Jackson County animal lovers need to bring their open arms this weekend to three free adult cat adoption programs because local animal shelters are drowning in a tsunami of felines, organizers say.

Jackson County animal lovers need to bring their open arms this weekend to three free adult cat adoption programs because local animal shelters are drowning in a tsunami of felines, organizers say.

"It's just insane right now," said Kenn Altine, executive director of the Southern Oregon Humane Society.

SOHS, Jackson County Animal Care and Control and Committed Alliance to Strays have a combined 400 cats and kittens either in their facilities or in foster homes awaiting adoption. And given the county's burgeoning population of non-spayed or neutered cats, there are more on the way, he said.

"We really are chasing this population explosion," Altine said. "It really is a tsunami. And it's going to take everyone getting involved, and it's going to take years (to resolve)."

The free adult cat adoption event will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13-14, at each of the three facilities. All available cats are a minimum of 1 year old, fully vaccinated and spayed or neutered. Many will be micro-chipped.

"And all adoption fees will be waived," Altine said.

It's an out-of-the-box approach to free up cages at the shelters. Altine and his shelter partners hope that many cats that are already spayed/neutered will find homes so that the shelters can take in more cats in need of good homes — and who also need a visit to the veterinarian to take them out of the feline repopulation loop, he said.

The high numbers of homeless Jackson County cats are the direct result of pet owners failing to spay and neuter their animals. Studies show that one mating can result in thousands of cats and kittens in just a handful of years, Altine said.

Adult cats often are offered for free on Craigslist or by other means. But those cats are not necessarily spayed/neutered or have their shots. Neither are they usually microchipped.

"So that's really just perpetuating the problem," Altine said, adding this is not the case with the cats available at the weekend adoption events.

Barbara Talbert, Jackson County's interim shelter manager, said public outcry over the euthanasia of stray cats sparked policy changes at the county shelter.

"We are now keeping all adoptable, manageable cats," Talbert said. "That is one of the reasons why we're so overwhelmed."

About 120 cats and kittens are currently in the county shelter or in foster homes awaiting adoption. About half of them are adult cats, Talbert said.

The county is so overwhelmed that it has had to temporarily turn away owner-surrendered animals. It is also limiting the number of stray or feral intakes per person to one cat or litter per day, she said.

"But we're taking in as fast as we can get them adopted," Talbert said. "All the shelters are full. We're running out of room."

The shelter's new euthanization policies have meant a lot of shuffling of cats between facilities, and even up to the Portland humane society, she said.

"As fast as we can get them adopted, the same number comes in the door," Talbert said. "Now, community, you're going to have to do your part and help us find these animals homes or we're going to be stuck."

No kittens will be available for free, but they will be available at regular adoption fees, Talbert said, adding those wishing to adopt an adult cat, or two or three, this weekend will save on adoption fees. But the shelters' policies to ensure the animals are going to loving homes will remain in place, she said.

"Of course, with Halloween coming, we're going to be careful that no black cats get adopted to anyone who might do something bad to them," she said.

This is the first time that all three shelters have worked together, and each has been doing its part to save more lives by keeping these adoptable animals healthy in spite of the crowded conditions, Altine said.

Each organization has spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars caring for these cats, but is willing to give them away free in hopes of emptying their facilities of cats 1 year old or older — some of whom have waited for more than a year to find a new family, he said.

"I've been here 10 months and there are cats who have been here since I came," Altine said.

Altine hopes that more than 100 cats could find new homes during the first-time, two-day free event, even while understanding the cages they once occupied could be filled in less than 24 hours.

The list of people waiting to bring in a stray cat to CATS extends into November. SOHS also has a long list of people wanting to surrender a cat, Altine said.

Altine warned that a lack of community response could put the shelters in an even tougher situation.

"Let's say it's a huge success," Altine said. "Was price the barrier to adoption? Or, if it's a fizzle, what is the community really saying about cats? That they don't want them even if they're free? What other options are available?"

CATS director Sally Mackler praised the effort, saying free adoptions will mean the world to any cat lucky enough to get a new home. But adoption only treats the symptoms. Pet owners need to spay and neuter their pets, Mackler said.

The potent combination of cats' natural ability to produce vast numbers of kittens and survive in the wild, combined with careless pet owners who fail to exercise reproductive responsibility for their felines, has created the problem, she said.

"The only real tool we have is to try and stop the flow at the source," Mackler said. "The reality is every cat out there is a result of somebody who didn't fix their pet."

All this month, Spay Neuter Your Pet is offering $25 spay or neuter certificates for cats, Altine said.

"There is no excuse not to get your cat spayed or neutered," Altine said.

Certificates are available at all Jackson County Grange Co-op stores, Pet Country, and Mini Pet Mart on Stewart Street in Medford, he said. For more information on the Tom and Mom program, as well as year-round programs for dogs, low-income families and feral cats, contact SNYP at 541-858-3325 or online at www.spayneuter.org.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.