Published on The Huffington Post, December 22, 2014.

‘Tis the season of giving, and everywhere you look you’ll see suggestions for the “perfect gifts” for your loved ones: something they’ll love forever, something they’ll never forget, something unique. How about someone — how about a kitten or cat from the shelter?

Adoption isn’t a decision to take lightly, but adding a family member could be the best gift of all — for your loved one and for your new animal friend. There’s some misinformation out there discouraging people from holiday adoptions, but adopting a pet on a holiday, birthday or any special occasion isn’t so different from adopting on any other day. Research has demonstrated that receiving a pet as a gift doesn’t increase the likelihood that the animal will be relinquished to a shelter, or impact how the owner views the pet. In fact, it’s also been shown that friends and family are the most common source of pet cats. So go ahead and put “shelter kitty” on your holiday shopping list.

When you adopt a shelter cat, you save his life. And that’s something cats need every day of the year. Sadly, most cats in the shelter don’t make it out alive — over 70 percent end up being “euthanized” even though they’re perfectly healthy. So with the facts in mind, many shelters have fully embraced the gift-giving season to maximize the number of cats they can adopt out. This policy is revolutionary, even though it sounds like common sense. You see, most Americans don’t understand how dire the situation can be for a shelter cat. The best numbers we have suggest that every 15 seconds, a cat is killed in a shelter. This is a grim reminder that the shelter system just isn’t working the way we need it to. Finally, some shelters are starting to change. From creative adoption programs like Home for the Holidays adoption events and seasonal discounts, to no longer accepting unsocialized cats, the shelters are seeking out groups like Alley Cat Allies to help them save more cats.

When I founded Alley Cat Allies 25 years ago, it was even worse for cats. Rounding up and killing unowned community cats (also called feral cats) was standard practice. These days, such plans draw media attention and public outrage. Because of Alley Cat Allies’ quarter century of advocacy for cats, the mainstream approach to community cats is now Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). In a TNR program, community cats are humanely trapped and taken to a local veterinarian to be neutered, vaccinated, eartipped –to show that they’ve been neutered and vaccinated–and then returned to the location where they were trapped. The reproduction cycle immediately stops, which means no new kittens. TNR effectively stabilizes and reduces the community cat population.

With the goal to save more cats, many shelters practice TNR through policies called Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR) or Return to Field (RTF). Shelters that have embraced these methods recognize that since community cats usually aren’t socialized and can’t be adopted, typical sheltering just won’t work for them. Shelter-based TNR programs are on the rise, and they’ve been shown to make communities happy, increase the number of positive outcomes for cats who do enter the shelter, and decrease concerns about community cats.

Do you know what happens in your local shelter? Finding out the truth might be hard, since very few states require shelters to report data about animal intake and outcomes. But the first step is to show up. Go see the animals and remind yourself why it’s important to help the shelter improve. And while you’re there, don’t forget those last minute gifts. Cats are always in stock, and they come in so many varieties, you’re bound to find the perfect match. The latest electronic gadget is exciting, but nothing compares to the years of love and companionship of a shelter cat or kitten. You need that last gift, and the cat needs you so much more. So don’t wait another minute — not even another 15 seconds — go adopt now.