Big Blackie, the gentle giant, is curled up on the bed. Mia, the jumper with the long legs and soft fur, is in her basket. Betsy, the sweet-natured girl with an orange stripe down her forehead, is in her cuddle bed. Ayame, the sleek, usually nonstop busybody, is napping in my chair on her crocheted blanket. They are part of our family.

How could anyone have abandoned these beautiful and fascinating animals? Abandoned, they were, though. Yes, we have four cats that were homeless and unwanted at one time. We've never regretted giving them a home. They provide laughter, love, companionship and occasionally frustration when they've been mischievous.

They are never boring. Each has its own personality and quirks. Big Blackie takes exception to his person reading when he's on a lap. Mia licks envelope windows with her raspy tongue. Apparently it's the gelatin. Ayame chews up cardboard and paper. She prefers essential papers. Betsy is our "dumpster diver." She's never seen a wastebasket she didn't want to get into and upset if possible. Betsy will also carry a toy through the house in her mouth and then drop it into a water dish.

Aug. 20 is National Homeless Animals Day. Americans are, for the most part, compassionate people. They treat their families, including their pets, with love and respect. About 60 percent of households in the United States have pets. This breaks down to 60 million dogs and 75 million cats with homes.

Why, then, are 12 million unwanted cats and dogs surrendered to animal shelters each year? Are they part of a throwaway society? Do their people become tired of them? Are they disposable? "We can always get another one. They are all the same." Does their family make no effort to understand and solve behavior problems that may have a simple solution? Is it all of the above or a bigger problem?

It's all of the above and an even bigger problem. People simply won't spay and neuter their pets. Several years ago in a couple of Arizona cities, the government offered free spaying and neutering to cut down on the pet overpopulation. Less than 30 people in both cities combined took up the offer.

Can it possibly be more difficult to take a pet to a veterinarian or a spay and neuter clinic than to take a litter of nine puppies or kittens to a shelter? According to Kansas law, those nine babies have to be altered if they are adopted from a Kansas animal shelter. Wouldn't it have been better to alter the their parents? Pets do not have the privilege of asking not to be born unless they have a loving home.

Spaying and neutering stops health and behavior problems, ranging from mammary and testicular cancer to aggressive behavior. The pets are so much nicer to have around. There will be no trip to the animal shelter to discard the puppies and kittens.

In Hays, pets must have city tags. In fact, it's a good idea for all pets to have tags and be microchipped, in case they are lost. But the overall statistic for the nation is that only 15 percent to 20 percent of dogs are returned to their owners and less than 2 percent of cats go back to their homes from shelters. Hays Animal Control Officers make every attempt to return the pets to their homes. It's amazing, though, how many really nice pets at the shelter are never reclaimed by their owners.

There must be a special place in hell for people who dump animals. Dumped pets rarely find homes, but become accident victims, are attacked by other animals or starve to death. Even if someone takes them in or they are taken to a shelter, both cats and dogs grieve for their families.

They don't understand. They wonder what happened to the people who cared for them. Where are their warm beds, food and water bowls? They are frightened.

In the meantime, our cats, all indoor cats, by the way, are awakening from their naps. Mia and Betsy are on their cat tree doing some intensive bird watching. Ayame is playing with her racetrack and ball. Big Blackie has moved to my wife's lap and is responding to being petted with a purr that can be heard across the room.

They have the luxury of not worrying about National Homeless Animals Day, while their people remain concerned about large numbers of unwanted pets.

You can visit animals needing homes at the Humane Society of the High Plains, 2050 E. Old U.S. Highway 40, Hays. They can be viewed on www.hshponline.org or www.petfinder.org.

Delbert Marshall, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.