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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I live in Texas, in a city where you can only have three cats and three dogs. I have more, and I love every one of them. They all have their shots and are spayed or neutered. I had 15 cats, but I have already given up four; two of them have found new homes. I now have eight at home and three at a friend’s house. We would like to rent a place in the country where no one cares about how many animals we have.

I want to keep the four oldest cats, at least. Is it unrealistic to want to take care of them all and love them all? Should I give them up so they will have a chance to get new homes? How can I keep them and will they get over it if I give them up? How do breeders get to keep all their cats? I hate animal laws!

~Tammy

Siouxsie: Well, Tammy, you’ve brought up some really important issues that need to be discussed and thought out — not just by you and your family, but by cat lovers in general. I think we can give you some insight on your situation, though.

Thomas: The first of these is, how many cats is “too many?” We’re happy to hear that all of your cats are “fixed” and vaccinated; that speaks well of your willingness to be responsible about their care. But circumstances change and there are a lot of factors at play here, and we’re going to focus on the practical ones because we know you’ve got plenty of love for all your cats!

Dahlia: Do you have the financial means to keep all your cats healthy? Is each one of them getting annual vet checkups, appropriate vaccinations, high-quality food, and parasite control — and do you have the resources to deal with medical emergencies?

Siouxsie: If you’re not giving your cats this level of care (for example, they’re not getting annual checkups and you’re not keeping your cats current on their vaccinations), and if you’re not sure you could afford treatment for a medical emergency that cost more than, say $100 or so, you probably don’t have the financial means to keep all your cats.

Thomas: Then there’s the sanitary issue. Do you have enough litterboxes for all your cats, do you clean them at least once a day, and do you clean all those boxes and replace the litter at least once a month? Do your cats pee or poop outside of their boxes? If so, this is most likely a symptom of territorial stress resulting from too many cats.

Dahlia: If your house smells like cat urine (and you may have to ask someone else if it does because your nose won’t register the smell if you’ve been around it for a while), the chances are you’re not able to keep up with your cats’ hygienic needs.

Siouxsie: If in your honest assessment you can meet the financial and sanitary requirements of keeping 15 cats, that’s wonderful. Not many people can, and this is the reason animal laws and ordinances exist.

Thomas: As you probably know, there are hoarders who live with dozens and sometimes hundreds of ill cared-for cats in grim conditions. Animal ordinances allow law and code enforcement officials to confiscate and rescue cats from these horrific situations, and perhaps even get the hoarder the psychological and social help he or she needs.

Dahlia: Animal ordinances also exist in order to protect public health. If cats are roaming around neighborhoods, getting in fights with other cats, and depositing feces (which could potentially be contaminated with toxoplasmosis or other parasites) in sandboxes and gardens, this presents a public health risk.

Siouxsie: If you can’t provide proper care for your cats, moving to the country where nobody cares about how many cats you have is not going to solve the core problem of too many cats. If an alcoholic got arrested for drunk driving and decided to move to a place where he can walk to the liquor store, his alcoholism would still exist even though he found a way to avoid the legal consequences of his disease.

Thomas: We can’t give you advice on how to keep all your cats, because we’re honestly not sure you should. Hopefully by asking yourself these practical questions and answering them honestly, you’ll come to a decision about what’s best for you and, most importantly, your cats.

Dahlia: If you do decide to give up enough cats to get you down to the legal limit, the ones you surrender probably will be in shock for a little while. This is normal because cats aren’t big fans of change. However, most cats do bounce back pretty quickly. You mentioned in your letter that there’s a no-kill shelter in your area, and we’re sure that if you give your cats to them they will find wonderful forever-homes and they’ll be very happy in the long run.

Siouxsie: As to the question of how breeders get to keep all their cats, we imagine that it has something to do with being licensed businesses and continuing to meet health and sanitation standards. I’m sure there are some breeders who read Paws and Effect, and maybe they can speak to the vast number of laws, ordinances, and regulations they need to follow in order to maintain their status.

Thomas: We’re not talking about kitten mill type “breeders” here, because these profit-driven, nasty individuals just skirt around the law by setting up in places where people don’t see what’s going on and where officials “don’t care how many cats you have.’

Dahlia: Well, Tammy, this probably wasn’t what you wanted to hear, but we hope we’ve given you (and our other readers) some food for thought when it comes to deciding how many cats is too many.

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