Best Friends Blog

Not-so breaking news: Cats don’t belong in shelters

This is the second in a series of posts that examine some of the implications of the California Sheltering Report Whitepaper. You can read the first installment here.

File this one under “If Only We’d Known This Before We Spent All That Money.”

The sheltering community is behind the proverbial eight ball when it comes to cats. This should come as no surprise to any regular reader of this blog. Ideas to create positive outcomes for cats who enter shelters and to prevent cats from ever entering the shelter in the first place have been around for some time, including programs that we have funded, such as Jacksonville’s Feral Freedom. This same model program that saves countless feline lives is now in effect in other cities, such as San Jose, California.

Thankfully, it appears that the data is undeniable, and, as reflected in the California Sheltering Report, traditional shelters and animal welfare organizations are arriving at the same conclusions – sadly though, not before the loss of far too many lives and millions of dollars down the drain.

The whitepaper notes that over the 15 years of data studied since the passage of the Hayden Act, cat deaths in shelters have remained relatively unchanged (i.e., little progress has been made for cats).

Is any management policy that delivers no improvement really worth pursuing?

It is important to note that, while California law does require animal control agencies to impound stray dogs, the law does not require those agencies to impound healthy stray or free-roaming cats. That means millions of dollars spent to kill millions of community cats in the execution of a pointless, ineffective strategy in service to a law that doesn’t even exist. Government at its finest, you may say.

This raises all sorts of interesting questions and suggests – no, make that screams – for changes in the way municipal shelters and SPCAs with animal control contracts in California formulate their policies with regard to cats.

The stakeholders’ group that prepared the California sheltering whitepaper recommended that since the above is true, that the following steps be taken:

  1. Forgo traditional cat impoundment practices in favor of shelter-integrated trap/neuter/return (TNR) practices.
  2. Only accept healthy cats as owner surrenders if there is a high likelihood of a positive outcome (adoption, transfer to rescue, or return to owner) AND if another animal does not have to die to make room for the incoming cat.
  3. Irremediably sick or injured animals should be humanely euthanized.

This is an extraordinarily bold assertion by the stakeholders’ group, especially considering that only a minority of them are solidly and historically committed to no-kill. In fact, you won’t even see the words “no” and “kill” together in the entire whitepaper. You say “tomato,” I say “tomahto.”

As Best Friends and other no-kill advocates have been declaring for years, community cats have no business being held in shelters unless they can be assured a positive outcome. Period.

It’s time for a change.

Francis Battista
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • JamesAllen

    TNR and “community cat” advocates have good intentions, but their methods end badly for the animals.

    No mater how sweet-sounding a rename you try to give them – feral cats generally live short and unhappy lives. They get hit by cars. They get torn apart by raccoons or stray dogs. They eat rat poison, poisoned rats, or get stuck in rat traps.

    You also have to be realistic about the fact that feral cats are a nuisance to many homeowners. When an animal is tearing open their trash, pooping in their planters, killing the songbirds at their bird feeder, etc (all common complaints we get about feral cats) and animal control refuses to come pick it up because it TNR’d or it’s a “community cat”, what do you think is going to happen? Benign acceptance? No. The cat will be poisoned or otherwise killed.

    Humane euthanasia is a better outcome then what tends to befall feral cats. That’s not a nice truth, but it’s the truth.

  • Sabine Demetz

    What exactly does “irremidiably” mean? Does it refer to a shelter not having the resources to pay for the veterinary care of a sick or injured cat? Or does it mean a cat with cancer comes in or a cat that was hit by a car and is basically dying?

  • Nancy Medley

    Thank you so much. I am so bothered by the innocent animals being destroyed in these shelters. I don’t know why people just leave there animals. I know the shelters are overwhelmed but there must be a better way. Nan

  • georgieboy

    Letting your cats outdoors without the protection of a cat fence is a really stupid thing to do. My ten cats have been outdoors in my cat fenced yard for over five years now. They can’t get out of the yard and no other cats can get in. They are healthy and content. Having a cat fence for your yard is the neighborly thing to do.
    We wouldn’t have neighborhood ferals if evil people wouldn’t abandon their cats when they move. There is no excuse for this behavior. None!!! I trap them and fix them and release them back to their environment when I can afford it. Do I wish there were a better solution for these poor creatures? Of course, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be their death sentence!

  • Kim from Canada

    I don’t know that I believe stray and/or ferral cats should be kept as ‘community cats’. I strongly believe in a no kill policy unless it’s for humane reasons so that the animal isn’t suffering. It angers me that people continue to ‘dump’ animals that are no longer wanted (espicially cats). Most people have the mistaken belief that cats can adapt well to living outisde. Cats are domesticated animals unless they were born ferral. I’ve been trapping and finding homes for stray and ferral cats for a number of years and I’ve found that these cats die a slow and painful death through starvation and sickness. Most stray and ferral cats have an extremely difficult time finding food and water. They are constantly threatened with injury through encounters with other animals, cars and people and they’re exposed to illnesses like feline leukemia and FIV. Because of poor nutrition and due to the fact they live outside, they’re also usually infested with fleas, ear mites and worms and a lot of them suffer with dental disease (which can be extremely painful). It breaks my heart whenever I see a cat outdoors trying to survive. It isn’t always obivious how much pain these animals are in just by looking at them and, although I don’t necessarily agree with euthanizing a cat that “appears” healthy, I don’t think that slow painful suffering is the answer.

  • Mrs.L

    A mommie cat had a liiter in our back yard the neighborhood kids got them except for one that kept coming back to our door. Her name is panther we have made her ours she knows our routines as we know hers. Same cat had another liter and now there are kittens roaming the street. I can’t get them all being a MOM of 1 Chihuahua, 1 GERMAN SHEPPARD, AND PANTHER. what where to do or go?

  • jmuhj

    My post seems to have disappeared, so I’ll try again. Great article; I agree 100%. But there is also a desperate need for public education across the board to counter the hate-filled, lie-ridden propaganda put out by the bird fanatic groups and other haters, some of whom commit felonies and encourage others to do likewise. I don’t like bringing negativity into such a positive environment, but this is a truth we need to face and to turn around! I’ve seen truly diabolical posts on many sites and the sociopaths posting them need to be stopped.

  • Jessica

    Our local University campus has a group of feral cats that have basically become “community” cats. I see them every day, the same ones, in the same places. They actually look very healthy. They hunt rodents and also feed on scraps. I don’t like that they are stray and I wish they had homes but I know that catching them and putting them in the local shelter would be much worse for them. It is difficult to adopt feral cats as many do not adapt well. Because of their independent and self-sufficient nature, cats seem to survive much better on the outside than dogs. If we focused the efforts on education, spay & neuter programs, rather than trapping every cat, maybe we could make a bigger impact.

    I also wondered how cats are a community safety issue. I’ve never heard a story in my community of a cat attacking a human, if anything the feral cats seem to keep away from humans. Other than harming the bird population and getting rid of rodents what harm are they really doing? I hate, I repeat, hate the idea of these animals being forced to live a life like this but we need ot focus our energies where we know will make the most difference.

    Great blog Francis!

    • ibchuckd

      The issue of public safety is more directly related to that of keeping family pets protected from diseases and parasites that feral cats spread throughout a neighborhood. Feral cats still fight, scratch and bite domestic cats even while fenced in their own yards, and because of such, keeping community cats will never be an appropriate idea. (Unless of course, they are being regularly checked on by a veterinarian–but who is willing to pay that cost?).

      I currently have two cats. One was a feral I took off the streets, and the other was a rehomer whose previous owner claimed allergies to. My feral cat had to be spayed, given her shots and treated several times for ear mites. Both my cats are a beloved part of my family. I, for one, would never allow them to be subjected to a feral population under any circumstances. If you have a 50-acre ranch and want to keep community cats, that is fine, but I will continue trapping feral cats on my property and turning them over to animal control for the public safety of my pets.

      • georgieboy

        You seem like an intelligent person, however, letting your cats outdoors without the protection of a cat fence is a really stupid thing to do. My ten cats have been outdoors in my cat fenced yard for over five years now. They can’t get out and nobody can get in. They are healthy and content.

        • SaSabine Demetz

          🙂 !!

        • catfancy

          Hello Georgieboy,
          I am curious about your cat proof fence as I am trying to shelter three semi-ferals in my large backyard. They are neutered and have their shots, get good food and are healthy pets. I cannot bring them inside due to a one cat limit household because of allergies. I live in an urban environment that is visited by hungry coyotes from river beds about 3 miles from my home.I fear for these kitties that adopted me. I refused to take them to the shelter where they would be put down immediately, yet I am their best source for a good life as opposed to letting them roam the streets for food. All that being said, I have considered having a one room garden office built for me and them, but the fencing is an excellent idea. How did you build your fencing? Contact me via Facebook at Theresa Hew if you wouldn’t mind sharing this information. I’ve seen sites on fencing and continue to research the idea.
          I would never take a feral to our shelter unless it was ill or injured. My city takes in 13,000 abandoned animals per year and euthanizes 8,000 of them; cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens, etc. Not a statistic to be proud of.
          And by the way, I am sick and tired of the community cats being blamed for the coyotes coming into our neighborhood. Like people, these animals didn’t ask to be born. We have a very weak Dept. of Fish and Game that REFUSES to spay and neuter these predators which are thriving on urban cats and dogs and a recent attack on a human toddler. Just had to get that off my chest. The balance of nature is always difficult but surely we can come up with some better solutions for our community cats than allowing “coyotes to take care of the problem,” as one prominent neighborhood association president recently said.

          • chris

            check the website they sell cat fencing. ive been using it for four years and it works like a charm!

  • MallGal Judith

    ANd what if, when you exhaust all efforts by calling all the animal rescue groups (including Best Friends) in your area and they say they are full to the rim and can’t take in any more. Do we just leave them to the elements to kill them ?!! Or do we try to protect them and take them to a shelter so in hopes of being adopted and if not they are humnely put to sleep. Not all cats can be caught and “fixed”. Anyone willing to come help me catch a ferral momma cat and male cat that breed constantly??? She is always dropping her babies on my patio every six months. Realistically There is no way we can save them all so don’t preach that please.

    • jmuhj

      If you’re in the L.A. Metro area, you might try NoKillL.A. (NKLA) — you can find them by inputting that into your search engine. Use that to find other groups as well. And while it may be true that ‘we can’t save them all’, responsible compassionate people certainly do save those who are in their environment, or contact other responsible and caring people to help them do so.

      • MallGal Judith

        That’s what Im trying to do ..make sure they are captured and Spayed/neutered and released. I live in the west valley in LA.

        • jennie

          Contact Feral Cat Caretaker’s Coalition located in LA. #310-820-4122. If it’s truly a feral cat, it will survive. That’s all it knows how to do. More than likely, if it was taken to a shelter, it wouldn’t be adopted because it is afraid of people. Therefore, it would have to be euthanized (in terror because it’s scared of people) or it would be forced to live out its lifetime in a concrete cell at the shelter. I believe we can save them all. It just takes educating the public. Cats can be caught with traps, spayed, neutered and released. Cats can get pregnant several times a year. As quoted in the, according to the Atlanta Animal Alliance “one cat and her offspring can produce up to 420,000 kittens in a mere six years. That is why it is so important to spay and neuter.

    • catmad

      Where are you located? There are people who WILL come and help you trap until all the cats are s/n in many parts of the country. If you’re near me (SC), then yes, I’ll come help. Unless you’re somewhere with more extreme conditions than most of the US, cats can do just fine with some shelter, food, and someone watching out for them once the breeding is stopped. Taking them to a shelter is not protecting them, they will be euthanized. And that is seldom “humane” for a feral cat. Their lives end in terror, even with the kindest of intentions. There’s just no good way deal with unsocialized cats in shelter conditions.

      • MallGal Judith

        I am in LA. Thanks for your reply tho.

  • Jill

    This really makes you think. I know a few shelters in the area I live, in New England, have a small but successful “working cats” program where they place less socialized/feral cats in barns, warehouses, garages, shops, etc. that need rodent control. I am personally very interested in leaving community cats where they are, but sterilizing and assigning caretakers for them. Thanks BF. As always, a great post.

  • Michelle Davis

    Feral cat issues are often discussed in terms of public safety…in those circles “no kill” is often not a consideration. And when having those discussions bringing it up could hurt your credibility. I believe it was wise to leave that phrase out of this white paper…if it was purposeful. Still gets to the same place…