How many cats are too many?
In the town of Wellington, Kansas, population 8,057, the answer is five. As of January 1st, four is the legal maximum for any individual household. Well, four cats or one litter of kittens. (The average number of kittens in a litter is five, but eight is not unusual.)
Commentators are having a field day with this “bizarre” new rule. (As The Daily Beast puts it, “new law has bloggers purring in amusement.”) MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews” calls the law one of the wackiest of the new year. The feigned surprise at the new law ignores the town’s pre-existing rule that households may not have more than four dogs.
It also trivializes the issue, which is the town’s misguided attempt to help homeless cats.
The law is meant to reduce the number of stray and feral cats in Wellington, according to PetsLady. There is no denying that the town needs to get a handle on its homeless cat population: last November alone it picked up 231 cats, 87 percent of whom it euthanized.
I expect the law to have the opposite of its intended effect. People who might otherwise adopt stray cats won’t if they already have four cats. People may abandon cats they have in excess of the new legal limit, increasing the number of stray and, a generation later, feral cats. I haven’t found any evidence that the despicable families who do abandon their pets have any more animals than other people, so putting a cap on the number of cats per household doesn’t target that hell-bound bunch.
Paw Nation also questions the law’s effectiveness, writing that “it remains unclear exactly how the new limit will impact the number of cats being euthanized.”
The Daily Beast implies that the law is actually meant to prevent animal hoarding by packaging it with a collection of “crazy cat lady” stories. MSN also goes with the crazy cat lady angle. Though that stereotype minimizes the seriousness of the disorder that causes hoarding and the suffering it causes its non-human victims, these articles are onto something: the new law does make more sense as an anti-hoarding law than as a way to prevent cats from becoming stray or feral.
Cat hoarding is “an actual disease that destroys homes and lives.” Its source, mechanism and treatment are not well understood, but experts believe it may be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, dementia or paranoid schizophrenia. Hoarders believe that only they can care for their cats, and that their cats are in excellent condition. Meanwhile horror stories emerge all the time from people who have been inside hoarders’ homes, stories of emaciated cats, dead cats rotting where they fell, urine and feces collecting around the house or the cats’ cages, untreated ill cats and more.
Anti-cruelty laws are already on the books to prosecute hoarders, but it can’t hurt to have another law to use against them.
There is no magic to the number four. There are perfectly rational and lucid people who provide excellent care to more than four cats. I have had four adult cats and a litter of six cats in my care at one time when I was fostering a homeless feline family, and while my own cats may have been miffed that they didn’t get quite as much lap time as usual, everyone pulled through in top-notch health. The kittens were well socialized and ready for adoption when they left.
I doff my cap to the people of Wellington for seeking a humane way to reduce their stray and feral cat populations. I just don’t think they have chosen an effective method. But the town would do well to keep statistics about the effect of its new law to add to our knowledge about how to help cats without homes.