By Michael Jurus
Springtime in the Mahoning Valley doesn’t just bring rain showers and warmer weather — it also brings an influx of kittens. Many of these kittens are born on the streets and end up without homes, meaning shelters all around Youngstown have had to spring into action, making sure these kittens are safe and well cared for.
Shelters in Youngstown, Boardman and surrounding communities are in preparation for “kitten season.” This time of year, large numbers of kittens are born in shelters, such as Angels for Animals, which have to get in front of this by spaying and neutering as many pets as it can.
Diane Less, co-founder and general manager of Angels for Animals, said getting pets fixed is vital in the drop of stray kitten numbers and the health of the animals.
“There’s already too many cats for homes available — there are probably 20 cats for every available home, which has been knocked down in the past 30 years from 500. We are at 5-7% of the original problem, but it’s still too many,” Less said.
Not only is overpopulation an issue that comes with not getting cats fixed, but disease is also a factor to consider.
Elizabeth Chiarello, a senior biology pre-veterinary major, runs her own trap, neuter and release program in Youngstown called Youngstown Community Cat TNR. In this program, she provides affordable spay-and-neuter services for stray and feral cats. Chiarello said fostering is also important.
“Fostering kittens saves lives. It provides them with a safe place to grow and develop. It also allows an animal shelter to make room for more cats. Shelters do not have unlimited resources and space, so it greatly helps when someone is willing to take on the care of some animals,” Chiarello said.
Kittens born on the street almost always end up in shelters. With such large numbers of cats being brought into shelters, fostering reduces overpopulation.
“We would never be able to save animals without foster homes. For one thing, the main thing that fosters do for us is foster kittens,” Less said. “Kittens are even more vulnerable, out in the open field cats have a 50% mortality rate by one week.”
Campus Cats helps with fostering cats in the area so shelters don’t get overwhelmed. Senior anthropology major Lauren Rager is one of the founders and the president of Campus Cats.
“We spay and neuter the feral cats on campus, we provide any medical care that they might need [and] if there is a stray that can be homed, we make that decision and try to find an appropriate home for them. We also help with feeding and watering around campus,” Rager said.
Less said the staff at animal charities can help if one or more kittens are found outside by themselves or with their mother.
“Well, the first thing you want to do is get the mommy. We even have a program that we’ll run later in the year called ‘Show Us the Mommy,’ which gives you a discounted spay on the mommy cat and we let you fix the kittens for, last year it was $20 [a piece], it’ll probably be the same [this year],” Less said. “And the idea is, you have to bring the whole litter. … if you can’t show us the mommy, the idea is to end the family line and so the mother cat is quintessential.”
When people arrive with a litter of kittens without the mother, Angels for Animals compels them to take a live trap back to catch the mother so she can be fixed. Less said about 50% of people actually end up doing so.
Rager explained that a stray should first be observed to determine if it looks healthy or if it may be someone’s pet.
“The first thing I always like to say whenever someone spots a cat is to first of all see, does it look healthy, does it look fed, does it look like it’s owned, and other than that, you want to see if this cat is feral,” Rager said. “Depending on age, you want to see is this kitten weaned. If it is not weaned yet, it’s probably most responsible to try and find where the mother might be and where the other kittens might be, and also let the kitten continue to nurse off of the mother because that is where they are going to become the healthiest.”
Pets can be a great help with people’s mental and physical health, especially during the pandemic. Rager said she has a close bond with her animals.
“I actually have struggled with anxiety and depression for a long time and I am very, very close with my animals — that’s part of the reason why I entered into this field and I feel like that animals are a way to build friendship and a relationship,” Rager said.
Less also said there was a spike of adoptions during the pandemic.
“Our adoption numbers were dramatic during COVID and, you know, we managed to stay open and keep finding pets homes and our numbers were very, very high,” Less said.
Angels for Animals is located at 4750 S. Range in Canfield. It is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday.
The shelter sponsors many events and discounts — such as the annual garage sale — April 22-24. It is also currently offering a spay and neuter discount running right — vouchers can be bought 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at door F.
Campus Cats can be reached through its Facebook page, Instagram account @campuscatstnr, or through Lauren Rager’s email, [email protected]. Services include trapping, spaying and neutering, medical care, releasing and homing cats.