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Transforming Shelters to Save More Cats: Activist Toolkit

Do you want to help your local shelter save more cats’ lives? This toolkit will help you organize your community and approach your shelter about implementing positive changes for cats.

A Need for Transformation

Nationally, only about 30% of cats who enter shelters have positive outcomes. In fact, being killed in a shelter is the leading cause of death for healthy cats in the United States. And almost no feral, or community, cats who enter shelters have positive outcomes. Since community cats are unsocialized and unadoptable, they are almost always killed immediately or after a short holding period.

Change is greatly needed—and you can be an architect for change in your own community. There’s no better way to create sustainable change for cats than by working with shelters to help them save more lives.

Some innovative shelters are already making positive changes that are saving cats’ lives. They’re adopting Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs, launching public education campaigns, and increasing their transparency. The widespread prevalence in TNR and other life-saving shelter practices provides a platform for you to bring about change. This is your opportunity to help your local shelter save more lives. This is an opportunity to make your community a safe place for cats.

This toolkit will help you work with your local shelter to make positive changes that will reduce intake rates—and increase the shelter’s live release rate.

What is Happening in Your Community?

First, get a better understanding of what is happening in your community in regards to animal control and animal pounds and shelters.

  • Learn about your local shelter’s approach to community cats.Call the shelter and ask! Check out their website and printed materials. Sometimes it’s the simplest approaches that can get you the quickest answers.
  • Do some research online. Read news articles on your local shelter. Locate other animal protection entities nearby: rescue groups, TNR organizations, spay/neuter clinics. Some of this information can be found by accessing a list of Alley Cat Allies Feral Friend Network members in your community.
  • Learn about local policies affecting cats. Ill-conceived ordinances like feeding bans and limit laws punish the very people who work as volunteers to improve conditions for both cats and the community. Even while community cat groups have organized and grown, many individual caregivers are being harassed and cited for their community service. These primitive ordinances ignore the true problem—the lack of subsidized spay/neuter and TNR programs—and end up forcing even more community cats into shelters where they are almost always killed. The good news is that you can help change these backward ordinances and lead the way to bring about change in your local shelter. Learn about your local policies affecting community cats and their caregivers.

Be the Voice for Cats

We’ve seen it all over the country—colonies of community cats wiped out by a single call from one neighbor to animal control. Most people who call about community cats don’t want the cats to die—but they don’t understand that the cats have a home outdoors and are just as healthy as pet cats. This is where you come in. You and other compassionate community members need to represent the many people who are happy to have the cats in the community.

Take these next steps to be proactive and build support for protecting and improving the lives of cats.

Mobilize Your Community for Shelter Transformation

Before approaching your shelter, network with other community members who are working to make positive changes for animals and form a group to support feral cats and TNR. You want to demonstrate that many people in your community want a better approach to outdoor cats. Grassroots organizing is an American tradition that lives on today in communities across the country. It’s in hometown newspapers all the time—residents working together to improve their neighborhood or draw attention to a worthy cause. And it works for cats too: it’s the most effective approach you can use to help your local shelter save more lives. Grassroots organizing can be done effectively with minimal resources. Email and the internet make it cheaper and easier than ever to reach out to others who want to help animals and to form an organization to push for change in your community.

Read our guide to organizing your community for strategic change for cats.

Encourage Your Shelter to Change its Approach to Cats

The best change your shelter can make right now to save more lives is to adopt a Feral Cat Protection Policy and no longer impound community cats. Community cats are not socialized to people and are therefore unadoptable.

In addition to not accepting community cats, you can work with your shelter to put a TNR program in place for community cats. Other programs and policy changes that will help your shelter save lives include recognizing eartipping, operating a trap loan program, increasing transparency, building community partnerships, and opening a low-cost spay/neuter clinic.

In addition to adopting a Feral Cat Protection Policy, shelters can save even more lives by only taking in the number of healthy cats that they can adopt out. Studies show that stray or lost cats are more likely to be adopted or to return home if they stay where they are, outside—however counterintuitive that may seem—instead of being brought to a shelter.

When you encourage your shelter to make these policy and program changes, be sure to provide them with materials explaining how to make the change—and why it is so beneficial for animals, the shelter’s staff and volunteers, and the community. Commit to helping your shelter implement new strategies for cats. Find rescue groups and other community partners who can help the shelter by financially supporting TNR and helping reunite cats with their owners or finding them new homes.

Read our toolkit for helping shelters transform their approach to cats—and provide your local shelter with a link or printed version of the toolkit when you contact them.

Next: Activist Toolkit: Approach Your Local Shelter