Orange County is overrun with cats. 

And local Orange County rescues on the ground say they lack the resources to keep up with the abandoned cat population.

Molly Chertock, vice president of OCSP Cat Rescue, explained that there used to be a “kitten season” each year where the amount of stray kittens brought into the rescue would jump up. 

Now, she said “kitten season” is year-round.

“It used to be predictable,” Chertock said. “It never seems to stop. It’s significantly worse, coupled with all the people that are owner-surrendering at the same time.”

Chertock said in the past few years the amount of cats and kittens her rescue has seen brought in from the streets has only worsened, causing their facilities to become completely full with strays and the resources needed to address the problem stretching thin.

“I’m the one who checks our emails for the rescue, and I would say we get between 20 to 30 requests a day to take cats or kittens,” Chertock said. “Other rescues are completely overwhelmed. We’re all overwhelmed. Resources are really not available.”

She said the main reasons for Orange County’s cat problem is the lack of low cost spay and neuter programs and insufficient funding for local rescue organizations. 

The issue is made worse with owners surrendering their cats in large quantities, a lack of donations and fosters and the expensive cost to fix cats and provide critical medical services.

“Unfortunately, we’re limited by the amount of fosters we have,” Chertock said. “We’re not able to take in kittens the way a larger rescue would be able to take in, but even they are limited.”

OC Animal Care — the county-run animal shelter — euthanized ​​440 cats in the first six months of 2022, 680 in 2021 and 611 in 2020.

In the first six months of 2022, 832 cats and kittens from the shelter were adopted. 

However, Chertock said the county shelter isn’t helping the problem. She said she often hears stories of cats being turned away from OC Animal Care, so people bring the animals to her rescue instead.

At an adoption event hosted in September by Supervisor Katrina Foley, about 90 cats were adopted, according to a press release from Foley’s office. 

“I actually think it’s easier to encourage people to adopt kittens because they are small, they can live in an apartment and they are independent,” Foley said. “We’re going to keep pushing the adoptions in terms of sharing what’s available. We need to make sure that when animals are adopted that they are spayed and neutered.”

When asked about what initiatives the county-run animal shelter is taking to help kittens get adopted and reduce the feral cat population in Orange County, Public Information Officer Mechelle Perez didn’t directly answer the questions, instead speaking generally on adoption initiatives at the shelter.

“OC Animal Care is committed to finding responsible, life-saving outcomes that benefit the community and pets we serve whenever possible,” Perez wrote in an email sent to Voice of OC. “We focus on balancing safety in the community with programming that assists some of our most vulnerable and at-risk animals with finding a positive path out of the shelter.”

Perez continued by naming the shelter’s rescue adoption partner program, foster program, volunteer program and daily enrichment initiatives.

Andi Bernard, the shelter’s director, did not respond to inquiries from Voice of OC.

Local activists have noticed more issues regarding cats. Rose Tingle, an active critic of the county shelter, emphasized that the issue has worsened since the shelter stopped providing trap, neuter and release (TNR) services — a low cost spay and neuter program for stray cats.

“As far as the kitten situation, the fact that they stopped TNR caused more kittens to be born out on streets, possibly die and overwhelmed nonprofit rescues,” Tingle said.

The shelter used to spay and neuter approximately 1,500 cats each year through the trap, neuter and release program. The shelter stopped this program for the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, they claim they ended the services because it’s against the law to release abandoned cats back onto the streets.

Scrappy, a catch-and-release stray cat, took up residence at an Anaheim home. Credit: SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

“Locally, it is OCAC’s understanding that the release of unowned cats into the community is prohibited,” the shelter’s website reads. “At this time, the managed intake of healthy cats which does not bring them into the shelter is an industry best practice. We continue to monitor litigation processes happening around the state for rulings that may impact the penal code.”

[Read: OC Animal Activists Call on County Supervisors to Reopen Animal Shelter]

The issue at the same time as a group of animal activists who have been calling on county leaders to reopen the shelter to the public. They are also saying that some healthy cats and kittens are not being accepted at the county shelter.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors have been unable to walk around the kennel areas to look at animals. Instead, they are required to create an appointment online in order to view a specific animal.

[Read: More OC Residents Keep Pressing The County Animal Shelter to Reopen Kennels to Public Visitors]

Over 12,000 people have signed an online petition calling for administration to reopen the shelter to the public.

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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