MOSES LAKE — On the last day of September, reporter Devin Perez and I were walking through a homeless camp behind Safeway, in the middle of Moses Lake, when we stumbled across two emaciated kittens.
Momma cat had clearly disappeared, more likely than not after being hit by a car, as both were starving and filthy. We scooped up the uncooperative furballs and plopped them into my car.
The next day, I called Grant County Animal Outreach. I didn’t have the time, money or patience to take on sickly animals, and knew that the pair would receive great care at the shelter, which has regularly nursed animals back to health from even worse states.
But they were full. The Adams County Pet Rescue was as well. I left my name on a waitlist, thinking it would take days to get them in. I still haven’t gotten a call six weeks later. One of the kittens has since died, waiting for medical attention that I didn’t know to provide and couldn’t afford if I had.
It’s everything the shelters can do to keep up with the problem. Grant County Animal Outreach has been taking in up to 10 cats every week, struggling to offload them to other shelters quickly enough to make room for the next batch, assistant manager Ashlie Behner said in an interview.
One thing Behner wishes would change to make their lives easier? Fines.
“People should be fined for having 300 cats in their front yard,” Behner said.
Rural America almost always struggles to keep up with its population of stray or feral cats. Open fields and the mice that come with them make for excellent stomping grounds, while barns and abandoned buildings make it relatively easy to have a handful of kittens every year.
But the utter lack of ordinances from Grant County and most of its municipalities makes it that much more difficult for organizations and residents to get a handle of the problem or punish those who greatly contribute to it.
If the police are called about a stray dog, they are required to respond and attempt to take the dog into the shelter. The county and cities contract with the shelter to compensate them for taking those animals in.
But if the police are called about a stray cat, they won’t respond. That is, of course, until it needs to be scraped off of a roadway.
This has been the case for a cluster of strays, several of which are visibly diseased, living outside a laundromat near downtown Moses Lake. Though these ailing cats have attracted outrage recently from area pet lovers, it’s nothing new: people have complained about that spot for around seven years, Behner said. Yet nothing ever changes.
This isn’t due to a dearth of animal lovers in the county — after recently telling the community that it had run out of canned cat food, Grant County Animal Outreach was flooded with donations within days. So what’s the hold-up? Why have governments not kept up with the growing problem?
“I think it’s gotten to the point where there’s so many that they don’t know what to do with them,” Behner said.
Personally, I think it’s gotten to the point where there’s so many that local elected leaders shouldn’t have a choice but to figure it out.
Emry Dinman can be reached via email at email@example.com. The surviving kitten has him firmly wrapped around its tiny paw.