Do you guys want to say hi? Hiya… Hi Marge! Hi friends! A crazy thing happened yesterday. I was in Connecticut, teaching some workshops at UConn, and after I finished up the workshops, we started our long road trip home. The road trip went pretty well, but about five hours in, we hit really bad traffic. So Google Maps put us on this detour and as we were driving on this country road, I see a sign that says: “FREE Kittens”! Of course, I slam on the brakes, I turn around and I go immediately to that house. We walk up to the door and a couple answers. So I start asking them questions. I tell them I’m a kitten rescuer and that I’d love to know more about what’s going on so I can see how I can help. The woman explains that they have a couple of pet cats and they haven’t been able to afford to get them sterilized. This woman clearly loves the cats, but she hasn’t gotten them spayed and neutered. So, her solution was really just to have them continue breeding and to give away the kittens on the side of the road. Oy yoy yoy. Now when I shared this online, in the comments, people were pretty nasty. They were calling them mean names and saying things like: “I hope you lectured them!” or “I hope you yelled at them!” As frustrating as it is to meet people who have not gotten their cats spayed and neutered, the truth is: most of the time, this isn’t done maliciously. It’s usually a lack of education or a lack of resources or both. So, you don’t solve those issues by yelling; you solve those issues by providing education and resources. I asked if they had the ability to call and make an appointment and to transport the cats to that appointment. They said yes, so we offered for our rescue group, Orphan Kitten Club, to pay for their sterilizations so that we can put an end to this cycle of constant breeding. It isn’t helpful to be judgmental. It’s helpful to be… helpful. This woman was so grateful. She seemed stunned. She actually said it seemed too good to be true. So, now for the kittens. The kittens are clean, they’re pretty healthy and they’re about seven weeks old. There’s two girls and a boy. They’re all grey tabbies. This is the biggest one, and she’s a girl. Okay! This is the medium-sized one, and she’s also a girl. She’s got a cute little dot on her head. *kissing sounds* Welcome! And then this little one is so cute, and he’s the tiniest one. This is the little boy! These three look like triplets. They’re so cute and they’re almost identical to each other. The couple clearly cared about them, but they were in over their heads. There had been a litter of five, but about 30 minutes before we got there, another passerby had stopped and picked up two of the kittens. So we don’t know where those kittens went, but we do really hope they went somewhere okay. Listen. When someone like me sees a sign that says “free kittens,” it’s like a nightmare situation. So I want to talk a little bit about why free kittens are not a good thing, and why it’s important not to give away kittens in this manner. So, first of all, let’s talk about where free kittens come from. When someone’s giving away free kittens, it’s pretty typical that those kittens have received no veterinary care. Kittens need to be de-wormed. They need to be vaccinated. They need all sorts of preventative medical care to make sure that they’re going to be okay. So if someone’s giving away free kittens who haven’t seen a vet, they’re not preparing them for success. Many people also give away kittens who aren’t yet old enough to be going to a new home. Maybe they’re not eating independently yet, and they are going to be in a dangerous situation when they go into a new home that can’t provide them with proper care. Hi! What’s up, honey-bunny? Perhaps most importantly, a lot of “free kittens” who are given away are not sterilized. And they could be going to a home where they’re not going to be spayed and neutered, perpetuating that ongoing cycle of more and more accidental pregnancies. So now let’s talk about where these kittens end up. Many people will warn you about the dangers of giving away “free kittens” because they could end up being used in some extremely cruel way, like dog fighting or snake feeding or other forms of abuse. That is certainly true. When you’re giving away kittens without vetting the homes, you don’t really know where they’re going to end up. But the truth is that while abuse is a possibility, it’s much more likely that they’re just going to end up in a home that made a really impulsive decision, and might not be ready for the responsibility of caring for an animal for 20 years. Think about it. Of all the people driving down that country road, yes you’re going to have the occasional psychopath, but more than that, you’re going to have people who are lured into that “Free Kittens” sign without really thinking about what it takes to have a cat for 20 years. So when you combine the fact that these cats have probably not had medical care, with the fact that the people who are taking them home are making an impulsive decision, that’s a recipe for disaster. This is a scenario where the person might bring them home, realise that they got themselves in way over their head, and they might not be willing or able to give the animal that support. So this is why any time a kitten is going to a new home, there needs to be an adoption process in place. An adoption process consists of two important things. Vetting the kittens and vetting the adopters. That means providing preventative care ahead of time, things like dewormer, vaccination and sterilization. But it also means vetting the adopters. Making sure that they’re going to a suitable home. An adoption process and interview allows us to get to know who the adopter is and to confirm that they’re going to be ready and able to provide a suitable home for years to come. When one of my kittens goes to a new home, I can be pretty sure that they’re going to a home that’s ready to provide them with food, water, veterinary care and love for the rest of their life. So a “Free Kitten” sign is definitely a nightmare situation and I was so happy we were able to intervene so we can ensure that these kittens have everything that they need. Now this couple is going to be able to sterilize their cats, they’re going to end the cycle of reproduction and they can throw away that “Free Kittens” sign. Now I do want to note that there are some animal shelters that occasionally do what’s called a fee-waived adoption. A fee-waived adoption is where you can adopt from an animal shelter without paying a fee. Some people get really angry about fee-waived adoption, because they think it’s the same thing as putting out a sign that says “Free Kittens”, but it’s actually really different in some very important ways that I’d like to explain. A fee-waived adoption from an animal rescue organisation is essentially the same adoption process just without a transaction of money. In this scenario, the adopters still have to meet the organisation’s protocol. The only difference is that there’s no payment. This might surprise you, but research shows that fee-waived adoptions actually don’t have a negative impact on the lives of animals. And they can be responsible for saving thousands of lives that otherwise might not be saved. So when it comes to “Free Kittens”, the problem isn’t that there’s no money being exchanged, the problem is that there’s no protocol in place for their adoption. If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you have kittens that you can’t care for, the best thing to do is reach out to the animal welfare organisations in your area. If you’re wanting or needing to find homes for the kittens on your own, you can totally do that, but you want to do more than just put a “Free Kittens” sign out on your porch. I highly recommend that you’re providing veterinary care to the kittens and that you can recoup those costs by having a small adoption fee. That way, you can ensure that the kittens are healthy, and they’re not going to be having babies in their future home. Most importantly, never give away kittens without having some system in place for making sure they’re going somewhere safe. You want to be asking questions that help you understand, is this person ready for a lifetime commitment to a cat? Are they able to provide a suitable, safe environment? Are they able and willing to provide them with care, including medical care? Ensure that you’re doing your due diligence, so you know the kittens are going to be in good hands. Most importantly, make sure your cats are spayed and neutered. If you don’t think you can afford the cost, hop online and look up “low cost spay/neuter” and the name of the town, city or county that you live in. You might be surprised to find that there are resources available. Don’t forget. It’s much cheaper to sterilise two cats, than it is to care for dozens of kittens that result from accidental pregnancies. And when we live in a world that’s already killing hundreds of thousands of cats, we really don’t need to be making more of them. As for these freebies, I’m so happy that we’re able to provide them with the care they need and find them a perfect forever home. Good job, little freebie!