Claws Come Out in Battles Over Animal Shelters

Can cat cafes raise awareness of pet overpopulation?

Illustration by Ciera Pedro

Illustration by Ciera Pedro

Cat cafes are all the rage—or so I read as I was sipping coffee with Eddie, our cat. He was sprawled on the desk next to my laptop, occasionally reaching a paw over to vie with the keyboard or the cup for my attention. It’s an early-morning routine we have—my own little cat cafe, I suppose.

Cat cafes are popping up in San Francisco, Oakland and New York, and have been around in Japan and parts of Europe for years. As advertised, they’re cafes full of cats. In Japan, you pay by the hour to mix with the felines, because of the possible calming effect they may have; in America, the idea is more about giving shelter to stray cats, while having a niche—if disturbing to non-cat-lovers or those with certaian sanitation concerns—business model.

I was thinking about the cafes as I stood in the Animal Foundation’s cat adoption building at Lied Shelter near Bonanza and Mojave roads on a recent Sunday. Surrounded by cat fur and little litter boxes, I was not particularly craving a cup of coffee, and definitely not craving a scone. Even as a cat person, I fall into the mildly neurotic/germaphobe category when it comes to sharing food-space with strange felines. But I was quickly overcome by a heavy heart amid so many sentient, caged animals—and began wishing for a couple of hundred cat cafes in Las Vegas, along with a thousand new dog diners.

At that same hour, across town at the Orleans, the Animal Foundation was hosting its annual Best in Show fundraiser. Outside the event, activists from an organization called No Kill Las Vegas picketed, saying the foundation euthanizes more than 50 percent of its animals, and that it doesn’t do enough to find “forever” homes. But the foundation says it reduced the kill-rate by 20 percent last year, and manages more than 45,000 animals each year at a care cost of about $100 per week per animal (including overhead and outreach programs, such as low- or no-cost spaying and neutering). As the contracted animal-control shelter for Clark County, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, the nonprofit foundation receives public funds in addition to donations. Still, animals are euthanized.

The politics between the no-kill and sometimes-must-euthanize groups are nasty—accusations of cronyism and power-mongering and greed and mismanagement abound.

This division among the groups of animal lovers was also apparent during Nevada’s Big Give on April 25, a one-day online charity drive: The foundation drew the second-highest donation amount in the state, $26,047, and the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Nevada SPCA) was third with $23,259. (Sierra Nevada College raised the most at $73,223.)

The Animal Foundation’s Lied Animal Shelter became a “kill” shelter in 2007 after more than 1,000 animals became sick when the shelter was overcrowded. The SPCA remains a “no-kill sanctuary,” and there are many other, smaller local animal advocacy groups that affiliate with one or the other philosophy.

Although no one likes the idea of euthanizing unwanted animals, many agencies deem it necessary when animals are sick or suffering, or when there is no more shelter space or adoptive homes. Nationwide, PETA estimates 6 million to 8 million pets are taken into shelters each year, and the national SPCA estimates 31 percent of shelter dogs and 41 percent of shelter cats are euthanized annually. The Humane Society and PETA agree that euthanasia, done humanely with injections of sodium pentobarbital, is sometimes the only solution. No-kill advocates believe more can be done to find homes for otherwise healthy animals, and all agree that pets should be spayed and neutered.

So my house is getting a second cat—from a shelter, just like Eddie—but that won’t do much for the larger problem. Nor, I suspect, will an onslaught of cat cafes. But I’m prepared to discuss the possibility over a cup of coffee, with a purring cat in my lap.