It was exciting to meet so many veterinary professionals at the Purdue Veterinary Conference in Indiana in September. We were delighted to be invited to a conference put on by a prestigious university with a shelter medicine track, which isn’t offered by every veterinary school. I gave presentations along with Emma Clifford, founder and executive director of Animal Balance, and Medical Director Amanda Bruce, DVM. Among other things, we talked about the urgent need for veterinarians to work with shelters and animal groups to provide lifesaving programs including low-cost spay and neuter and Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR) services (also called Shelter-Neuter-Return, or SNR).

It seemed that many veterinary and veterinary technician students felt they should wait until after they graduate to participate in SNR or TNVR, but that’s not necessary. There’s a vital need for these programs in so many communities but we have too few volunteers. It is critical that we get more SNR programs launched in Indiana and around the country to save cats from entering shelters, where many will never come out alive.

Organizing a program in your community isn’t difficult. You can talk with people who’ve gotten SNR and TNVR programs off the ground in their regions to learn how they organized such an effort. Alley Cat Allies can help you with this. We have materials online that can guide you, and we have a Feral Friends Network™ of compassionate people all over the country who’ve done this successfully.

Animals shelters are not a salvation for cats without a home. Their facilities are not designed to handle the volume of animals they get. Cats are stressed by the environment and the confines of their cages. Disease can spread rapidly in overcrowded conditions. Too many healthy cats are killed and too few are adopted. (And, as we know, community cats are not candidates for adoption.) We cannot keep going like this.

We must harness the compassion of our fellow animal lovers to keep cats out of shelters. If cats are socialized and need a home, keep them at your place or with a willing friend or neighbor while you look for a foster or permanent home. It’s better for cats to go from home to home in a community—avoiding the shelter altogether. To save animals, we need new ways of thinking so we can replace the outdated and ineffective shelter infrastructure that has been with us since the late 1800s.

It is up to all of us to come up with new ideas to shed the institutional ways in which many shelters still operate. We don’t need enormous resources to accomplish this. We just need compassion, ingenuity, support, and patience to educate shelter operators, community officials, and members of the community to turn our advocacy into action. And, of course, we need the skills of trained veterinarians who put the “NV” in TNVR.