Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 7.30.2009

Too Much of a Good Thing
What do shelters do with pregnant strays?
by Suzi Steffen

A year ago, a beautiful long-haired gray cat showed up at the Weekly’s kitchen door, begging. She was little, sweet and hungry, and she sported a pink collar. Staff members eventually fed her, walked around the neighborhood looking for her owner and placed an ad in our paper with her photo. No one claimed her.

We soon figured out that she was pregnant, and one of us took her in to a vet clinic, where she was spayed. The kittens? Never saw the light of day.

Fast forward a year: A grey tabby/tortoiseshell cat walks into the apartment of my colleagues of mine at the UO journalism school. The cat is friendly, gorgeous — and pregnant. The friends are leaving for the summer and have to take her in to LCAS, where the City of Eugene spay/neuter clinic vets decide to spay her and abort the kittens.

“Fetus euthanasia,” the clinics and shelters call it. If a pregnant stray dog isn’t too far along, the same surgery occurs. People love the idea of kittens and puppies, and if an animal is particularly attractive, that makes some owners less likely to take care of the basic spay or neuter procedures. But with 90 kittens in Greenhill Humane Society’s cattery and around 60 at Lane County Animal Services, not to mention those at Cat’s Pajamas, West Coast Dog and Cat Rescue and the other nearby cat rescue operations, no one could claim a kitten shortage. “There’s a cat overpopulation problem,” says Cary Lieberman, executive director of Greenhill Humane Society. He says that more people will foster and adopt puppies, so the procedure happens less often with dogs. Plus, the dogs aren’t in heat all of the time.

“Cats are born to reproduce,” says Marilyn Waters, a vet at the City of Eugene Spay/Neuter Clinic. Feral kittens especially can go into heat as early as four or five months, and they keep cycling until they get pregnant or spayed. Waters says that unlike other parts of the county, cats in the Northwest can cycle into heat all year thanks to our temperate weather. “One female cat that has four litters of four, half of which are female, after 3 years, she and her offspring can be responsible for 1376 cats,” Waters says. Even if the chance of a feral kitten surviving is less than 50 percent, as Lieberman says, that’s a lot of cats wandering around.

Obviously, it’s easier on everyone, human and animal alike, if cats and dogs get spayed and neutered before they have the chance to get (or get someone else) pregnant. Regular vets will spay and neuter animals, of course, but some people can’t afford that, and many feral cats couldn’t be adopted post-surgery in any case.

Greenhill runs a Trap/Neuter/Release program (689-1503), which has a waiting list but eventually helps people trap feral cats and then spays or neuters them at a low cost. The City of Eugene offers some discount vouchers for the already low-cost spay/neuter procedures at its clinic (682-3643). And the Willamette Animal Guild ( runs a low-cost spay/neuter clinic as well.

As for the long-haired gray cat who hung out at the Weekly for a few weeks, she ended up in a loving home where she happily stalks insects in the grass and romps with her owner’s Dalmatian. And the torti/tabby mix? She’s recovering from her surgery and shelter time at my house, where she’s the new furball of love.