Million cat challenge

Last month, I posted a blog in an effort to bring some attention to the fact that the municipal sheltering system in the U.S. is failing America’s cat population. The problem owes as much to the legacy of shelter design as it does to the lack of widespread implementation of cat-specific programs and policies.

I doubt that my blog was news to anyone who has volunteered for an organization that works with cats and is aware of the high proportion of felines dying in shelters every day. However, there is some good news on this front because two highly respected leaders in the world of shelter medicine and community cats have teamed up with their respective universities to launch the Million Cat Challenge, a shelter-based campaign to save the lives of one million cats in North America over the next five years. The challenge is a joint project of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis, and the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida. Best Friends is proud to be one of the campaign’s sponsors.

The brains behind the Million Cat Challenge belong to Dr. Julie Levy and Dr. Kate Hurley. Both women exemplify and embody everything you would hope to find in those who enter the field of veterinary medicine — a genuine commitment to the lives and well-being of the animals they serve.

Among her many impressive accomplishments, Dr. Levy founded and heads up the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program and also has extensive in-the-field experience through Operation Catnip, a model trap/neuter/return (TNR) organization that she founded in 1998 which has spayed or neutered over 44,000 cats in the Gainesville area.

Dr. Hurley began her long career with animals as an animal control officer in California who dutifully trapped and killed cats, but whose remarkable journey led her to become a veterinarian, the head of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program and a champion of TNR. Talk about a 180-degree change in perspective! Dr. Hurley’s personal story should serve as an inspiration for every sheltering professional.

Quoting their website, the Million Cat Challenge encompasses five key initiatives to balance intake, humane capacity within the shelter and live release:


  1. Alternatives to intake: Provide positive alternatives to keep cats in the home or community when admission to a shelter is not the best choice.
  2. Scheduled intake: Schedule admission of cats to match the shelter’s ability to assure humane care and safe movement through the shelter system to an appropriate outcome for every cat.
  3. Capacity for care: Match the number of cats cared for at any one time with the capacity required to assure the Five Freedoms of animal welfare for all cats in the shelter.
  4. Removing barriers to adoption: Expand the pool of adopters by removing barriers to adoption such as cost, process or location.
  5. Return-to-field: Sterilize, vaccinate and return healthy un-owned shelter cats to the location of origin as an alternative to euthanasia.

Quite appropriately and consistent with the theme of my previous post, each of the Million Cat Challenge’s key initiatives is aimed at either keeping cats out of shelters entirely or maximizing positive outcomes for shelter cats while minimizing their length of stay in a shelter and reducing the stress of that experience.

If widely implemented, the protocols outlined above would be a game changer for cats and could signal a long overdue overhaul of municipal cat sheltering in this country.

The Million Cat Challenge is a shelter-based campaign and I encourage you to engage your local shelter in participating. Everything you need to know is on their website.

Together, we can Save Them All.



Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society