Stray Cats and Dogs Overwhelm Ohio Shelters

Experts say the number of stray cats and dogs in Central Ohio is overwhelming. There are no exact figures but stray cats outnumber dogs – as many as a million cats may roam the streets and alleys. The agencies who take in strays are overwhelmed themselves.

The barking at the Franklin County Dog Shelter just off Alum Creek Drive reaches its peaks when the animals see visitors walking past their cages. There are no cats, rabbits or other kinds of potential pets. Ohio law only requires counties to have dog wardens – any other type of animal is turned away. Lisa Wahoff is director of Franklin County’s dog shelter.

“In Ohio, we do dogs, just dogs,” Wahoff says. That is state law. And our county shelter has usually about 350 dogs. We’re usually maxed out. We have more dogs than we know what to do with.”

Wahoff says 10,000 unidentifiable stray dogs were brought to the dog shelter last year and another 3500 were turned in by their owners.

“We get anywhere from 40 to 65 dogs a day. I’ve been here five years. Still every night I shake my head before I go home.”

Nearly half of those dogs are euthanized because they cannot be adopted out or their original owners cannot found. Money to run the shelter comes in part from the sale of 100,000 Franklin County dog licenses that owners renew annually.

“It’s a real tragedy in Ohio that there aren’t services provided for cats,” says Jodi Buckman, head of the Capital Area Humamne Society. Licenses are not required for cats. And the number of stray cats in Central Ohio, by one estimate, could be as many as one million. The Humane Society in Hilliard is the largest of several private organizations that care for stray cats as well as dogs. Buckman walks through one of the cat adoption rooms.

“These are all kitties that have been brought to our organization. Here’s a good example of a stray. ‘Good Samaritan found on Big Run Road.’ ‘No ID.’ And it’s a kitten.”

The Humane Society takes in more than 10,000 cats a year. Buckman says cats are more difficult to find homes for than dogs. And with such “incredibly overwhelming” numbers, as she describes them, more than half of the 10,000, those that are unadoptable, are euthanized.

“With cats it will always be our struggle until people spay and neuter more than they do now,” Buckman says.

Both the Humane Society and the Franklin County Dog Shelter spay every female and neuter every male before they’re adopted so that those animals don’t contribute to the overpopulation problem. But free-roaming stray dogs and especially cats are harder to deal with. Mona McKinnis, director of Colony Cats, a feral cat group in Columbus, says the public does not understand just how bad the problem is.

“It’s nothing for them to have a cat and let it have kittens and then think they’ll take them to the humane society and let them find homes for them, McKinnis says. And the reality is they can’t. They don’t have a choice. We’re a very high kill community. And until we spay and neuter much more aggressively it’s not going to change.”

McKinnis is one of hundreds of people who are doing what they can to reduce the number of stray animals. Her Colony Cats group participates in a process known as Trap-Neuter-Release or TNR.

It’s just after dark behind a row of fast-food restaurants in southwest Columbus. McKinnis and an associate are baiting traps hoping to catch members of a feral cat colony that seem to keep having kittens. Those that are caught will be taken to a vet and sterilized.