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Shelter Profile: A Model City for Cats

In Chicago, a coalition of animal shelters and rescue groups has made a huge impact on the city’s community cats through TNR. Read More »

Stage Three: Become a Model Shelter for Cats

  1. Provide Spay/Neuter to the Public

    Open a spay/neuter clinic for low-cost or subsidized spay and neuter services. Offering these services to the public shows your commitment to the community and animals—and will ultimately reduce your shelter’s intakes and increase your save rates.

    Learn more about high-volume, high-quality, low-cost spay/neuter models and veterinarian training in these methods at Find out more about unique veterinary protocols for community cats.

  2. Conduct Community Outreach in Underserved Communities

    Develop strategies and programs to bring critical information and services to areas where many people cannot afford or access veterinary care and other resources that support pet wellness. You might invite your volunteers to assist you with going door-to-door in certain areas and offering information on spay/neuter services and other low-cost veterinary services. If possible, hand out certificates for free spay/neuter surgeries and vaccinations. Even better, launch a mobile spay/neuter initiative and literally bring free veterinary services into low-income areas.

    Increase your impact with targeted outreach. If you are tracking where animals brought into your shelter are coming from—and where you’re receiving the most calls from—you can identify which neighborhoods and zip codes to spend the most time in.

  3. Make the Case to Local Officials

    Work with local officials to ensure that your community’s laws and policies help save animals’ lives—and voice your opposition to proposed or existing policies that make it harder for shelters and others to save animals’ lives.

    • Review local laws and policies that may affect community cats. If people conducting TNR in your community are not facing any legal issues or harassment, then you likely do not need to push for a law supporting TNR, and a law could actually complicate things and make it harder to implement widespread TNR in your community. However, if TNR groups are being harassed for their efforts to help community cats, that’s when it’s time to push for a simple, straightforward law supporting TNR. The number of local governments across the country with ordinances favoring TNR for outdoor cats has risen exponentially over the past decade, from just 24 in 2003 to 240 in 2013. That’s a tenfold increase in just one decade! Nationally, more than 330 local governments have embraced TNR as their official approach to animal control for community cats. Explain the benefits of TNR and have a detailed proposal ready to outline how a TNR ordinance would help improve your community. Find suggestions for language and sample provisions for TNR ordinances in our Law & Policy Brief “Trap-Neuter-Return Ordinances and Policies in the United States.”
    • Provide animal control officers and supervisors with supporting evidence showing how this new approach to outdoor cats is working for other shelters.
    • Remind officials that saving animals’ lives generates positive media and community support. Americans love cats and do not want to see them die in shelters. More than 80% of Americans believe that leaving a stray cat outside to live out his life is more humane than having the cat killed, according to a national survey conducted for Alley Cat Allies by Harris interactive. As you know, people feel much more comfortable supporting a shelter that is doing all it can to save lives.
    • Make sure that animal control officers and officials understand that the concerns citizens have about cats will still be addressed. Explain that the issues residents have will be remedied through TNR. Emphasize that TNR ends mating behaviors such as yowling and fighting, in addition to ending the breeding cycle and stabilizing the population.
    • Voice your opposition to counter-productive animal control laws that force more animals into shelters, create barriers to TNR and other humane approaches, and overtax shelters by monopolizing resources and staff time. Laws and ordinances that mandate spay/neuter or cat licensing do not work. They only penalize owners and caregivers and increase the number of animals killed. Bans on feeding stray and community cats and requirements for community cat colony care unjustly single out caregivers. Learn more about ordinances.
  4. Start a Neonatal Kitten Care Program

    When unweaned kittens show up at animal control shelters, these babies who require around-the-clock care are almost always killed. But some shelters are starting lifesaving programs to protect these extremely fragile and vulnerable animals. Neonatal kitten care programs rely heavily on devoted volunteers and foster homes to care for the animals. Volunteers are trained in neonatal kitten care and generally given the supplies they need to bottle-feed and care for the kittens until they reach the appropriate age for adoption. Some programs are housed at the shelter itself, with visiting volunteer “nurses” who take shifts with the kittens. This approach avoids the daily grind of neonatal kitten care, which can drain shelter staff’s energy.

    Austin Pets Alive! in Austin, Texas, developed an innovative neonatal program that is saving kittens’ lives. Austin Pets Alive! Executive Director Ellen Jefferson, DVM, and her staff visited the city shelter often to determine how to focus their lifesaving efforts most effectively. “One thing I was really struck by is that out of 10,000 animals that were being euthanized or killed, 1,200 of those were orphaned kittens,” she says.

    Austin Pets Alive! started having their volunteers pick up kittens as soon as they were dropped off at the city shelter. They were then housed in a dedicated neonatal ward where caregivers signed up for two-to-four hour feeding shifts to ease the burden of 24-hour kitten care. In 2012, the program rescued almost 1,200 kittens.

    Whenever kittens arrive at your shelter, be sure to try to also get the mother, whether that means trapping her if she’s a community cat, or asking the person who brought the kittens in if they can also bring the mother in. Learn more about what to do in various scenarios in which you may be trying to trap a mother.

    Here are two more examples of neonatal kitten care programs: San Antonio Pets Alive! and Best Friends Animal Society Los Angeles.

  5. Start a Ringworm Program

    Many cats lose their lives at shelters just because they have ringworm, which is similar to athlete’s foot. Ringworm is highly treatable, and does not have to be a death sentence for cats in shelters. Some shelters have opened ringworm wards where cats with ringworm are cared for and treated. They are moved into the general cat area once they are successfully treated and their infection clears up.

    Austin Pets Alive! opened a ringworm ward in 2010 and has already saved more than 200 cats just through this simple program. Their innovative program allows cats to be adopted directly from the ringworm ward so that they can be treated at home with their new family instead of staying at the shelter longer for treatment. They also have a Facebook page for the ringworm ward so that people can get to know the cats.

    Nevada Humane Society also has a ringworm program. When the shelter’s former director Bonney Brown began her work there in 2007, she immediately instituted many policy and program changes to increase the shelter’s lifesaving capacity. One change she made was to end the automatic killing of animals for ringworm and other treatable conditions. The shelter depends on foster homes to help care for cats and kittens with ringworm until they are symptom-free and ready for adoption. Since it can be challenging to find foster homes willing to care for animals with ringworm, they make sure to educate people about exactly what ringworm is, how to treat it, and what simple precautions to take when caring for an animal with ringworm.