The number of cats surrendered or brought in as strays to shelters in Southern Maine has risen dramatically this year.
An aging population, the cost of living, higher veterinary care costs, the housing shortage and even climate change are among the reasons why, shelter officials say.
The Homeless Animal Rescue Team of Maine, or HART, in Cumberland has taken in 227 cats this year, an increase of about 30% over last year. The Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook has accepted 572 cats so far this year, up from 378 in 2022 for a 54% increase. Midcoast Humane in Brunswick has received about 200 more cats than last year, especially more kittens.
“We’ve had to be more selective, because if we don’t adopt out as many cats as we take in, we are overloaded with cats,” HART President Lisa Gamage told The Forecaster.
In the Cumberland area, one of the biggest reasons for the surge in homeless cats is the aging population, Gamage said. When cat owners go into assisted living, they can’t always bring their pets with them, Gamage said.
But it has also become increasingly more difficult for owners of any age to provide for their animals, she said.
“They can’t afford to feed themselves, let alone their animals. When they make those hard sacrifices, something has to give,” Gamage said.
Midcoast Humane is seeing more kittens surrendered.
Many veterinarians retired during the pandemic, and that, combined with the rising costs of veterinary care has made it more difficult for pet owners to provide essential care like spaying and neutering, resulting in more cats with no way to provide for them, Director Jess Townsend said.
“We’re getting more litters from owners than we ever have before,” Townsend said. “One cat can have up to 36 kittens in one year.”
Climate change also has an impact on the cat population in Maine. Cats don’t go into heat when it’s too cold for kittens to survive, Townsend said, but as temperatures rise and winters become more mild, the cat breeding season becomes longer.
“You have this perfect storm of that combined with the access to care issue, and boom, you have more kittens,” Townsend said.
The Animal Refuge League says the Maine’s housing shortage and its cost of living could be driving factors behind the rise in the homeless cat population.
Pet-friendly housing, as well as housing in general, is difficult to find, Marketing and Communication Coordinator Morgan Sewall said. It’s also possible that the increase in stray cats is a direct result of pet owners no longer being able to afford their pets, she said.
“We don’t have the actual information to back that up, but when you have this many stray cats, you have to ask that question,” she said.
Sheltering cats is expensive, Gamage said. Many of HART’s cats are diabetic, requiring insulin shots and special food, and some are amputees.
“Our vet bills are astronomical,” she said. “We’ll always pay them, but fundraisers are key.”
HART of Maine will host a Bids and Brews fundraising event, with a silent and live auction, on Dec. 7 from 5:30-8 p.m. at Maine Beer Company in Freeport.