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Prolific felines pack Merced County shelter

Kittens are cute, no doubt about that.

But the situation becomes far from adorable when thousands of them pour into the Merced County animal shelter.

Reasons behind the high numbers vary, but everyone from shelter managers to rescue volunteers agree — the county is teaming with more cats than it can deal with.

Being smack in the middle of kitten season is an undeniable factor, said Mary Jo Campodonica, president of Trails of Happy Tails, a nonprofit rescue organization that works with the shelter.

And the economy could have something to do with the large numbers, some say, although this has yet to be confirmed.

“It’s mainly this time of year,” said Susan Kimes, a Trails of Happy Tails volunteer who transports pets to be spayed or neutered. “Also, because of foreclosures, people are giving up their animals and moving places they can’t have cats. It’s a double whammy.”

Cats start having their litters in about March or April. The season started a bit later this year for unknown reasons. But the animals are now pouring in, said Rick Blackwell, animal services manager for the shelter.

That connects to another large, ongoing problem — people aren’t spaying and neutering their pets.

Organizations like Trails of Happy Tails and Last Hope Cat Kingdom are pushing for low-cost spay and neuter options in Merced. Both rescue groups are involved in a program that transports pets to cheaper services in Fresno at the Hope Foundation.

People meet in Merced’s PetSmart parking lot with pets to have them taken for spaying or neutering in Fresno. They are returned later in the evening or morning.

Rescue groups also try to get animals out of the shelter by transferring them to other rescue groups in less animal-populated places — like the Bay Area — to be adopted or taken to no-kill shelters.

But those places this year are turning away cats.

“It’s bad — a lot are coming in,” Campodonica said. “The rescue groups we normally work with are full.”

But the cat situation has been bad for a long time, Blackwell said.

“Cats are prolific,” he said. “To say this year has gotten worse, I can’t say.”

Numbers of cats coming into the shelter are up this year. But these numbers fluctuate from year to year.

During the fiscal 2007-08 year, 3,374 cats were brought into the shelter: 231 were adopted, 872 were sent to rescue groups and 1,867 were euthanized. The 2006-07 fiscal year saw 2,987 cats brought in, down from 3,900 in 2005-06.

“It’s cyclic,” Blackwell said.

What drives these factors remains up for debate.

“Naturally, foreclosure rates could have an impact,” Blackwell said. “Personally, I’ve heard people say, ‘I lost my home, I can’t keep a pet, I’m moving into an apartment that doesn’t allow pets.’ But is that more than normal? I don’t know.”

People move around, and the shelter has seen minor cases of people simply abandoning their pets. But it does not keep a record of why people bring cats in or leave them uncared for.

Once intact cats get lose to roam, they breed at a shocking rate — which only adds to the cycle of problems. And everyone has their reasons for leaving a pet or not taking proper care of it.

“There are as many excuses as there are people,” Blackwell said.

To find out more about adopting cats at the Merced County Animal Shelter, call (209) 385-7436 or go to