How to save & take care of a kitten and feral cats - an advocacy tool kit

Cat Friendly Practices for Animal Shelters

Guide/How-to| Animal Shelter, Shelter Transformation

Animal control pounds and shelters are increasingly reevaluating and changing their programs and services to reflect a more socially-responsible approach to serving the animals and the public. Below are steps agencies and shelters can take to implement humane practices that serve the best interest of cats and the public and improve relations with the community.

Here are some easy steps you can take today to create feline friendly practices at your shelter.

Keep Feral Cats out of Your Facility

Stop accepting trapped feral cats and stop trapping feral cats.

Feral cats are not socialized to people and are therefore unadoptable. Since animals that are not candidates for adoption are killed in animal control pounds and shelters, do not even take in feral cats. Feral cats simply do not belong there. Avoid becoming the custodian of a cat that you cannot serve. Instead of spending resources on holding and killing feral cats, focus that time and money on providing deterrents to the public and on spay and neuter and vaccination services.

Recognize eartipping.

An eartip means the cat has been spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and is part of a feral cat colony. Do not trap eartipped cats. If they are mistakenly picked up, return them immediately to their original location. Facility protocol for uneartipped feral cats should focus on Trap-Neuter-Return. Take those cats to be spayed or neutered, and then return them to their outdoor home their colony’s habitat. Maintaining excellent records, detailing the location the cats originally came from, will make it easier to return the cats.

Work with the Public

Adopt a new, positive way of working with the community.

When shelters across the country have worked to build welcoming, cooperative relationships with community members, cats’ lives have been saved. Train shelter employees to better understand the public’s and the cats’ needs and work with the public in constructive ways by providing tools and counseling to address common issues.

Assume the best of people. Generally, people want to do the humane and responsible thing for animals. By asking questions and getting at the root of their problems, shelter staff can provide solutions that bypass the traditional pet surrender or feral cat trapping demands. For people who call the shelter about feral cats, as mentioned in the next bullet point, educate them about the benefits of spaying and neutering, Trap-Neuter-Return, and your programs and services.

Share information on humane deterrents and repellents that keep cats away from specific areas such as gardens. Ask questions to understand their needs and provide answers that save cats’ lives while providing solutions.

Educate the public about outdoor cats.

The majority of callers reporting outdoor cats to animal control are looking for help, not exterminators. Callers can’t ask for services that they are not aware exist. Share educational materials and information in your shelter and online about feral cats and their inability to be adopted as well as Trap-Neuter-Return.

Educate the public about your programs and other local resources for stray and feral cats such as low-cost or subsidized spay and neuter clinics and Trap-Neuter-Return programs. Let them know about humane deterrents to keep cats away from places they are not welcomed when you receive inquires of this nature.

Learn more about how to deter cats from areas they are not wanted. You can also visit our marketplace to purchase brochures to distribute to callers, visitors in your facility, and in neighborhoods where officers are working.

Post a ready-made webpage about outdoor cats and Trap-Neuter-Return on your own website.

Adopt a Different Approach to Feral Cats

Implement a shelter-sponsored Trap-Neuter-Return program.

Trap-Neuter-Return is a humane method of care for feral cats. If your facility cannot start a program right away, consider working with local feral cat groups who can help in the interim. Learn how to implement an organizational Trap-Neuter-Return program.

Purchase a supply of traps to lend out to the public. Consider charging a refundable deposit to ensure that traps are returned.

Learn how to use the traps and become familiar with trapping techniques. Learn more about Alley Cat Allies equipment suggestions for feral cats. Include information about how to trap feral cats with each trap, and always make sure people borrowing traps sign an agreement stating that the traps will be used only for the purpose of Trap-Neuter-Return. Show borrowers how to set the traps before they leave your facility.

Best Practice Protocols for Cats in Your Care

Spay or neuter all animals before they leave your facility for adoption or are transferred to another facility or rescue group.

Be responsible for all animals entering and leaving your care. Reduce the number of kittens born each year by ensuring that each animal is spayed or neutered before leaving your facility. Adoption fees can help to cover the added cost. This will send a message to the public that you are socially responsible and care about the lives of the animals. Early-age spay and neuter (kittens are sterilized at eight weeks, or as soon as they weigh two pounds) before adoption ensures that 100% of animals leaving your facility are sterilized.

Early-age spay and neuter practices also are a good investment: animal control pounds and shelters can implement the program and stop spending resources on follow-up to sterilization compliance, paperwork, and the “oops litters” that happen from previously adopted cats.

Learn more about early-age spay and neuter. Voucher programs unfortunately have a low rate of compliance because it leaves the action up to someone else. Taking responsibility for this step upfront will prevent more animals from coming through your doors in the future.

Provide spay and neuter services to the public.

Open facility clinics, no matter the size, to the public as a place for low-cost or subsidized spay and neuter services. Consider coordinating with local Trap-Neuter-Return groups to operate weekend spay and neuter and vaccination clinics for outdoor cats. Offering these services to the public shows your commitment to the community and animals.

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

Help residents find homes for companion animals they can no longer keep and provide programs to help them keep their animals.

Provide community members with more options than bringing their companion animal to your facility. Some services you can offer include: website and in-shelter bulletin board posting services, maintaining a list of “pet friendly” apartment buildings, providing tips and ideas about getting a companion animal adopted successfully, and invitations to join adoption events.

To improve animal retention, implement programs such as low-cost medical services and behavior training.

Improve your adoption programs and foster network.

Making a good match between adopter and adoptee can be tricky. Consider adopting one of the new programs that can help potential adopters find the animal who matches best with their personality and habits. Operate adoption programs during weekends and evening hours to improve shelter visitation rates. Improve the access of animal rescue and breed rescue groups to your shelter.

Increase the number of homes available for fostering the animals that enter your shelter. All of these changes will increase employee and community morale as more animals find homes and less animals are killed.

Other Important Steps

Make keeping accurate and detailed public records a priority.

Maintaining metrics is critical to determining progress at the end of the day. Shelters need to track the number of cats that enter the shelter and how they leave (returned to owner, adopted, etc.). Detailed descriptions of how the cats are categorized should also be defined (stray, feral, socialized, etc.). However, a number of other items should be documented as well, including: the animal’s location; who brought her to the shelter and why; if she was killed and for what reasons.

Accurate and detailed records that are made available to the public help shelter practice in a number of ways. They:

1. Provide immediate information about where and how resources are being used to help identify needs and track and evaluate the success or failure of all programs. They allow for the analysis of whether the life-saving programs in place are actually saving lives, whether the amount of money spent on spay and neuter effects the number of animals brought into the shelter, etc.

2. Build public support. Being transparent about your shelter’s new programs to protect and improve more lives and then sharing the change in your statistics as you implement those programs ultimately improves relations with the community.

3. Shelters need the support of the public to garner financial benefits as well as more volunteers. People want to help where they know they are saving lives. Being open with them will build community-wide confidence. It is important to get buy-in from your constituents, and transparency is a good public relations move to promote your humane programs.

Do not support counter-productive animal control laws, and put your weight behind overturning those laws if they are already on the books.

Laws and ordinances that mandate spay and 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 feral cats and requirements for feral cat colony care unjustly single out caregivers. These punitive laws backfire. Learn more about ordinances.

Instead, work with your city’s government to overturn any existing pet limit laws. These laws decrease the number of homes available to cats in your shelter and have proven to be widely unenforceable.