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Presentation at UWRF explores shelter alternatives for cats

March 8, 2017

On Thursday, March 2, the Department of Animal Science (Companion Animal Emphasis) sponsored the “Countdown to a Million: Rethinking Cat Sheltering” presentation by guest speaker Kate Hurley.

Beginning her career as an animal control officer due to her love of animals, Hurley saw the flaws in the shelter system. During the presentation, she stated that only one out of every four cats brought to shelters leave there alive, being euthanized if they are not adopted in time.

Part of the problem was due to the open shelter system, where facilities take in more cats than they can humanely care for. Hurley saw that shelter efforts were hurting the cat population more than helping and decided that there must be a better way.

Shortly after graduating veterinary school, Hurley created and completed the world’s first residency in Shelter Medicine. In 2014, after eight years of working on the organizing committee to create an official specialty in shelter medicine, the American Veterinary Medical Association approved Shelter Medicine as a specialty within the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners.

During these studies, Hurley found more humane and effective methods of keeping up the welfare of confined animals, the welfare of community cats and battling infectious diseases.

From there, Hurley joined Julie Levy at the University of Florida Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program to sponsor the Million Cat Challenge campaign which looks to save one million cats in U.S. shelters from 2014-2019.

The amount of cats saved is to be measured by the reduction in euthanasia and the rise of live outcomes (adoption, returned to owner, returned to field, etc.). This goal may seem lofty, but 500,000 feline lives have already been saved simply by implementing some (if not all) of the five key initiatives that reduce euthanasia and improve the health of cats in shelters as well as improve their chances of adoption.

The five initiatives are to find alternatives to intake, manage admission, adhere to the shelter’s capacity for care, remove barriers to adoption and return to field.

First, finding alternatives to intake at a shelter means saving the shelter for those cats who are truly in need. While some cats truly do need to use the shelter, sometimes people just need assistance, resources or veterinary care in order to care for a cat short term, leaving the shelter to those with no other options.

For instance, 72 percent of lost cats will return home on their own, so bringing them to a shelter makes the chances of them being reunited with their owners much more slim. The idea is that the shelter would assist in locating the owner but not admit the cat.

Feral cats can be sterilized, vaccinated and returned to the place they were found. Since mammals will always breed to the carrying capacity of their environment, taking a community cat out of that habitat will only result in more breeding from the remaining cats.

As long as there is a food source available, cats will breed to meet that threshold. Therefore, by sterilizing the cat through shelter services and returning it, the population in that area remains stable. Cats that were owned can be given support to rehome them instead of turning them over to a shelter.

Second, managing admission means that the shelter would regulate intake in some manner or another, like limiting drop-off hours, scheduling intake appointments, implementing waiting lists if there is not enough room or requiring a formal process of surrender to discuss alternatives or support. Managing admission could be something as simple as not allowing drop-off on weekends so that the staff has time to catch up and focus on the animals there.

Third, capacity for care means considering the shelter’s ability to care for each cat admitted. This is done by giving high-quality housing and lessening the length of stay by means of active management.

Better housing means that each cat have at least nine square feet with a small door to separate food from the litter box area. Doing this can prevent sickness from developing and spreading through the shelter. Keeping cats healthy and happy means that they present a better impression and have a much better chance at being chosen for adoption.

Fourth, removing adoption barriers makes it so that it is easier for people to adopt, because life in an imperfect home is often still better than an experience at a shelter.

Finally, returning to field means that community cats would get the traditional trap-neuter-return approach where they are sterilized, vaccinated and ear-tipped before being returned to their original location. People who feed stray cats are no longer scared to come forward since euthanasia would no longer be threatening their neighborhood visitor. Doing this takes a load off of shelters and can actually decrease cat colony sizes in time.

Being the director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at UC-Davis as well as the director of the Million Cat Challenge, Hurley shows dedication to spreading her message that there is a better way.

When asked why she thinks her message is important for animal studies students, Hurley said that they “will be the voice that people will trust” and that this approach changes the profession.

Assistant Professor of Animal and Food Science Beth Rausch said she hopes that students who attended would “learn about the trends in the shelter industry and companion animal welfare.”

Rauch continued: “If we teach them a better way to manage both feral and owned cat populations as well as shelter cat populations, then they will achieve a better welfare state.”

Jennifer Glasow, an animal science student and attendee of the presentation, said these were interesting, new approaches with real results that “give everyone a chance to be a hero,” echoing the lesson that there is always a better way when one sets their mind to it, just as Hurley said.