Willows Cat Adoption Centre slams breeders after 'worst ever year' for abandoned kittens in South Shields
Dismayed Maria Harrison, 66, says the Willows Cat Adoption Centre in Wantage Street, South Shields, is at breaking point amid the upsurge.
She has now condemned cat owners who think it cool to breed them for a quick profit - then dump those they cannot sell.
Ms Harrison blames a huge increase in internet-based sellers for a problem she says is worse than at any time since she began caring for cats.
But she admits the problem has always existed - and concedes programmes to educate people not to breed have badly failed.
Her shelter is currently looking after 33 kittens, the most at any time in its existence, up from a previous high of 30.
Ms Harrison, who is supported by 26 part-time and two full-time volunteers, warned: “Full stop - don’t breed, the shelters everywhere are full and overflowing.
“The world simply does not need any more cats, ever. All of these animals are just being entered into a life of misery.
“People who have a cat need to be neutering it but they won’t because they want the money they can get from breeding.”
She added: “I’ve never had over 30 cats before but now have 33, which is a record.
“Unfortunately this situation has been going on for the entire 50 years I’ve been involved in looking after cats – it will never change.
“Education programmes about how to look after cats are out there and easily found, and so it’s very sad the problem is just the same all these years later.”
Female adult cats can breed three times a year from the age of just 16 weeks, producing litters of up to seven kittens.
Ms Harrison said owners are often successful in selling three, for up to £60 each, but are left with others no-one wants.
By around six months, they have lost their kitten appeal and opportunity to be sold, often being dumped with unfit friends or abandoned at shelters.
It costs her charity around £1,000 a month to ensure the kittens get the care they need, including visits to vets.