens being born.
Although there have been decades of work put into controlling the stray cat population in the state and this has been successful, all that work is now being undone. In just a few months, the stray cat population is likely to be higher than it has been in years. Will Zweigart, the founder of Flatbush Cats, has described the extent of this problem. In his opinion, all his volunteers will be doing in the coming months is caring for hundreds of kittens, and he has described this as a crisis.
To explain further, he says that over a period of seven years, a single, unspayed female cat and her offspring have the potential to produce 100 cats. This is a significant issue, and his opinions are backed up by evidence. Infinite Hope estimates that the feral cat population of New York already runs into tens of thousands. This state is not alone in suffering from a problem with feral cats. Across the United States, there are more than one million cats euthanized annually in a bid to reduce the problem.
Furthermore, there are thousands of cats who die each year as they are killed by competitive cat colonies, suffer from serious infections, starve to death, or they are unable to survive the harsh conditions of the winter months. This is the real situation and risks that cats living on the streets face. Not all the outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic are negative, as there are also many examples of positive outcomes. In relation to the current stray cat crisis, the positive outcome is that more people than ever are filling in foster and adoption applications.