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For me, March signals the time to put away my purple Ugg boots, schedule a pedicure and break out the flip flops.

For animal shelters and rescue groups in warm climates, it’s the time to start hanging the “Get your cats and kittens here!” signs.

Kitten season is nearly year round here in Florida, but it peaks in the spring. Shelters acquire litter after litter of kittens in need of homes, which is hard on the kittens and the shelters. And the sheltered adult cats: It’s hard to compete against the adorable ball of fuzz in the kennel next door. pet owners have a cat; that’s 38.2 million households with almost 21/2 cats each, according to the 2009 10 APPA National Pet Owners Survey.

So why are so many of these favorite pets surrendered to shelters?

Because they can do things we find confusing and contradictory. Dogs are much easier to read, and there are far more resources to help their owners address problems.

“Owners feel silly asking about cat problems,” says Donna Bainter, behavior manager at the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Tampa Bay. “People are reluctant to admit their cat is peeing or pooping around the house.”

There is bit of a stigma associated with negative cat behaviors because most involve delicate issues such as inappropriate elimination, spraying to mark territory and destructive scratching. Bainter says cat owners are often ashamed to seek help. But those stinky, destructive behaviors can be a feline cry for help.

“They can be indicators of stress or illness,” she says.

Seventy percent of cats in shelters are there because of some type of behavior problem their previous owner couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with, Bainter says.

“And those are the lucky cats, because they may get a second chance,” she says.

Many more frustrated owners simply banish their pets to the outdoors.

“Cats are an ‘assembly line’ pet,
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” Bainter says. “When a cat is not fitting into our lifestyle anymore, or causing problems, people often just cast the cat aside and get another one.”

For those who want to learn the language of cats, the SPCA Tampa Bay offers a two hour feline appreciation class that explores the cat psyche, personality and benefits of early socialization. In the first hour, SPCA veterinarian Cherie Buisson discusses feline nutrition and its effect on cat health and behavior.

“Cat Talk” comes next and focuses on aggression, excessive vocalization, scratching, biting, litter box issues and failure to get along with other household pets.

“We’ll talk about why it’s important to keep cats active and involved in predatory type play,” Bainter says. “Also how to read your cat’s body language and how cats communicate with one another.”

Most importantly, Bainter will talk about how cats are often misunderstood.

“When a cat’s behavior changes, people tend to think they are just being resentful or mad,” she says. “That is not the way a cat thinks, and it’s not what’s behind the behavior they’re exhibiting.”

If you’re having a problem now, the SPCA Tampa Bay offers a free Behavior Help Line for cat and dog issues. Call (727) 586 3591, ext. 133, and leave your name,
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phone number and a brief description of the problem. An animal behavior counselor will return your call within five business days.