With kennels full, crowded Sacramento animal shelters halt cat admissions

See some of the cats available for adoption at Front Street Animal Shelter

Front Street Animal Shelter is offering $5 adoptions for cats and $20 adoptions for kittens this weekend due to an abundance of cats at the shelter.
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Front Street Animal Shelter is offering $5 adoptions for cats and $20 adoptions for kittens this weekend due to an abundance of cats at the shelter.

Sacramento’s two municipal animal shelters are refusing to accept healthy felines until further notice, an extraordinary move prompted by an influx of kittens and feral cats.

“We literally are at capacity. We have no open kennels,” said Janna Haynes, spokeswoman for the county’s Bradshaw Shelter.

The city’s Front Street Shelter is facing a similar crisis, said manager Gina Knepp. “The cat population is a bit out of control right now,” she said.

Both shelters are accepting cats only if they are ill or injured.

The Sacramento facilities appear to be victims of their own successes, shelter operators said. Both have, in recent years, stopped killing healthy animals for lack of space. Both have implemented programs in which feral cats can be trapped and brought to the shelters for free spay or neuter surgery and vaccinations.

But those practices and others have caused shelters to be continually crowded, particularly during summer “kitten season,” said both Knepp and Haynes.

Many of the 337 cats that the Bradshaw shelter is currently housing are awaiting surgery as part of the facility’s “Return to Field” program, in which citizens trap wild felines, take them to city shelters and then return them to the outdoors, officials said. The city and the Sacramento SPCA have similar programs.

The relatively new programs are catching fire, and the county now takes in as many as 100 feral cats per month, Haynes said. Those animals, combined with a relatively high number of newborn kittens coming into the facility this summer, has caused the shelter to reach a critical mass. Both shelters have long waits for spay and neuter operations.

“We’re sending cats out every day,” to adoptive owners and foster caregivers, said Haynes. “But we’re still full.”

The matter is complicated by the fact that many of the feral cats on the premises are aggressive and cannot be vaccinated until they are under sedation for surgery, said Haynes. That compromises the safety of other animals in the shelter that might be exposed to diseases, and of the staff that must risk injury when they feed and care for the animals.

“The feral cat program is important, because until we deal with ferals we will never limit the cat population,” Haynes said. “But it’s also important for us to keep everyone safe.”

This week marks the first time in recent history the county shelter has turned away healthy cats, said shelter manager David Dickinson. Dickinson said no ordinance or state law prohibits shelters from refusing to accept those cats under the circumstances.

“We hope to be able to resume full operations some time next week,” Dickinson said.

Knepp said Front Street has periodically shut down cat admissions when the shelter is overly full.

“An open municipal shelter must accept lost, sick, injured and abandoned animals,” she said. But many of the animals crowding the downtown shelter are healthy and have owners, she pointed out. The city and county are urging people not to bring healthy, roaming cats that likely are family pets to the shelter, nor trapped feral cats, for the time being.

“When there is no housing left for cats in our facility, we are forced to euthanize perfectly good animals, and no one wants us to do that,” reads a notice on the city’s web page. “Please be patient with us and we appreciate your support and understanding.”

Shelter officials advised residents to take advantage of free and low-cost adoptions, and to make sure pets are microchipped to ensure they can be identified and returned to owners if they become lost or injured. The city and county also are seeking more people to act as “fosters,” particularly to newborn kittens until they are healthy enough to be placed for adoption.

“We’re begging the public to foster and adopt and volunteer, but we feel like we are in a perpetual crisis mode,” Haynes said. “We’re exhausting every resource that we have. What is happening right now is a last resort.”

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