CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — Although the coronavirus pandemic put the world on pause, kitten season has kept going on.
Organizations like the University of Illinois (UI) and the Champaign County Humane Society (CCHS) shut down for some time in the spring, along with their vet clinics.
However, the kittens that needed to be spayed and neutered in March are now old enough to have babies of their own. So organizations like the Humane Society are having to catch up on their backlog of surgeries.
“Even though the clinics had shut down for that major hotspot of COVID, the cats are still reproducing,” said April Faulkner, CCHS Humane Educator and Investigator. “The cats we weren’t able to spay are having babies, and those babies are now old enough to start having babies. So just keep in mind that even though our society kind of froze during COVID, the reproduction is still going at full force.”
“They’re pretty good reproducing machines,” she added.
Cats can be pregnant for two months and can become pregnant as early as 4-months-old.
Faulkner said it’s hard to say whether the numbers of strays have increased, adding that CCHS hasn’t seen a big jump because of COVID-19.
“We saw less of them through the pandemic I think simply because people were out less,” Faulkner said. Although there are fewer people out looking for strays, she said that their community caretakers are observant with their colony of cats and act quickly when they see newcomers.
CCHS runs a trap, neuter/spay, release (TNR) program in the county, and works alongside the Champaign Area Trap Spay / Neuter and Adoption Program (CATSNAP).
Both are 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.
CCHS has spayed or neutered about 90 cats since March. Freda Shore, Executive Director of CATSNAP, said they have fixed 376 cats since March — that number may also include some surgeries provided by CCHS.
Shore said they served over 1200 cats in 2018 and 1400 in 2019, adding, “We will certainly surpass those numbers in 2020.”
She also that CATSNAP is receiving more requests for help than in previous years.
When the COVID-19 shutdown happened in March, she said CATSNAP cut down their volunteer base by 85%. They also conducted trapping on only a minimal scale, and they were also not able to access clinics with the UI, CCHS, and other veterinarians.
“A skeleton crew with mask and social distancing was tasked with maintaining the care and welfare of our cats,” she said.
Shore said kitten season is at peak between March and August, and more sightings are reported as kittens become mobile around 4-5 weeks.
“The gestation period for a female is only 63 days,” she said. “Kittens born in March were conceived in January. March pregnancy equals May babies.
“The cycle keeps repeating. Females can become pregnant when still nursing the first litter. A female cat can be a mother and grandmother inside of one year.”
To Shore, the most important lesson about TNR is that spaying and neutering save lives — that goes for all animals, regardless of breed, sex, or age. She said that the mission of CATSNAP seeks to reduce pet overpopulation and to improve the welfare of animals in the greater Champaign County area.
“By spaying/neutering, we are reducing the number of cats and dogs born into situations of inadequate care and abuse,” Shore said. “We are also limiting the numbers of unwanted animals relinquished to shelters, where they are often euthanized for lack of space.”
Faulkner said many people think that there’s nothing that can be done for strays, however, there are resources for them — and CCHS can help point people in the right direction. She also said people can get involved by just passing the word along to anyone who knows of wild cats in their area.
She said that TNR is the best way of addressing wild cats.
“Of course, we would love to take them all and put them into homes, but realistically we can’t do that,” Faulkner continued. “They are wild, they would not be happy and would not do well in traditional, standard adoptions. This is what’s best for them. It keeps them the healthiest that we can keep them. It keeps them happy in the environment that they’re used to.
While friendly strays can be put up for adoption, TNR clinics can’t do that with all the cats they serve.
“It’s the feral cats that need more support because they are pretty misunderstood by the general public,” she said.