Twenty years ago, a cat in an RSPCA animal shelter had a 62 per cent chance of being euthanased — for dogs it was more than one in three.
Now, far from being considered as misbehaved mutts, rescue pets are a badge of honour, and growing adoption rates drastically decreasing the number being put down.
In 2017-18, almost 61 per cent of cats were adopted from RSPCA shelters, up from 30 per cent in 1999.
For dogs in the same period, 76 per cent of the 40,286 handed into shelters were rehomed or reclaimed by lost owners and less than 14 per cent were euthanased, down from 39 per cent in 1999.
The RSPCA said the shift was due to a growing acceptance, even desire, to adopt or rescue a pet rather than buy from breeders.
Something different about them’
Victorian woman Kait Kruger found her dog, Beers, alone and hungry at a house she was moving into.
“I loved him so much from the second I met him,” Ms Kruger said.
Despite being in need of serious medical attention and displaying a strange fear of plastic bags, Ms Kruger adopted the abandoned Beers.
It cost her many trips to the vet and “a fair chunk of money” but she said the decision was a no-brainer.
Ms Kruger said more people should consider adopting rescue pets.
“There’s just something different about them,” she said.
“I reckon they are just a little bit more grateful and love you a little bit more.
“A lot of people are like, ‘uh, it’s just a dog’, but I am quite proud of my dog and how far he has come.
“The end result was that I ended up with a very happy, healthy dog.”
Rescues are rising, but there’s a cat problem
RSPCA Victoria chief executive Liz Walker said programs where people could temporarily foster pets have helped animals become more accustomed to home life before adoption.
“We’ve got way better at helping animals that might have some some challenges with their behaviour, or things that they are really anxious about,” Ms Walker said.
“Probably more importantly, helping the people who are going to adopt them put in place strategies that mean that they can ease those animals into a really nice life.”
Ms Walker said social media has made it easier for people to find rescue pets better suited to their individual needs and it also gave owners “a bit of a badge of honour”.
But while the number of dogs being admitted to RSPCA shelters has dropped steadily from 67,204 in 2000 to 40,286 last year, the numbers of cats remained persistently high at around 50,000 a year.
Ms Walker said that while rules around microchipping and registration were the same for both species, there appeared to be different attitudes around cat ownership.
“About 7 per cent of cats coming in get reclaimed, whereas over 60 per cent of dogs get reclaimed, and that’s because they’re not identified,” she said.
“That’s something we’re working really hard with local governments, state governments and the community to try and understand what’s what’s driving that.”
Growing foster network in Ballarat
The Ballarat-based charity Chez Guy Small Animal Rescue operates a network of 15 foster carers for the around 160 cats they rehome each year.
Co-founder Cherie Reid said they “will not rehome anything that’s not de-sexed” and they also microchip and vaccinate the cats they adopt out.
“A lot of them come through people that have found them walking at bushland, behind rubbish bins, we’ve had them come through in garbage bags on the side of the road.
“We know when they’re going to be better suited to homes with kids or without kids … some of them are bought up with a dog so we can say, ‘Yep, they’ll be perfectly fine with your dog’.”
But she said laws designed to clamp down on unregulated breeders have restricted the amount of pets the fosters can care for to five each.
“They’re definitely good laws … the issue that I have is that the State Government has actually slotted rescue groups, breeders and puppy farmers into the same categories,” she said.
Ms Reid said her charity has adopted out around 500 cats through a local pet store since 2016 — a practice the laws are designed to encourage — but that rescue cats can be cheaper.
“You get a free kitten, that’s going to cost you $300 to $400 to get it desexed, microchipped, vaccinated,” she said.
“Our rescue kitties, for example, are $170 and that’s fully vet worked.”
Rescue requires responsibility
Ms Kruger said adopting Beers has been difficult but that he “just became part of my life”.
“I had to learn how to know my animal and read my animal but again I think that’s something that every dog owner should do,” she said.
“I don’t think that should be unique to rescues at all.”
She said people need to do their research and consider whether their own lifestyle was appropriate for a pet.
“[Beers created] limitations with where I could live because not every place will take a dog,” she said.
“But I have this little dog that would have every right never to trust people ever again and to be fearful, and what I’ve ended up with the sweetest little lovely dog ever.”