With the spring birthing season well under way, hundreds of newborn kittens will soon be in need of forever homes in Sussex County.

With the spring birthing season well under way, hundreds of newborn kittens will soon be in need of forever homes in Sussex County.

“While cats and dogs reproduce year-round, reproductive cycles are triggered by warmer weather,” said Tiffany Briddell, animal care manager for the Delaware Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “An un-spayed female cat can give birth to multiple litters of kittens in a single spring season, creating a tremendous overpopulation problem.”

According to the ASPCA’s website, it is impossible to determine how many stray dogs and cats live in the U.S.; however estimates for cats alone reaches up to 70 million. The average number of litters that a fertile cat produces is one to two per year, with an average number of kittens at four to six per litter.

Overpopulation leads to feral cat colonies, which is not addressed by animal control. In Sussex County, animal control is handled by the Kent County SPCA.

“In Delaware, there are no laws that govern cats except for cruelty,” said Kevin Usilton, executive director of the Kent County SPCA. “We do not address feral cats unless there’s a rabies issue. We do respond if there’s a major nuisance, but only to mediate the situation. We don’t round them up.”

The front line defense against overpopulation is spay and neuter procedures, which are offered at low cost by several local organizations.

Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary, located in Georgetown, along with the local Georgetown SPCA, both support Trap-Neuter-Return methods, which is the act of capturing feral cats, spaying or neutering them, and returning them to their colonies.

“There is a consensus that removing cats does not reduce their numbers in the long run,” states Safe Haven’s website. “If a stray cat colony is removed from an area, another colony of feral cats will soon occupy that same territory.”

The website also states that “as long as there is a dumpster, and other un-neutered cats in the vicinity, there will be cats. While some people might say that the answer is not to feed stray cats, the truth is that will not greatly reduce the number of stray, barn and feral cats. It will, however, make the lives of these community cats more harsh due to hunger and increased susceptibility to disease, and that is inhumane.”

TNR is generally initiated by a resident or an organization that specializes in cat rescues.

Individual spay and neuter procedures are available to residents at low cost through the Georgetown SPCA, which reopened its doors May 13 after a five-month respite. Officials said the clinic, which is designed to process more than 5,000 spay and neuter procedures annually, closed when it lost its head veterinarian. Dr. Rebecca Trejo was hired as head veterinarian and started work the day the clinic reopened.

According to Chris Motoyoshi, director of development for the Delaware SPCA, the clinic performed 100 spay and neuter surgeries during its first week.

“We’d eventually like to put ourselves out of business so there are no more homeless animals,” Motoyoshi said. “Right now there are so many pets out there that don’t have homes. We can’t build a shelter big enough for them all, but we can get the word out to spay and neuter so they don’t continue to overpopulate.”

Motoyoshi added that spring and summer are crucial times of the year for spay and neuter services.

“Kittens as young as four months, and puppies as young as five, can go into heat and become pregnant,” she said. “It’s these accidental litters that end up in shelters with no place to call home.”

Thanks to a grant from the PetSmart Charities’ national “Did You Know?” campaign, the SPCA will offer spay and neuter surgeries for puppies and kittens under six months of age for $20 throughout the month of June. To qualify, puppies must weigh five pounds, male kittens must weigh two pounds, and female kittens must weigh three pounds. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, spaying and neutering is safe for kittens and puppies as young as 10 weeks old.

Also, because June is National Adopt a Cat Month, the SPCA will charge only $25 for adoptions of cats one year or older and $75 for kittens. Two kittens will be only $80. All adoptions include a wellness exam, spay or neuter procedure, microchip and current vaccinations.