Pet Tales: Too many cats and perhaps too many no-kill shelters

“No-kill” shelters are a good thing for the animals who live there and for the employees and volunteers who take care of them.

But they may be too much of a good thing when there are too many homeless cats and kittens. That’s what’s happening now, as Humane Animal Rescue seems to be the only “open door” shelter in Allegheny and surrounding counties.

This issue is particularly difficult because cats, which used to give birth mostly in the spring, now are producing litters year-round. The gestation period is 64-67 days, so an unspayed cat can have several litters a year.

If you see cats and kittens outside in the cold and call a no-kill shelter or rescue, you’re usually told that it is full. It may offer to put you on a waiting list or refer you to Humane Animal Rescue, which has big shelters in Homewood and the North Side. But they are already filled with cats and kittens.

The mission of open door shelters is to literally take in every dog, cat, rabbit and other animal – including reptiles – that is brought to their doors. In the past year, when no-kill shelters and rescues in surrounding counties ran out of room for felines, increasing numbers of out-of-county cats were taken to Humane Animal Rescue.

Last October, people involved with no-kill shelters and rescues, large and small, complained on social media that Humane Animal Rescue was no longer taking in cats from outside Allegheny County. Cat lovers were irate.

I defend Humane Animal Rescue, which finds homes for more than 9,000 animals each year. CEO Dan Rossi says its shelters do not euthanize animals for space reasons and rely on a large network of foster homes to help when they are at capacity. “But we do need to euthanize animals that aren’t adoptable either for aggression or health reasons,” he said in an email.

At Humane Animal Rescue, the “live release rate” is currently over 85 percent. That’s a nice way of saying that 85 percent of the animals they receive are adopted and 15 percent are euthanized. The national live release rate for open door shelters is 50 percent.

“We are trying to serve Allegheny County,” said Janice Barnard, director of behavior and intake, noting that they still accept cats from other counties, sometimes after a delay. “Prior to last April, we never asked where animals came from.”

Humane Animal Rescue currently has more than 300 cats and kittens in its shelters and foster homes. In the summer, it handles as many as 1,000, she said.

“For almost a year we have been doing managed intakes,” Ms. Barnard said.

What this means is you won’t be able to get cats into the shelter on the day you call, but you may be able to get them in within one or two weeks, she said.

“We want to be a resource for the animals. We try to help surrounding counties whenever we can.”

At Animal Friends, there are currently 211 cats in the Ohio Township shelter and in foster homes.

“We never euthanize to make space for another animal,” said Kathleen Beaver, chief operating officer.

“I can imagine the stress on both HAR and those from other counties with cats in need of placement. We, too, feel the pressure. Cats continue to be the biggest challenge when it comes to pet overpopulation,” Ms. Beaver said.

She said adoption is only part of the solution. “We believe taking a proactive approach though spay/neuter is the only way we will have a significant, long-lasting and compassionate impact on the cat population.”

Animal Friends has provided over 95,000 low-cost spay/neuter surgeries since 2008, Ms. Beaver said. In recent years, the organization has been doing 10,000 surgeries each year, and a high percentage of recipients are cats.

With the fall opening of the Howard Ash Animal Wellness Center, Animal Friends hopes to do 15,000 low-cost spay and neuters each year, and the service is available to owners from other counties. The surgeries are by appointment and can generally be scheduled within 30 days. Females are spayed for $40, and males neutered for $30.

Humane Animal Rescue provides spay/neuter surgery for $70, including vaccines.

Another part of the solution is the Homeless Cat Management Team, which has spayed and neutered more than 15,000 cats in 13 years. Its emphasis is on what it calls “community cats,” which other people call ferals or strays.

Trap, neuter and return is a big part of the team’s mission. Scheduled appointments are $30 for community cats, $40 for pet male cats and $55 for pet female cats. Some “free” slots are available for community cats.

Pittsburgh residents can get free spay and neuter surgeries for up to five cats or dogs. The surgeries are done at Animal Friends and Humane Animal Rescue. For more information, call 412-255-2036. For an online application, go to:

Many organizations are working to find homes for cats and to provide spay and neuter services. Check with the shelter closest to you to see what it offers. Among the rescues working on this issue are Nose 2 Tail Cat Rescue in Washington County, Frankie’s Friends Cat Rescue in New Kensington and Hog Heaven Rescue Farm in Cochranton. All have websites and Facebook pages.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064 and on Facebook.

Correction, updated January 12, 2018: An earlier version gave an incorrect live release rate for Humane Animal Rescue. Also, an earlier version incorrectly stated animals were euthanized for space reasons.