Million Cat Challenge Hopes to Improve Adoption Rates of Shelter Cats

Across the United States, euthanasia rates for dogs surrendered to shelters are decreasing dramatically while those for cats are improving at a much slower rate. Two veterinarians, Dr. Julie Levy from the University of Florida Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program and Dr. Kate Hurley from the University of California, Davis have launched “The Million Cat Challenge” to save more cats. They are asking shelters to focus on five initiatives to reduce stress in cats and make them more adoptable. The initiatives are:

1) Alternatives to intake: Unfortunately, a financial crisis is often the reason a family must surrender their pet. Pet food banks and discount veterinary care can often keep cats in their homes during the crisis.

2) Managed intake for non-emergency situations: Instead of taking the cat into the shelter immediately, an appointment system is used. During the initial visit, the cat is evaluated and vaccinated then sent back home. Two weeks later, when immunity has developed from the vaccination, the cat returns to the shelter.

3) Capacity for care: Shelters must evaluate how many cats they can properly handle. In addition to cages, that means having enough staff and play spaces to keep stress low in the cats waiting adoption.

4) Removing barriers to adoption: Drs. Levy and Hurley recommend decreasing adoption fees and making the screening process less burdensome. They sight several studies that demonstrate no ill effect on the pets.

5) Return to field: Since feral cats are often euthanized at shelters, the authors recommend what is commonly referred to as, ‘trap, neuter, release’. Personally, I have mixed emotions about this method of dealing with feral cats. Life as a feral is tough. They often die tragic deaths from disease or injury. Although feral cats help keep the rodent population in check, they also kill many birds and reptiles.


Lau, Edie, ‘Million Cat Challenge aims to reform shelter methods: Veterinarians leading campaign encourage shelters to share tactics’. VIN-News, December 31, 2014.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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