Kitten season is here again and the SPCA Dunedin Centre and Cat Rescue Dunedin Charitable Trust are bracing for a tsunami of tiny felines in need of help.
The trickle that will become a flood in January-February has already begun, with Cat Rescue Dunedin taking in 51 kittens in four days last week, and the SPCA Dunedin Centre receiving 13 kittens on Friday alone.
For the past 18 months, the organisations have been working together in a bid to tackle Dunedin’s stray, feral and un-desexed cat population, and thereby prevent the births of hundreds of kittens each year.
It is tough going, with huge numbers of cats and kittens needing help, and a lack of resources, space and fosterers to care for them.
In the year to November, Cat Rescue Dunedin has rescued 726 cats and kittens, while the SPCA Dunedin Centre has taken in 515 cats and kittens from Dunedin, plus an additional 173 from Central Otago - a combined total of 1414 in under a year.
Cat Rescue Dunedin Charitable Trust chairwoman Debby Foster said the support of SPCA veterinarian Lyndell Olley and vet nurse Phoebe Loper, particularly in desexing about 300 cats, had been crucial to the survival of the charity.
"I honestly believe we would not still be running if we didn’t have that support - it has saved us a significant amount of money, and is helping to take the pressure off the local vet practices that we work with," Mrs Foster said.
In total, Ms Olley and Miss Loper have done about 1000 surgeries this year, most of them desexing male and female cats and dogs.
"We are all very lucky that they are so fast and efficient," Mrs Foster said.
Ms Olley said owners of cats needed to prioritise getting them desexed, as they could breed extremely quickly, from the young age of about four-and-a-half months.
"Two breeding cats can very quickly become 50 cats, and then you have a big problem to deal with," she said.
Miss Andrews said the SPCA and Cat Rescue were also keen to work on several large feral cat colonies in the Dunedin area, although neither organisation had had the time or the capacity to do so as yet.
"However, we want to give people the message that, if they realise they have a colony and need help, get in touch and we will do our best to help."
Kittens could be socialised by fosterers and adopted out, if rescued at a young enough age, so it was important to seek help as early as possible, she said.
Mrs Foster said there was also a growing number of cats being abandoned by their owners, either by moving away and leaving them behind, or dumping them. These were reported to the SPCA.
"We have also had a lot of surrenders from people who have struggled to find somewhere to live, and then are unable to take their much-loved pets with them - it’s a heartbreaking situation for them," she said.
Ms Olley said people should also beware of adopting free kittens off social media.
"Animals are not free, you have to feed them and care for their health and wellbeing, none of which is cheap."
With both the SPCA Dunedin Centre and Cat Rescue Dunedin struggling for space to house cats and kittens, they are putting out the call for willing people to become fosterers.
"Foster homes are a vital part of our work - when kittens are fostered, they experience life in a home, become socialised, and are much easier to re-home," Miss Andrews said.
Cat Rescue Dunedin committee member Maria Christus also encouraged the community to step in and adopt the older cats.
"They are great companions and have a lot of love to give," she said.
The SPCA Dunedin Centre is in need of foster homes, and volunteers to help with cleaning and socialising cats and kittens. For more information visit spca.nz/centre/dunedin-centre
• Cat Rescue Dunedin needs help with housing, food, volunteers, fosterers, and donations of funds to help with its work. Visit catrescuedunedin.org.nz
• Cat Rescue Dunedin is holding an adoption day, for cats and kittens, this Sunday 1pm-3pm at Animal Attraction, Crawford St.