Tiny pink noses. Stubby little tails. High-pitched mews. Kittens possess an undeniable charm. But while one kitten is aww-worthy and two playing together are adorable, 450 of them with nowhere to go is a catastrophe.

Animal shelters across the United States are scrambling to accommodate the annual “kitten season”. It’s not unusual for some shelters to take in hundreds of kittens a month during this time, which starts in early spring and lasts through the fall. Imagine this scenario playing out at thousands of shelters across the country, and the scope of the emergency becomes alarmingly clear.

But this crisis is preventable. Each of us can play a vital role in ending it, by having our own feline companions spayed or neutered and helping everyone we know to do the same.

A “snip” in time saves countless lives. Spaying and neutering are the most important tools for ending animal overpopulation and homelessness – and all the suffering they cause. Spaying just one female cat can prevent the potential births of 370,000 kittens over the course of seven years; neutering one male cat can prevent him from fathering untold numbers of litters.

Many people are surprised to learn that cats can become mothers while they are still just kittens themselves – as young as four months. If you’ve recently added a kitten to your family and haven’t gotten around to making a spay/neuter appointment, delaying any longer is an “accident” waiting to happen.

Female cats can go into heat every two to three weeks and can even become pregnant again while they’re still nursing – enabling one cat to give birth to multiple litters during kitten season.

Keeping cats inside – while vital to protecting them from the many dangers that cats face if they are allowed to roam – isn’t an effective means of birth control. Raging hormones can turn an otherwise docile kitty into an escape artist who bolts out the door in search of a mate at the first opportunity.

Kittens that are born as a result of chance encounters often face short, difficult lives on the street. According to a study published in the Journal Of The American Veterinary Medical Association, 75% of free-roaming kittens observed had disappeared or died before they were six months old. Trauma was the most common cause of death.

Speeding cars, predators (on four legs or two), extreme weather and deadly diseases are constant threats to cats that are left to eke out an existence outside.

Luckier kittens may end up in shelters, where they’ll have a chance at adoption. But with many facilities at full capacity year-round, there are no guarantees.

To accommodate the influx of kittens, many shelters are forced to make heart-wrenching decisions. Often this means that older cats that have been waiting for a while with no adoption prospects must be euthanised. Some facilities dodge this responsibility by turning away animals when they’re at capacity, but this leaves vulnerable kittens, cats, dogs and other animals on the mean streets or in the hands of people who can’t or won’t take care of them.

It’s up to us to stop this catastrophe. Many communities have low-cost spay/neuter clinics or offer vouchers for free or reduced-cost sterilisations at veterinary clinics, which make it easy and affordable for everyone to do the right thing. One simple “snip” can prevent so much suffering. – Tribune News Service