Cat Shelters Struggle to Keep Up as Owners Give Up COVID Pets

This cat is not Gunnlaugur

There’s been spike in the number of homeless cats taken in by Icelandic shelters this autumn, RÚV reports. The exact reason for this is unknown, but Arndís Björg Sigurgeirsdóttir, director of the Villikettir cat shelter, says that it may be a result of COVID restrictions relaxing: people who got pets during the pandemic are giving those animals up now that they aren’t stuck at home.

“We were really afraid of this during COVID,” Arndís remarked. “That people who were getting bored at home would get cats as cuddly pets.” An increasing number of former pets are now wandering the streets, she continued.

Exacerbating the situation was a popular rumor that there was a shortage of kittens available in Iceland during the pandemic. This led to some people adopting cats for the purposes of selling them.

Villikettir, whose name means ‘wild cat’ or ‘feral cat’ in Icelandic, has traditionally focused its efforts on caring for cats that were never domesticated as pets and had never lived in homes. Now, however, they are also trying to take care of stray cats that have been accustomed to living indoors and having regular food and care.

“I don’t know if people realized what a responsibility [cats are]. They’ve been chosen as pets because a lot of people think they just take care of themselves.”

If you’re interested in supporting Villikettir with donations, providing a foster home for a cat prior to its adoption, or assisting in many other ways, see the organization’s website (in Icelandic) here.

Population Control of Wild Cats in East Iceland Hotly Contested

Efforts to cull stray cats in the Fljótsdalshérað district of East Iceland have met with severe criticism from a local organization that aims to safely monitor and release or else find homes for these villikettir, or wild cats, RÚV reports.

Villikettir á Austurlandi, or ‘Wild Cats in East Iceland,’ is a nonprofit that operates under the auspices of the Villikettir animal welfare organization. Per the description on their Facebook page, the organization aims to “care for wild and homeless cats in the region, providing them with shelter and food. The organization operates according to the ethos of TNR: Trap – Neuter – Release.” The aim of this approach is to control the population of wild cats without killing them. The cats taken in by Villikettir are dewormed and vaccinated before the staff attempts to get them used to being around people and find them homes. If the cats can’t be tamed, they are released again, but the organization ensures that they have access to shelter and food.

Villikettir has struck agreements with six municipalities to take the lead on controlling their wild cat populations, but Fljótsdalshérað rejected their assistance. Instead, the municipality intends to set traps for wild cats. Residents have been told to keep their pet cats indoors at night from February 18 to March 8. Any wild cats that are caught during this time period will be euthanized. Villikettir asked to take possession of these cats so they would not be put down, but their request was denied.

Fljótsdalshérað mayor Björn Ingimarsson says the municipality is acting in accordance to the law. After consultation with the Public Health Authority and the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), he says, it’s clear that it isn’t permissible to collaborate with Villikettir under the terms that organization has set out. A letter from MAST on the subject notes that wild cats are categorized as semi-wild animals and must either be provided with a permanent home or euthanized. Likewise, it is not permissible to release animals that have grown up with people into the wild. Villikettir cannot, according to the letter, guarantee these animals the welfare required by current laws related to domestic animals. The ear tagging system that the organization suggested is also said to be illegal.

Villikettir á Austurlandi says that in the year it has been operational, it has provided services for 54 cats, most of which were found new and permanent homes. Only six cats needed to be released back into the wild.