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3,231.

That's the number of cats and kittens that the Joplin Humane Society, as of early last week, had taken in so far this calendar year.

Let that sink in for a moment. More than 3,200 cats and kittens — some stray, some lost, most simply unwanted — have been left at the Joplin shelter in the past seven months. That's an average of 461 felines being dropped off per month, and an average of 15 every single day.

By now, seven days later after that figure was released, it's almost certainly higher. Cats are overflowing into the shelter lobby and back rooms, they're being pushed into foster care as soon as a family steps up to volunteer, and their adoption fees have been discounted for weeks.

And yet the problem that shelter officials have dubbed "kitten season" has lasted all summer. This overcrowding problem — particularly of cats — was first reported by the Globe in early June, and it has persisted through now.

Shelter officials aren't sure why this summer has been so bad. After all, they're quick to point out, they offer two to three low-cost clinics each week in which local pet owners can bring their animals in to have them spayed or neutered. (As a bonus, rabies vaccines are also offered at a low cost for animals that need them.)

It breaks your heart to walk into the shelter and see so many young cats in cages, mewing at you and rubbing against the kennel bars. Of course, they are well taken care of at the shelter, but growing up there is not a life any cat wants.

The Joplin Humane Society, among other local shelters, will host a Clear the Shelters event this weekend. Hours will be from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Adoption specials will be offered.

If you've been wanting a furry friend, now is the time to make the move. In addition to the overflow of cats and kittens, there are also a number of dogs that are part of the unlucky 100 Days Club, meaning they have lived at the shelter for more than 100 days now.

If you can't or don't want to adopt, then make it a priority this summer to spay and neuter your pets. There is nothing better you can do to help prevent "kitten season" from striking again next summer.

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