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Happy spring everyone! After the abysmal winter we’ve all had, I couldn’t be more excited about it. But spring is always a time of mixed emotions for those of us who work in animal welfare, because spring brings with it the beginning of a two season long influx of puppies and kittens.

Tulip 2

Spring is here! Tulip is just breathing in the breeze and the flowers and…what’s that? Are puppies and kittens coming? Someone get me outta here before that happens!

But puppies and kittens are great right? I’m not saying that they’re not cute, and I’m not even saying that I don’t enjoy photographing them, because I’d be lying if I said that, but it’s still a heartbreaking time of year.

While puppies and kittens flood the shelters, the older animals get overlooked, they languish, they get put to sleep. And the puppies and kittens themselves are not always spared this fate, because there are just too many. The shelters can’t keep up. Hundreds upon hundreds of kittens and puppies come in. Shelter doors barely stay shut as concerned citizens bring in litters of kittens in crates and boxes and puppies are abandoned at the door or let free on the streets, barely weaned, and sometimes not weaned at all.

Yang 2

Older dogs, like Yang here, are often a lot better than puppies because they have some training (as Yang is showing off, look at that perfect Sphinx lie down), are calmer and are less inclined to shred your favorite things.

Adopters see the puppy and kitten cuteness, and it’s like a magnet, they hone in on the young animals, guided like they’re being pulled by a tractor beam. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve had it happen to me. Last week at PSPCA, one of the first puppies of the season came in, and one of the volunteers had him tucked in his arms. I was on my way out the door after a long day of doing photo shoots, and I caught the pup in the corner of my eye. It was almost involuntary the way my path cut and I moved toward the puppy. But what I remembered, and what some adopters don’t, is all the things come after puppy breath – the peeing and pooping on your carpet, the destroyed shoes and furniture, the constant in and out of the house while you’re housebreaking, the incessant BITING, the vet bills, the whining in the crate, yep, I removed my hands from that puppy right quick.

Most adopters don’t though, and a good chunk of these animals come back to us rather quickly, after the puppy allure has worn off. So what do you have then? A slightly older puppy among your younger puppies who’s already been bounced around a couple times, who likely has little training and hasn’t been given a chance to let the stress wear off. These puppies are more likely to be overlooked and a shelter is no place for a puppy. It’s a vicious cycle, like the season itself.

Tetra 2

Drawn to puppies because they’re so small? Why not try a small adult dog, like Jack Russell Terrier mix Tetra here. Tetra enjoys playing just like a puppy and may have a wonderful career in dog sports if you’re so inclined.

Kittens don’t fare much better in the return department either. I’ve seen kittens returned for scratching and biting as well as not using the litterbox correctly. Not to mention the “buyer’s remorse” factor – when I brought the kitten home, I thought she was cute, but then I realized how much work she was!

The one thing that always baffled me about kitten and puppy season though, was how there was a “season” at all. It definitely exists, and normally I’m so wrapped up in it that I don’t have time to worry or think about why it exists. Why is that from mid-March until late August shelters all over the country are SWAMPED with puppies and kittens? I have an unaltered female dog, so I pretty much know how the anatomy of that works. Her heat cycles come every six months, and they come based on when she went into her first heat, which is roughly based on when she was born, so how is it that all these puppies and kittens are coming in in waves? You’d think they’d be spread all over the board, but that’s not the case.

Last night, as I heard from other shelter volunteers and animal welfare advocates that the kittens and puppies were already starting to trickle in, I decided to do some research into this phenomenon before I became so enthralled in just getting these animals homes that I forgot about the fact that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The first thing I found out is that female cats’ heat cycles are different than female dogs’. Female cats’ heat cycles are dictated by the weather, so as the weather begins to warm a whole bunch of cats go into heat at once. This explains the cacophony of yowls that pierces my sleep every night around this time of year. The second interesting difference between cats and dogs, is that cats will continue to cycle until they get pregnant, whereas dogs have their cycles, and they get pregnant or they don’t.

As many of you know, I’m kind of paranoid about allopathic veterinarian medicine, which is part of the reason Shelby isn’t spayed yet. I’m not a huge fan of the spay and neuter your pets campaign either, because I think that, “Be a responsible pet owner” is a better fit, but after reading this interesting fact about cats I have to say – spay and neuter your cats. Please. It will also help you sleep better. If you want to go above and beyond to help this problem, consider starting a TNR program in your neighborhood or help a local shelter start one.

So why the puppy season then? There didn’t seem to be a clear answer to this in the articles I read online. I chewed over it for awhile, and I think it also has to do with the weather and a cycle, but not necessarily the heat cycle. I’ve seen it start to happen in my own neighborhood, the weather warms up, the dogs who have been cooped up all winter, get antsy and rammy and cabin fever takes on a whole new meaning. Irritated dog owners open the door and tell their dogs to go run it out. Some of these dogs are unaltered.

Female dogs in heat are disgusting, really, they are, even the clean ones, trust me on this, I have been through a few heat cycles at this point. In an effort to keep the house clean, the owner puts his/her dog outside in a fenced in yard or tied up. The family goes about their daily lives. Some of these unaltered dogs who have been let outside to run off their energy smell this bitch in heat. The things a male dog will do to get to a female dog in heat are pretty impressive (think jumping 6 foot fences, digging holes under fences and even trying to jump through a glass door or window). Voila, you have unexpected oops litters.

Hoosier 1

Hoosier likely isn’t scaling any fences anytime soon. Hoosier is one laid back pup, but he also likes to get a little romp in now and again. He’s got a perfect combination of energy and laziness that will just make your heart melt.

A lot of times, these well-intentioned pet owners don’t want to surrender these pups to a shelter, so they try to home as many of them as they can with their friends, who may be of the same vein as the owner of the original dog, also well-intentioned but maybe slightly uneducated. Those puppies aren’t spayed or neutered and aren’t handled appropriately. The puppies who the pet owner can’t find a home for, end up at the shelter. Some of the puppies who the friends adopted and can’t handle end up at the shelter. Some of the puppies who were given away stay with their families, but they were born in the spring, they go into heat around their first year, in the spring, they aren’t handled appropriately or spayed or neutered, they have puppies, who end up in the shelter.

Combine that with the backyard breeders who breed specifically to have puppies in the spring because that’s when people are thinking of getting a puppy (who wants to hosuebreak in the winter?), and you have puppy season on top of kitten season.

And meanwhile, the dogs and cats who are already waiting for homes, get passed by, day after day, from mid-March until late August, while the puppies and kittens wash through the gates of the shelters.

Meringue 1

Meringue would be a great dog for just about any family, she’s lived in a home most of her life and when her family fell on hard times, she was returned to the PSPCA where she’s enjoying her daily butt rubs by volunteers, but is hoping not to get overlooked by her forever family – she knows they’re out there somewhere.

Author’s note: No puppies or kittens were featured in this post on purpose, but if you are dead set on getting a puppy or kitten, please consider adopting one from a high intake, open access shelter. In the Philadelphia area, we’re talking about ACCT Philly or the Chester County SPCA. If you’re not comfortable supporting or entering a shelter that euthanizes animals, please consider adopting a puppy or a kitten from a no-kill shelter who pulls animals out of these open access, high intake shelters. In the Philadelphia area, we’re talking about PSPCA (where all the animals who are featured in this post are located), PAWS, Delaware County SPCA, Last Chance Ranch, and many, many others.