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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, Co-founder, Best Friends Animal Society Francis Battista
Co-founder
Best Friends Animal Society