The State of No Kill: 2016

Today, on the first day of the new year, it’s time to take a look at how No Kill is doing nationally. I can’t tell the story of every successful program in 2015 because there were far too many of them. There is one national campaign that stood out, though, because in sheer numbers it is on pace to rival some of the greatest No Kill accomplishments ever. Like Mike Arms’ Home 4 the Holidays event, which has racked up over 1.2 million adoptions since it started in 1999. And Petfinder, established by Betsy Banks Saul and Jared Saul in 1996, which is currently instrumental in some 1.5 million adoptions every year. The campaign that is rivalling those great accomplishments is the Million Cat Challenge.*

The Million Cat Challenge was launched on December 10, 2014 by two well-known shelter veterinarians, Dr. Kate Hurley and Dr. Julie Levy. Both have been very involved in the development of the underlying programs that became part of the Challenge. When Kate and Julie presented their ideas for cat management at a plenary session at the 2013 HSUS Expo, the groundswell of positive reaction was so great that they were inspired to start the Challenge to capture that momentum. The Challenge is set to run for five years, from the beginning of 2014 to the end of 2018, and the goal is to save 1,000,000 cats who otherwise would be killed in shelters.

The animal shelter organizations that have signed on to the Million Cat Challenge have been responsible for saving almost 400,000 lives in the program’s first two years.** The Challenge had a very good year in 2015, with over 265,000 lives saved by its member organizations and 180 new shelters enrolled. And the program is growing fast, so we can expect the next three years to be even bigger – perhaps exponentially bigger. That rate of lifesaving compares well with the early years of Home 4 the Holidays and the early days of Petfinder, and it puts the Million Cat Challenge in the ballpark with the most exceptional No Kill efforts thus far.

The Million Cat Challenge has five key initiatives, but it is perhaps best known for its return-to-field (RTF) program for community cats. RTF was a key concept in Rick DuCharme’s Feral Freedom program in Jacksonville, where it first gained national attention. It has also been a part of Dr. Levy’s Operation Catnip at the University of Florida for many years and was used by other programs as well. RTF is often thought of as similar to trap-neuter-return (TNR) for feral cats, but it is a broader concept. The typical situation for TNR is where a feral cat caregiver traps some or all of the members of a feral cat colony and takes them to a clinic where they are given a health check, vaccinated, sterilized, and then returned to their colony. RTF, by contrast, can apply to cats who are brought to a shelter by animal control, or by an individual for any reason. The question is not whether a cat is feral or tame, but whether, after vaccinations and sterilization, it can safely be returned to where it was found.

cat on beachThe beauty of this is that experience has shown us that many tame cats are only loosely attached to their homes, or they may have a circuit of homes they visit. They have homes, but if they are impounded the people who live in the homes they frequent are extremely unlikely to come looking for them in the shelter. Such an informal “owner” probably won’t even miss the cat until after the hold period has expired. Keeping cats like these in the shelter and putting them up for adoption actually prevents them from ever returning to their homes.

The RTF concept recognizes the unique nature of cats and how they live in communities. RTF gives the shelter an additional way of saving the lives of cats, to go along with TNR for feral cats and traditional adoption/transfer for tame cats.

The Million Cat Challenge has other very important programs too, including managed admission, alternatives to admission, managing capacity, and removing barriers to adoption. One of the advantages of the Challenge is that the participants are free to adopt as few or as many of the key initiatives as they want. And the initiatives themselves are things that do not require a lot of skills or money.

The way the Challenge works is that a shelter signs up and agrees to report its statistics in the first quarter of each year. The report has two parts. One part is actual statistics from the previous year. The second part of the report, the “challenge,” asks shelters to pledge the number of additional lives that will be saved in the current year. The calculation of the lives saved by the Challenge for any given year is the comparison of lives saved to the baseline year of 2012. The ticker of lives saved that is on the Challenge website shows the confirmed increases from previous years as well as the estimated numbers of additional, program-based saves for the current year.

The breakout, paradigm-changing success of the Million Cat Challenge helped make 2015 a very good year for No Kill. Getting huge numbers of cats safely out of shelters is good for dogs, bunnies, and other homeless pets too, because it means that shelters have more time and space to work on getting their remaining animals adopted. And four of the Challenge’s five key initiatives can have application to all animals in the shelter, not just cats. With programs like the Challenge doing so well, we can confidently say that the state of No Kill as we start 2016 is good.

*The Million Cat Challenge is a joint program of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program and Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida.
**As of January 1, 2015 there were 143 shelters enrolled in the Challenge, with pledges to save 118,020 cats. As of December 28, 2015, there were 323 shelters enrolled, with actual saves for 2014 and pledged saves for 2015 totaling 384,784 cats.

6 Comments

  1. I’m really glad that the Million Cat Challenge has an impressive figure of 384,784 Cats for T.N.R., I ‘m going to do my part starting this evening at a new colony[ a business abandoned it’s building and left the cats behind with no food] one was found ran down on the road. I remember at a meeting with Animal services in attendance, where the head Honcho said” There are to many Dogs” . to which I said, ” Guess What? There are to many Cats too!” I’ll do what I can to make the Million Cat Challenge figure go higher.
    Howard Phipps, T.N.R. Cats Inc.

    • Awesome! If everyone did what you are doing, we would reach a million lives save BEFORE the end of 2016! I do homecare (Humans) in which at times I’m in low income areas & come across strays & patients that need their cats fixed. Fortunately, I live near a city that has two low cost spay & neuter clinics (They rock!-One does strictly cats-Did nearly 10,000 spay &neuters/Other one does cats & dogs-Did over 12, 000 surgeries) which receive grant money/donations to reduce the cost further ($20 dollars (Spay/Neuter, Rabies & distemper). We also have a place that offers vouchers to make the spay & neuter free (Still have to pay for the rabies-$10). So I just do it-I ask people if they want it done, which a lot of people are very receptive. I love animals & it’s my way to give back to them & the community. We also will be having My Furry Valentine in Feb for a 5th year (Last year MFV adopted out 729 animals in one weekend. It has become bigger & better each year!)-We have some amazing people behind this that work tirelessly for this event-Maybe you & others where you live could be instrumental in starting a MFV at sometime in the future (Check out My furry valentine Cincinnati 2016. MFV has a FB page as well). I encourage people to go to MFV even if they are not currently looking (MFV offers lots of kid friends free activities which draws families in (Free parking/free admission), because they can get to know rescues/shelters & adopt, not shop if they want to acquire a pet in the future. It takes a village!

  2. The upper Florida Keys Animal Shelter, at mile marker 106 in Key Largo , Florida, has an 89 % kill rate of its feral cats. There are no community programs offered here to help with our HUGE Feral Cat PROBLEM. They are trapped and euthanized without question and only after a couple days from being trapped. It’s the highest kill rate in the entire Flirida Keys
    There are a few private individuals that TNR and feed ferals with money from their own pockets. We need HELP down here. I’m terrified everyday that I will show to feed my colonies and they will be gone! The cats are everywhere here

    • Can you contact Rick DuCharme re: freedom feral & obtain statistics? It has been well proven that TNR/RTF is the best method for controlling the feral population. If they are euthanized, more will keep coming & produce more.

    • Actually TNR/RTF cheaper than capture & euthanize for tax payers too (There has to be some money involved for euthanizing ). So maybe you can prove through statistics ect TNR/RTF is the better way to go. You might have to roll up your sleeves & put time into this project, but it’s worth it (I know some people have really had to fight our local shelters for TNR, but through it, they did not give up & now there is reception to TNR (& some people in the shelter system are liking it. It’s change to the old mind set of capture & kill, but it is so worth it for our feline friends (One county shelter is now advertising barn cats (Already spayed & neutered). 4 years ago, they were mass killing by gassing cats (Unknown to the public)-Today they are doing freedom feral & now barn cats as mentioned above & statistics obviously are better (Not no kill yet, but there is def. more reception to progressive methods). We all have to really speak up at one point for these animals-This might be yours, but know you can do it!!!!!!!!

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