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Shelter Profile: A Tremendous Shift

Chico Animal Services in California didn’t just stop accepting feral cats—the shelter stopped accepting all healthy cats because staff realized that bringing them in wasn’t in the cats’ best interest.  Read More »

2. A New Approach for Cats

We have heard from many animal shelters that want a model that helps prevent overcrowding and the associated health and emotional issues for animals, and also helps the shelter save money. Many people assume that increasing adoptions is the only way to increase live outcome rates. But statistics show that live outcome rates can actually decrease despite increased cat adoptions1. This is likely because many of the cats entering the shelters are community cats.

Community cats are not socialized to people and do not want to live in homes. They are unadoptable, but many shelters still take them in even though there is no possibility for a good outcome for them in the traditional shelter setting. This approach is inhumane and ineffective, as it fails to permanently reduce outdoor cat populations because of the vacuum effect. When cats are removed, the remaining cats breed to capacity, and other cats move in to take advantage of the available resources.

Adopting a Feral Cat Protection Policy is the best way to quickly lower your intake numbers—and it can actually help you increase your adoption rate.

Benefits of a Feral Cat Protection Policy

When shelters stop accepting community cats, they see almost immediate benefits—intake numbers decrease, save rates increase, and community support increases. This approach frees up critical staff time and saves money, allowing shelters to focus more on increasing adoption rates, improving shelter conditions, and implementing Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) in the community.

This approach can also dramatically improve staff morale. The Humane League of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania had a high volume of community cat intakes and ended up spending a significant amount of its time and resources killing community cats. This was demoralizing for the shelter staff, and CEO Joan Brown realized that it was not fulfilling the shelter’s mission of animal protection.

“I finally went to the board and said, ‘Where in our mission statement does it say euthanize [healthy animals]?’” says Brown.

In 2008, The Humane League made the decision to change as an organization. It would no longer accept feral cats. Instead, it now embraces TNR as the logical and humane approach that supports its mission. “Not only has it made a difference in the shelter environment, but it has allowed us to be far more positive, happy and hopeful in our work,” says Brown.

In the rest of this toolkit, we will outline how to adopt a Feral Cat Protection Policy, as well as the subsequent steps your shelter can consider taking to increase save rates for cats.

New Approach to Adoptable Cats

Many shelters are changing their approach to socialized cats as well. To decrease the number of cats with negative outcomes in your shelter, you may consider only impounding the number of healthy cats that you can adopt out. It may seem counterintuitive, but there are alternatives to shelters. Instead of accepting every healthy cat who comes through your door, you can empower citizens to resolve issues that may make them want to relinquish the cat, and share resources to help them keep the cat until there is space at the shelter, find the cat’s owner, find a new home for the cat, or look for a rescue organization that may be able to help. In many cases, it is actually better for cats to stay where they are instead of coming to a shelter. According to Barbara Carr, Director of Erie SPCA in Pennsylvania, cats who were waitlisted when the shelter was full had far more live outcomes than cats admitted to the shelter. Of those not taken in, 45% were rehomed, 14% were kept by their caregivers, and about 6% were taken to a rescue group.2

Furthermore, when it comes to cats who are lost, statistics show that lost cats are more than 13 times more likely to be reunited with their owners through non-shelter means than through a shelter. More than 60% of cats who are lost return home on their own.3

Next: Now we’ll outline the stages of transforming your shelter to save cats.

[1] Local Rabies Control Activities. [cited 2012; Available from:

[2] Hurley, K. Sheltering as a response to outdoor cats [PowerPoint slides]. Center for Companion Animal Health. University of California, Davis. 2012.

[3] Lord, L.K., et al., Search and identification methods that owners use to find a lost dog. J Am Vet Med Assoc, 2007. 230(2): p. 211-6.