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Magdalena was born with two perfect, identical ears. But that was before the homeless kitten spent weeks, or perhaps even months, outside in rural Virginia, fending for herself. Now, her left ear is a tattered stub, as if someone tore it off like a sheet of notebook paper.

No one knows who or what mangled Magdalena's ear. What we do know is that she was lucky to beat the odds. Kittens are especially vulnerable to the many dangers that cats who roam outdoors face, including untreated parasite infestations, deadly contagious diseases, exposure, dehydration, speeding cars, loose dogs and other predators, and cruel people. About 75 percent of homeless kittens don't survive beyond 6 months of age, most commonly dying from trauma, according to a study published in JAVMA, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. That is why it's important to get them -- and all homeless cats -- off the streets.

This would seem like a no-brainer -- obviously, helpless kittens need to be rescued, right? But increasingly, as part of misguided efforts to artificially boost "live-release" rates, some animal shelters are not only refusing to accept cats -- especially frightened, unsocialized ones they deem feral and "unadoptable" and, therefore, apparently unworthy of shelter -- but also discouraging people from rescuing homeless kittens, justifying this dereliction of duty by implying -- erroneously -- that lost and discarded companions are the same as wild animals.

But homeless cats are not wildlife -- they're domesticated animals, just like the cats we share our homes with. And just like any other cat, they can't survive without our protection. It's cruel and irresponsible to recommend leaving homeless kittens to fend for themselves outdoors.

Just ask the horrified people who say they saw a man shoot and bludgeon to death a tiny kitten who had wandered up to a homeless encampment in Cobb County, Georgia. Or the good Samaritans in Sacramento who rescued a kitten dubbed Furiosa (after the fearless Mad Max character), who had managed to survive for days hanging upside down after her hind legs became entangled in a chain-link fence, possibly causing nerve damage.

Or you could ask the police officers who found a kitten frozen to the ground and barely clinging to life in Cottage Grove, Minnesota.

You'd probably get no argument from the Alabama couple who ran outside to intervene after hearing ear-splitting screams, only to find a homeless cat attempting to fight off a predator while she was in the process of giving birth to a litter of kittens. The mother cat and two of her kittens were rescued just in time and taken to an animal shelter, but five of the kittens didn't survive.

Who in their right mind would argue that any of these cats would have been better off left in "their outdoor home," which is the absurd euphemism for abandoning cats on the streets used by a growing number of shelters that apparently value statistics over animal safety?

Certainly not Magdalena's rescuer, who put food out to earn her trust and asked around to see if she lived with a neighbor. When nobody claimed her, the woman called PETA.

Magdalena is now in foster care, safe from whatever, or whoever, robbed her of most of her left ear and could very easily have robbed her of her life, too, if not for the intervention of a compassionate person.

Please don't abandon homeless kittens like Magdalena to a fate that you wouldn't wish on your own cat. Bring them -- and their mother, if you can find her -- inside, or take them to a reputable, open-admission shelter, where they'll be kept warm and well fed -- and where they'll at least have a chance at being adopted into a loving home instead of facing, and inevitably losing, the daily battle for survival on the streets.

Teresa Chagrin

animal care and control issues manager

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

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