I’ve had less than usual to worry about for cats and kittens since March 2020.

If you’re thinking, “wait, what?” I don’t blame you. Considering all we’ve been through in the past months, it’s difficult to believe that any good could have arose through the crisis. But in stark contrast to almost every other aspect of our day-to-day, the pandemic and its resulting shutdowns caused immediate, drastic changes that actually saved the lives of cats and kittens.

Let me explain.

Although Alley Cat Allies’ 31 years of advocacy has revolutionized our society’s treatment of cats and made humane, effective programs including Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) mainstream, some cities and towns are still dragging their feet on ending archaic lethal policies. Community cats still face a ceaseless conveyer belt of horror in which they are trapped, confined in animal shelters, and ultimately killed.

And it’s all for nothing: new cats move into their territory to replace them due to the well-documented Vacuum Effect. Rinse and repeat…for decades.

Then the pandemic began.

The large majority of shelters across the country closed their doors to the public. Others greatly reduced their practices that were harmful to cats. As part of their pandemic protocol, many shelters stopped proactively trapping cats for impoundment, stopped responding to non-emergency calls about cats, and/or stopped accepting cats caught by community members.

In any other year, many of these shelters would have impounded these cats without a second thought. The majority would have been community cats, who are generally not socialized to people, are unadoptable, and are at the highest risk in shelter facilities.

More and more shelters advised community members to allow young kittens to remain outdoors with their mothers or care for the kittens themselves, rather than bring them to shelters that lack the means to care for them. This is a best practice Alley Cat Allies has espoused for decades.
All of these “stop gap” measures prevented untold numbers of cats being rounded up and killed.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. In this case, it appears to have been the mother of adaptation, because the ideas many mainstream shelters were implementing for the first time this past year have been in practice by progressive shelters for years. It took the pandemic to motivate many reluctant facilities to engage in these lifesaving practices.

But wait, there’s more! Without the usual option to drop an animal off at a shelter and hope for the best, people stepped up for cats in their communities and tapped into the lifesaving power in their own two hands. Alley Cat Allies received double the calls in 2020 than any previous year as people who wanted to help cats but weren’t certain what to do reached out to us.

And since we never closed our doors during the pandemic, we were there for them. We’ve been able to show more people that caring for cats isn’t just the job of a shelter or any single animal organization, but a true community effort.

This community-based approach to keep as many cats out of shelters as possible is working, and Alley Cat Allies’ goal is to make it the “new normal” everywhere.

When we all invest in the best treatment of animals, we all benefit.

So even as we finally see new days on the horizon, we cannot and should not go back to the world of 2019. The way things were before did not work on multiple levels. Instead, we need to embrace the spirit of saving and protecting all life. We must adapt and move ever forward.