- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

Patrick Boehringer of Canton, Mich., couldn’t be a more satisfied customer. He calls Apricot, his Certified Pre-Owned Cat, “the best animal I ever had.”

Apricot came with a free “multipoint inspection” including spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations, behavioral evaluation and grooming. And you can’t beat the price: As the Certified Pre-Owned Cats campaign poster says, with no money down, no financing and no payments, these cats are “better than new!”

The Michigan Humane Society’s clever ad campaign is an effort to draw attention to a problem that shelters across the country are dealing with: The large number of adult cats looking for homes.

Mike Robbins, director of marketing and communications for the Michigan Humane Society, said that in the shelter world, “summer has always been known as cat season.”

With cats normally breeding in the warm weather, shelters are deluged with kittens and have trouble finding homes for their adult cats.

Economic conditions seem to be aggravating the problem this year.

At the Animal Protection Society of Durham, N.C., director of community outreach Simon Woodrup said that the number of pets the shelter took in June, for example, is up to 825 this year, from fewer than 700 last year.

At the Santa Fe, N.M., Humane Society, they’re calling it “Summer of 100 Cats,” and adoption supervisor Mark Young said “we probably should have called it 500.”

Kittens still get adopted quickly, said Dori Villalon, vice president of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but it’s harder to find homes for adult cats than for kittens or dogs.

“Cats outnumber dogs three to one at our shelter,” she said. “The pet overpopulation problem in this country has really become a cat overpopulation problem.”

Mr. Woodrup said the economy seems to be a factor in many cases, judging by owner-surrender questionnaires. “The one thing that we have seen a lot of is people saying ‘I can’t afford it,’ ” he said.

Part of the problem is that people who are forced to move, either because of foreclosure or simply needing to downsize, can have a hard time finding pet-friendly apartments, Mr. Young said. These owner-surrenders are likely to be the adult animals, which are harder to place.

As a result, shelters have been inspired to offer special no-fee or reduced-fee adult cat adoption specials. In the past, shelters worried about whether no-fee adoptions would reduce the value that people placed on their pets, and Mr. Robbins said that the Michigan Humane Society considered this carefully before offering its program.

In fact, in its trial program, and in a study conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, there was no difference between people who had adopted for free and those who had paid a fee.

“We’ve found there’s been no increase in return rates, which are already low as it is,” he said.

Mr. Robbins attributes this success to the fact they use the same thorough adoption process to make sure that the animal is going to a home that’s a good match, as in the case of the Boehringer family. It was the adoption counselor’s assistance and detailed questions that brought Mr. Boehringer together with a cat that will play fetch with his 17-month-old son.

“They actually roll around on the ground together,” Mr. Boehringer said. “When the cat wants to play, it jumps on my son and they go off running.”

The Michigan Humane Society is so pleased with the success of the no-fee program that it has been extended for the foreseeable future.

And, shelter owners across the country are hoping people will check out their own pre-owned cats, “certified” or not.

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