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Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department saved the lives of cats by implementing a large-scale TNR program, which included mapping hundreds of community cat colonies. Read More »

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Alley Cat Allies’ Future Five program is helping five animal shelters adopt and expand humane programs that will save cats’ lives. Learn More »

Transforming Shelters to Save More Cats: A Blueprint for Change

1. A Need for Transformation

Nationally, only about 30% of cats who enter shelters have positive outcomes. This is devastating for the cats and is inhumane. It’s also devastating for the people working every day to help them. And it’s difficult to make changes when animals keep coming through the door. But change is underway in many communities. Many shelters have found that making certain changes to their day-to-day practices and policies decreases intake numbers and increases live releases.

A great first step that can have an immediate impact is adopting a Feral Cat Protection Policy and no longer impounding feral cats.

This policy is based on the fact that although feral cats, also called community cats, are the same species as pet cats, they live outdoors and are not socialized to people. It recognizes that they live full, healthy lives outdoors—and that almost no community cats who enter shelters have positive outcomes, because they are not adoptable.

Below we explain how a Feral Cat Protection Policy (FCPP) works and outline other easy-to-implement changes that help you increase your live release rates. For example, many shelters are shifting their focus to organized Trap-Neuter-Return programs for community cats, innovative adoption programs, public education, support for pet owners, resources for compassionate community members who want to help animals, and other efforts that create positive outcomes for animals.

Making Change Happen

Making changes to how your shelter operates—or even considering making changes—can be overwhelming. It can require a drastic shift in thinking after years—or even decades—of operating in a completely different way. We’ve heard from many shelter employees who say they love cats but struggle with what to do with them when so many come through their doors every day.

Kate Hurley, DVM, Director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at UC Davis, says she has loved cats since early childhood. She began her career by working in animal control. The cats she brought into the shelter only had a one in four chance of a positive outcome. “I believed in my bones that that was the best way to serve that cat and my community,” says Dr. Hurley. “So I did that work, as hard as it was.”

Dr. Hurley set out to learn more about the shelter system and found that there was a much better way to serve the animals. “Starting a couple of years ago, rereading old research, seeing what was happening in different parts of the country, I came to a kind of troubling conclusion,” says Dr. Hurley. She determined that many of the assumptions that she and her shelter operated under were actually false, and that admitting healthy community cats to shelters was not serving the shelter’s goals.

Many shelters are coming to similar conclusions and working to change the way they operate. There’s a network of shelter staff who have gone down this path before and are willing to help. The new approach won’t be perfect—there will be bumps and hurdles. But the goal is to continue adjusting and improving as you advance your shelter’s policies and programs.

You may be wondering…

But what will happen to community cats? Don’t we have to accept community cats? Who will pay for their care? Can cats be left outdoors? How will we respond to calls from the public about community cats? How will not accepting community cats improve our shelter? Find the answers here.

Alley Cat Allies is available to assist you and to answer any questions you may have as you consider adopting new policies and programs.

Ready to get started? Check out our new toolkit for helping shelters transform their programs and services to save lives.