It's "cat season," the time of year when thousands of kittens are born. But thousands die too, put to death when the unwanted felines end up at Ventura County's animal shelters.
"We are full of cats," said Kathy Jenks, director of the Ventura County Animal Regulation Department. "Every cat cage in the place is taken."
Partly in response, county officials next fall will consider a new law requiring cats to be licensed, a move they hope will encourage owners to spay and neuter their cats.
"Cat season" typically begins in late April when many cats start breeding and having their litters, Jenks said. The county shelter and the Humane Society's Ojai shelter have started to receive an influx of felines. The season peaks in July and runs through October.
The county shelter's daily population of unwanted cats and strays is running close to 100. It will only worsen as the summer goes on, shelter workers say.
By the end of July, the shelter will get 50 kittens a day from owners who don't want them, they say. Last July alone, the shelter impounded 1,150 cats, and 1,027 of them were put to death by injection.
"We're always reasonably optimistic that it won't be as bad as the previous year," Jenks said. "We held out hope this year," because the season was late getting started. "But it's every bit as bad as it's ever been."
In fact, it may be worse. Because of the abundant rainfall this year, the feral cat population has survived better than usual, she said. "Now they're having larger litters."
In October, the county's Animal Regulation Commission approved in concept the idea of requiring cat owners to license their pets. Once the proposed law is drafted, it will go back to the commission for its consideration and then on to the county supervisors by about September, Jenks said.
In March, San Mateo County became one of the first in the state to require cat licensing, Jenks said, and local officials are watching the northern county to see how the requirement fares.
The local ordinance would be similar to the licensing requirement now in place for dogs, Jenks said. It would not require spaying and neutering of cats, but it would provide inducements: the fee for spayed and neutered cats would be about $7, compared to $25 for others.
The majority of the cats impounded are strays, she said, and licensing would make it easier to return cats to owners--and make it less often necessary to put the animals to sleep.
The ordinance probably would cover unincorporated areas of the county as well as most cities, Jenks said. The Animal Regulation Commission is unanimous in its desire for the licensing requirement, she said.
"They realize the cat issue is not going away until it's addressed," she said.
The shelters in the county strongly urge cat owners to have their pets spayed and neutered to help stem the cat population, but many people still feel that seeing a new litter of kittens is a wonderful experience for children, she said.
The shelters offer vouchers to prospective cat owners that offset the fee veterinarians charge for spaying and neutering. In the last two years, 12,000 vouchers were returned to the county, indicating the animals were operated on. But it hasn't made much of a dent in the kitten population, shelter officials said.
"People don't have the same sense of responsibility toward cats as they do toward dogs," Jenks said.