An unfortunate myth about cats

NICK BARNETT
Last updated 09:47 27/09/2012

For much of this month, our property has been like Grand Central Station for cats. Cats of all colours and calibres have traipsed across our front yard and crept around our backyard, spraying generously, tracing and retracing a broadly eastward route and often getting into quarrels with each other.

KittensThe cause? A neighbour's pretty little female cat has been on heat. How quickly they grow; it seems only yesterday that she was a pert kitten, and now her milkshake is bringing all the boys to the yard.

And in a while, about the end of November, that little cat, not yet a year old, will probably be a mum. And one of those traipsing toms, or several of them, will be a dad. The kittens will be gorgeous and mum will be dutiful. But, oh heck.

My neighbour is confident he can find homes for the kittens he knows are coming. And he may be right, and know of four or five people who'd love to commit part of the next 15 years of their lives to owning a cat. If so, then the overall demand for kittens eases by four or five. Four or five kittens in our local Animates or at the SPCA or being nursed in someone's wardrobe won't get a home... and the chain of consequence soon leads to - I know it sounds dramatic - death. Thousands of cats will be euthanised this year (or dumped to die in rivers or wheely bins) because there are simply too many of them. We love cats in New Zealand, and have one of the world's highest rates of cat ownership, but even we can't handle the numbers.

It's the biggest animal welfare issue in the country - more so than the cruelties that we read about (or let our eyes glide over) in the newspapers. A huge amount of the money and effort injected into our many animal welfare groups is needed purely to ease the results of overpopulation, including the cats that grow up feral.

You're reading a pets blog, so you're probably the choir and I'm preaching to you. You know how crucial it is, thinking globally, to neuter your pets. You've probably heard various myths about neutering and have learnt to discount them. But a lot of people don't and haven't.

My neighbour's cat is probably pregnant by now - but that was the idea. My neighbour is a lovely man and one of the best neighbours we've ever had, but he believes that it is better for the cat to have a litter before being spayed. He told me so a few weeks ago, and I politely disagreed, having recently talked to a cat expert about this subject.

Some notions stick like limpets, don't they?  Some sure-of-herself friend says that cats shouldn't be spayed till after giving birth one time. Or we overhear it somewhere, and then overhear it again so it becomes convention, and then we start telling other people that it's true.

Pet myths must almost rival baby myths for persistence.

This particular myth - that pregnancy is good for a female and that desexing should be delayed - have you heard of it? Do many people believe it? I can't remember when or from whom I heard it. It has just lain there in my consciousness for years, unbelieved and not acted on, but known about.

Where did it come from? Is there some kernel of credibility?

Well, I have cast my mind back to every authority I've spoken to and scoured as many sources as Google has thrown up, and they all say it's a myth. In fact, the opposite of the myth seems to be true - a cat desexed early is likely to live longer and have better health than one that's allowed to breed.

There's an idea that a pregnancy will benefit a young cat in the long term by "settling" it. But that seems to be a misconception too, and after the hormonal riot of pregnancy and birth, a cat's character will return to what it was before.

Wouldn't it be good if we could take this myth and, respectfully and gently, euthanise it? It's perhaps not the most influential myth - that's probably the well-meant but wrong-headed one about desexing being cruel because it deprives pets of their "right" to a sex life and parenthood. But it would be a good myth to get rid of.

It may take some effort and, especially when a good and well-liked neighbour is involved, tact. Taking into account my diplomatic abilities and non-militant nature, the importance of the neighbourly relationship, the fact that my neighbour has rights and he is within them whether I like it or not, and the persistence of his belief, I plan to take no further action. Apart from writing this blog. Which I don't know whether he'll read.

Or is there one more thing I could do - adopt one of the kittens when they arrive? Not because kittens are terrific or because we need one, but because it's something we could do to ease a problem that's going to exist whether I like it or not.

My neighbour may have things all sorted, in which case it won't be an issue for us. We'll know in two months' time.

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