South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter Kills the Kittens from Pregnant Cats and Criticizes Advocates Who Want to Save the Animals

Spaying visibly pregnant is a highly controversial practice for good reason. This procedure kills the mother’s kittens and is in many respects as disturbing, or even more so, than typical shelter killing. No kill leader Nathan Winograd wrote about this in his seminal blog called “The Great Abortion Non-Debate”:

If the kittens or puppies are viable, they must be individually killed, usually through an injection of sodium pentobarbital. Even when they are not, however, when a mother is spayed, the kittens or puppies die from anoxia (oxygen deprivation) due to lack of blood supply from the uterus once the vessels are clamped. They suffocate.

While Mr. Winograd acknowledged those performing the procedures hope the the anesthesia would work on the kittens, he also noted kittens are more resistant to the anesthesia and it might not be effective.

Spaying visibly pregnant cats is the functional equivalent of late stage abortions in humans. Cats show the first visible physical signs pregnancy after 21 days to 28 days. At around 21 days, the mother’s nipples become enlarged. Trained veterinarians and technicians can feel the kittens about a week later. Around this time, the first trimester ends and the kittens become viable (i.e. could survive with care out of the womb). In humans, abortions after this time are highly controversial and uncommon. In 2015, just 1.3% of all human abortions occurred after the first trimester and it is highly likely a much smaller percentage of very late stage abortions (i.e. in the third trimester) occur for ethical reasons. However, proponents of spaying pregnant cats make no qualms about spaying cats up to the time just before birth. Thus, spaying visibly pregnant cats almost always involves killing kittens who could survive with care.

Unlike humans, proponents of spaying pregnant cats force the mothers to abort their kittens against their wills. Cats have natural motherly instincts and its hard to argue they want someone to kill their viable kittens. Therefore, proponents of spaying pregnant cats are making the animals undergo forced abortions.

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s Killing is Kindness Defense of Forced Abortions

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter, which formally was Cumberland County SPCA, recently wrote a newspaper article about why the shelter spays pregnant cats. The shelter wrote a similar article in 2018 that I critiqued in a Facebook post. In the new article, the author, who is the shelter’s “Outreach Coordinator”, complained about the increased number of kittens coming into the shelter during the spring and summer months. Without providing any evidence, the author implied the shelter could take 200 more kittens in if they spayed pregnant cats or 800 more kittens if they gave these kittens a chance to live. To South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s credit, the author did acknowledge others oppose the practice.

The shelter used a kitten named Tito as an example of why the shelter spays pregnant community cats and kills the kittens in its Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release (TNVR) program. Specifically, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter stated Tito’s “feral” mother suffered being confined while caring for him and Tito suffered a “slow death” in a foster home:

Tito was born to a feral mom who was brought into the shelter. She gave birth in a cage and was extremely stressed through the entire process. Because she’s feral, she has to remain confined to a cage until her kittens are weaned. She takes no comfort from a loving foster mom and never being able to have space away from her kittens will wear on her.

If she had been spayed, she would have been spared all this stress and would be outside enjoying the spring weather, having the time of her life, while not adding to the massive kitten overpopulation problem. 

If she had been spayed, Tito would have been spared a slow death, even though we did everything we could to make him comfortable. His foster mom would have been spared the trauma of him dying in her hands. 

In other words, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter took PETA’s position that we should immediately kill animals to prevent potential future suffering. As regular readers know, PETA strongly advocates for shelter killing by supporting breed specific legislation, opposing TNVR and defending some of the highest kill shelters. Additionally, PETA runs an extremely high kill shelter itself and its a selective admission facility. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter is following PETA’s high kill philosophy of killing animals without giving them even a chance at life.

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s claim that the mother was feral is questionable. A peer-reviewed scientific study in the journal Preventive Veterinary Medicine found 18% of the cats taken in at a large Canadian animal shelter were initially deemed feral and all showed no aggression after a 6 day structured socialization program. Similarly, the Canadian TNVR group and rescue, Tiny Kittens, reports 77% of its injured adult feral cats and 65% of its pregnant feral cats got adopted out into loving homes. As a result, its quite possible Tito’s mother wasn’t even truly feral.

Even if Tito’s mother was really feral, the shelter’s poor practices led to her being stressed. Despite the shelter’s assertion that a pregnant feral cat “takes no comfort from a loving foster mom” and will be terribly stressed in such an environment, this is proven wrong again by Tiny Kittens. Tiny Kittens successfully treated 100% of their injured adult feral cats in foster homes and provides examples of how it cares for pregnant feral cats in foster homes, significantly reduces their stress and helps them give birth to healthy kittens. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter is completely wrong in claiming pregnant feral cats can’t be happy and give birth to healthy kittens in foster homes.

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s claims that performing a forced abortion would “spare all this stress” in the mother cat and eliminate the foster mom’s “trauma of him dying in her hands” is absurd. As mentioned above, proven practices reduce feral cat stress in foster homes. Additionally, injecting a needle into a scared cat and having her wake up with her kittens being killed is severely traumatic. As for the foster mother, most people who foster many young kittens sadly experience kitten deaths. I know this pain firsthand. However, I’ve never met a single kitten foster parent who advocated killing kittens to spare themselves the potential emotional pain of a kitten dying in their care. Simply put, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter is rationalizing its forcing mother cats to have late term abortions and the killing of kittens.

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter Refuses to Let Cat Advocates Foster Pregnant Mothers and Considers These People Foolish

The shelter argues cat overpopulation is a reason for its policy of performing forced late term abortions. Specifically, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter stated:

If we allowed all the pregnant cats we TNVR to give birth, there is no way that the shelter, the TNVR program, or the community would be able to keep up while saving lives.

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s “cat overpopulation” argument on why people can’t foster pregnant community cats is completely wrong. First, data has existed for years showing more than enough homes exist to place every animal shelters take in. In a blog I wrote on South Jersey Regional Animal a few years back, I presented data from Nathan Winograd showing shelters had many more potential homes available than the number of animals those facilities have to place. Additionally, the blog provided evidence that even the traditional sheltering industry agreed with Mr. Winograd’s data and conclusions.

The shelter could adopt out all the kittens it claims it would receive if it didn’t spay pregnant feral cats. As mentioned above, the shelter claimed it could take up to 600 more kittens a year if it didn’t spay pregnant cats (i.e. it would take in 800 more kittens during kitten seasons if it did not spay pregnant cats and 200 more kittens if it did spay pregnant cats) My prior blog provided a tailored estimate for South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter showing it could have adopted out 759 more cats in 2017 based on its share of the Cumberland County cat adoption market and the market shares of high performing no kill animal control shelters. Based on the shelter’s 2019 data, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter could have adopted out 590 more cats (the 10 kitten difference between this and 600 additional kittens taken in each year would be covered by unavoidable kitten deaths in foster homes). Since kittens are one of the most highly sought after animals, the shelter should have no problem reaching this goal. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter could have adopted out virtually every kitten from a pregnant cat into a Cumberland County home.

In reality, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter could find many more cats homes. During the pandemic, animal intake significantly dropped as fewer people lost animals and brought strays or surrendered animals to shelters. According to PetPoint’s data, cat intake at shelters using the company’s software decreased 17% in February 2021 compared to February 2020. In fact, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter has not accepted owner surrendered animals since July 2020. Therefore, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter is also likely taking fewer cats in and has a greater capacity to adopt out cats into Cumberland County homes. Furthermore, the shelter could easily transfer many more cats to rescues outside the area since demand for pets has skyrocketed due to more people being home and the availability of fewer animals at shelters. As a result, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s cat overpopulation excuse for killing kittens from pregnant mothers makes no sense.

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter provides a false choice when it comes to the pregnant community cats it spays and the kittens it kills:

The cats that we TNVR are not shelter cats, if we chose not to spay pregnant females, we would have two choices.

The female can be left outside to give birth, leaving the survival of the kittens up to fate. If the kittens survive, they can start reproducing at a few months old, continuing the cycle. However, survival is not guaranteed. They will be at risk from exposure, predators and disease. And that’s assuming that the mom is able to successfully nurse the kittens and doesn’t abandon them. 

Alternatively, some of our caregivers have suggested that they will care for the kittens and raise them so they can be placed. While this may be the “feel good” solution, it’s also not productive. The caregiver must be prepared to confine the mother for weeks, which is extremely stressful and increases the chance that she will not be able to properly care for her kittens.

First, the shelter’s statement that the cats it places through its TNVR programs “are not shelter cats” is not true. While some may not be, the organization is almost certainly falsely labeling cats “feral” as most shelters do. The data above showed the vast majority of community cats initially displaying fearful/aggressive behavior become adoptable after structured socialization protocols. In other words, most of these cats would become adoptable if provided the proper care. Furthermore, the kittens born from these mothers would be adoptable with human interaction after birth. Thus, the shelter is providing a false choice for most of these community cats.

The shelter’s claims of it being cruel to let cats give birth on the streets conflicts with the advice it gives the public. South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter specifically instructs finders of kittens on the streets to leave them alone unless the animals face an imminent threat. If its so dangerous and terrible for mother cats to give birth outdoors, why on earth is the shelter telling the public to leave kittens outside? While kitten mortality on the streets is real and significant, no one should agree with pre-emptively killing kittens just before birth just as we wouldn’t do so for the soon to be born babies from wild animals, such as squirrels, rabbits and foxes.

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter falsely claims the only real alternative to spaying pregnant community cats is leaving the cats on the streets to give birth. Specifically, the shelter dismisses its caregiver partners’ pleas to let them foster pregnant mothers as a “feel good” solution that is “not productive” stating the mother must be confined for weeks and the “stress” could cause her to not properly care for her kittens. First, many groups already successfully foster pregnant cats, such as Tiny Kittens mentioned above and Companion Animal Trust here in New Jersey. Even if the mother was truly stressed and not properly caring for the kittens, the shelter could spay and release the mother after giving birth and have the foster bottle feed the kittens.

The shelter goes on to lecture and castigate cat caregivers about the difficulties of fostering pregnant cats:

At the shelter, we have seen stressed out mothers kill their kittens, it’s one of the most horrible things we experience. If the mother neglects the kittens, the caregiver should be prepared to bottle feed around the clock, every two to three hours. The caregiver should also be prepared to pay for vet visits for vaccines and if they kittens need medication. And if they truly care about the welfare of cats, they should also ensure that each kitten is sterilized before they are placed in a home. Anything else is irresponsible, as it would cause suffering for the kittens and contribute to the overpopulation problem.  

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter clearly is fear mongering and trying to scare caregivers. First, if the shelter really let mother cats get so stressed that they killed their kittens, authorities should have charged the facility’s director and/or board of directors with animal cruelty. If these incidents happened when the organization still held animal cruelty law enforcement powers, it should have filed these Title 4 animal cruelty charges. Second, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s condescending tone jumps out here in that it tells caregivers they should be aware that they must pay to vet the kittens and sterilize the animals. Frankly, the shelter should pay for these kittens care and not the volunteers who are giving up their time, sleep and space in their home to help the organization. Furthermore, the volunteer caregivers know how to care for and treat kittens far better than the shelter (which let mothers kill their kittens). Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter should not throw out the authority card when it has no business doing so.

The shelter’s article concludes with the same falsehoods about fostering pregnant community cats and not enough homes existing for the kittens:

Ideally, we would be able to spay and neuter every community cat out there before pregnancy happened. In reality, there’s not a chance of that. Ideally, a pregnant cat would be able to safely deliver her kittens and we could guarantee that her quality of life will be maintained and the kittens will stay healthy. 

In reality, that’s basically impossible. 

Ideally, there would be a home for every kitten.

In reality, there simply is not.

So until reality catches up with the ideal, we must continue to work hard and make decisions to reduce the population. In the end, the more cats we fix, pregnant or not, the more lives we save. 

As the information and data I presented above showed, we can safely and humanely foster pregnant community cats (most of which are not truly feral) using proven practices and more than enough homes exist for the kittens. Rescues already successfully foster pregnant community cats, both friendly and truly feral, and raise their kittens. Furthermore, more than than enough homes exist for the additional kittens South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter claims it would take in from these pregnant cats. Thus, the shelter should stop lecturing cat advocates about a false “reality” and start working with them to save lives.

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s criticism of volunteer caregivers reeks of hypocrisy. The shelter is telling caregivers to shut up and focus on using TNVR to reduce the outdoor cat population. However, the organization has failed to fully embrace community cat sterilization programs. While South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter tries to raise money off its token TNVR program, it doesn’t truly practice TNVR. Specifically, the shelter does not require its contracting municipalities to practice TNVR and it still takes in healthy stray cats. In the most egregious example, the shelter allegedly accepted an ear tipped cat (i.e. the sign a cat has been sterilized and vaccinated) several months ago. Furthermore, an individual set up a go fund me and raised nearly $7,000 to send feral cats residing at the shelter to a sanctuary. In 2019, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter reported that nearly 600 cats, or 23% of all cats, lost their lives at the shelter. How many cats did the shelter impound and return to field sterilized in 2019? One. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter’s lecturing community cat caregivers on how to run a TNVR program is the height of hypocrisy.

South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter can easily force Cumberland County and the municipalities it contracts with elsewhere to implement TNVR and end the killing of community cats. Since the organization owns its physical shelter, it has complete leverage over the contracting municipalities. In other words, if South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter stated it would not contract with these towns unless they legalized and fully embraced TNVR, the municipalities would have to do so since they’d have no other place to send their stray animals. In fact, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter sent letters to its contracting municipalities in 2017 stating it was going to close at the end of the year and needed more money citing changing health codes (which had not changed) and costs to comply with the Open Public Records Act (which were exaggerated). Ultimately, the municipalities caved and agreed to pay more. Also, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter began contracting with additional towns after Ron’s Animal Shelter closed at the end of 2017 (i.e. this undercuts the shelter’s argument that it takes too many animals in). Subsequently, the shelter’s revenues from municipal contracts nearly doubled in 2018 as compared to 2017. In 2019, the organization’s municipal contract revenue increased more and were over 230% of the 2017 amounts. Despite the shelter’s strong arm tactics, it did not require the municipalities to implement TNVR. Thus, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter sold out cats to take in more money from the municipalities to practice catch and kill.

Ultimately, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter lacks the necessary respect for life and the ability to work with its community to end the killing at its facility. As the shelter’s article clearly demonstrates, the organization rationalizes killing using arguments, such as “too many animals and not enough homes”, “fates worse than death” and “not enough resources”, that shelters across the nation have proved wrong. Even worse, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter denigrates the very people (i.e. cat advocates willing to foster pregnant community cats) who could help the shelter end the killing. For these reasons, I’m not surprised to see many Cumberland County cat advocates criticize the shelter. At the end of the day, South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter must replace its leadership if it ever hopes to end the killing and create a no kill Cumberland County.

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