A Co Tyrone animal sanctuary is experiencing its highest ever demand to rehome cats, receiving 55 calls to take in unwanted pets in just one day.
Anice Porter, from the Grovehill Animal Trust, which is based near Sixmilecross, said it was the worst she had seen in 20 years of volunteering.
Despite having expected a surge in pandemic pets being returned, Janice was stunned by the sheer scale.
She told this newspaper that by 11am on Monday, the shelter had received more than 20 calls.
She citied owners failing to neuter cats acquired during lockdown as one of the major causes, along with the cost-of-living crisis making it harder for owners to meet their pets’ needs.
She said there had also been an increase in dogs being rehomed at the sanctuary.
Many of them are aged around two to three years old, with many people having welcomed dogs into their homes during the Covid lockdowns.
Sadly, many of these new owners were not prepared to meet their dog’s basic needs in terms of walking and providing proper socialisation.
Janice said that for some dogs, this led to behavioral problems and even aggression.
“For a long time, we have had dreaded conversations, thinking that this was going to happen,” she added.
“I’ve been involved with Grovehill for 20 years and I honestly can’t remember when it was this mad with requests for cats and kittens to be left in. I’m not exaggerating when I say that.
“Every year is busy, but we think this is a fallout from people not getting their adult cats neutered and spayed during lockdown.
“Vets either weren’t open or people didn’t feel it was safe to go out so to speak.”
Janice warned that the consequences of failing to get cats neutered could be dire.
“If a cat lives to 15 and she’s never spayed, within her lifetime she can produce a minimum of 180 kittens,” she added.
“That’s very realistic — that’s three litters a year and I’m being conservative when I say there’s an average of four cats per litter.”
Around 30 cats were at the sanctuary yesterday, with every cat run full and many others waiting for space.
“We’re a small. independent charity. We don’t receive any government funding,” Janice said.
“We rely 100% on public donations to keep our doors open.
“We’ve created a mother-and-kitten unit. It’s a work in progress, but as of today we literally can’t take in another cat.”
Janice said that in recent months she had received calls from people who started feeding a stray who suddenly gave birth to a litter.
“That’s people who feed cats out of their good nature, but then it gets completely out of hand and they can’t afford it any more,” she added.
Janice said it was a myth that it was good for a cat’s health to have a litter of kittens before taking them to be spayed.
“Another thing we forget is that they don’t neuter the tomcat as he won’t produce any kittens, but he’s going to your neighbor’s cat and all the feral cats around the country, so it’s really important that both males are neutered and females are spayed,” she explained.
“It’s a very simple operation and recovery times are short.
“It’s really sad to see. We have the most stunning kittens and mums, but the number of them is absolutely crazy.
“We do the best we can. Sometimes members of the public get impatient with us, but we have to explain to them that the cattery is full and you can’t take in any more.”
Despite this, the team will always be available for advice.
“We understand that people’s circumstances are very different, but at the moment we are really struggling,” Janice said.
“What we really need is any financial donations as well as cat and kitten food.”
For more information, visit www.grovehillanimaltrust.org