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My career as a veterinarian — and really, my entire life — has been all about celebrating what I call “The Bond,” that amazing connection we have with our pets. But even as I’ve made a life’s work out of The Bond, I am keenly aware that it sometimes breaks, landing pets in shelters where they hope for new homes. The good news is that progressive shelters are making tremendous leaps forward when it comes to re-homing pets in need. The success of Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days — with almost 8,000 pets nationwide placed in forever homes over a single weekend — highlights the amazing work that the shelter and rescue communities are doing these days.
But despite this positive news about pet adoptions, cats are still among the hardest animals to place in new homes. Fortunately, there’s good news for the felines too: The shelter community is studying the reasons cats are given up, with an eye to helping pet owners solve the problems that cause them to surrender their cats — or, ideally, to avoid those problems in the first place.
I’ve worked in and with shelters for more than 30 years, and I have a pretty good idea why cats end up in them. But as always, I wanted to tap the expertise of a top colleague, so I talked with Dr. Brian DiGangi, clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Most people who make the decision to relinquish a pet are heartbroken and truly want to do what’s best for their animal," he says. "They just don’t know where else to turn. While we need to respect those owners who have come to the decision that they can no longer care for their pet, many are just in need of some good advice and support."
So what are the reasons a cat owner winds up surrendering a beloved pet? Here are Dr. DiGangi's suggestions, along with some advice from him (and me) on what might help avoid these problems.
Allergies. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, about a quarter of all Americans are allergic to cats, and experience occasional or mildly annoying symptoms to life-threatening ones. Additionally, 29 percent of all asthma cases are linked to cats. Obviously you need to balance the benefits of having a cat with the problems related to allergies, and in some cases, that might mean re-homing your pet. "Dealing with severe allergies may be among the hardest of challenges to overcome," says Dr. DiGangi. See an allergist first: By getting proper medical care and reducing allergens in your environment, you may be able to keep your cat. "We are only limited by our creativity!" says Dr. DiGangi. "Many cat owners have found ways to preserve the bond with their pet without compromising the quality of life for themselves or their cats."
Moving. Pet-friendly rental housing can be difficult to find, especially if you have only a short window of time to move from one place to another. Check with rescue groups and shelters in your new community to see if they maintain lists of rentals that accept cats. If it is financially possible, you might also consider an extended-stay hotel — many of which accept pets — to give yourself more time to look for permanent feline-friendly housing. If you are really struggling to find a place that will allow a cat, or you know your housing dilemma is relatively short-term (a few weeks or months), you might be able to arrange for your cat to live with a friend or relative until you can be together again.
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