Island shelters are crawling with cats

Cats and kittens in plastic kennels are stacked like cord wood all over Oak Harbor Animal Shelter.

There are currently 39 cats and more coming. One female feline is about to give birth, which will be the third litter born at the shelter in the last couple months.

Four tiny kittens are living in a ferret cage, all cozied up together in a ferret hammock. Some cats, like a handsome Persian named Bear, sit patiently waiting, looking out the bars of their cages, while others pace their cages in a frenzy.

Terry Sampson, the city’s contract animal control officer, runs the cramped, run-down shelter located on the Seaplane Base. While he said the shelter is “pretty much always full of cats,” it’s especially bad this year. “We’re heavier than average,” he said.

He’s hoping that an influx of people will come in and adopt cats, but he’s not holding his breath. Like many stories about the cramped animal shelter, this one may not have a very bad ending for many of the cats.

Sampson said this week he and local veterinarian John Mangiameli will go through the shelter and euthanize some of the cats.

“This is an open door facility,” Sampson said, explaining that it means he must take in any surrendered or stray animals. “Nobody wants to see them go, but what are we going to do? We can’t just keep stacking kennels around here until there’s no room to move.”

Staff members at Whidbey Animal Improvement Foundation, located south of Coupeville, said that volunteers at their facility are also up to their armpits in cats. Unlike the city pound, WAIF is a limited-kill shelter, which means only completely unadoptable pets get the needle. But since it’s not an open-door facility, some people who want to surrender a cat may have to wait until there’s room.

Sampson said he has “no particular rules” about which pets live or die. “It depends on the number of animals in the shelter, how long the animals has been here and the general adoptability of the animal,” he said. “Kittens go fast. Adult cats are hard to find homes for, especially if they are solid black.”

For a reason unknown to Sampson, people tend not to want black cats. He has two young black litter mates, for example, which have been in the shelter for quite some time, but nobody has shown interest in them. Maybe Halloween will help.

In addition to the jumble of cats, the shelter has a few dogs that are up for adoption, a lop-eared rabbit and friendly little rat. Sampson said the number of dogs at the shelter varies much more than the constant population of cats. “We’re full of dogs one day, we might be empty the next,” he said.

Adopting a cat from the shelter costs $20 and dogs are $40. Under a new program started this summer, veterinarian Eric Anderson at the Best Friends Veterinary Center spays and neuters all dogs and cats for free.

“It’s a great program,” Sampson said. “We really would like to thank Dr. Anderson.”

To get to the shelter, civilians can drive to the Seaplane Base gate and explain to the guards where they are heading. Folks need a driver’s license, proof of car insurance and vehicle registration.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at or 675-6611.

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