Published on:  
Oct 22, 2015

Aren’t intact cats waiting in homes until there’s capacity to manage them just out there breeding and adding to the problem?

Dear Million Cat Challenge,

I’ve heard you say it’s okay to have adult cats wait for admission to the shelter, sometimes even for months at a time. I realize it’s not ideal to admit cats when the shelter is overcrowded or they’re not likely to get adopted anytime soon. But I worry that leaving them out there means they will just be breeding and adding to the problem instead! – Concerned Spay/Neuter Surgeon
Dear Concerned, 

You raise a good point. For shelters with on-site spay/neuter services or ability to refer to a low cost clinic, it’s definitely best to offer sterilization (and vaccination while you’re at it) for cats on the waiting list. That way when the cat does come in, he or she is ready to go. 

The cost for the shelter in this scenario is the same as if the procedure was done after admission. In fact, it can even be less, if the owner or finder makes a donation to offset the cost of the service. One shelter director found that on average, people donated $62 toward sterilization services offered to people on the waiting list or in lieu of intake. 

In the “worst case” scenario, the person will keep the cat or rehome it themselves. Because shelters often recoup minimal to no costs on adoption fees for adult cats, this still can put the shelter financially ahead or at least neutral. Best of all, it means more pet cats in the community sterilized and vaccinated and safe at home, without having to come through the shelter at all. This Million Cat Challenge shelter found that a substantially higher percentage of people from the waiting list elected to keep their cat after all: 

Percent of cats entering shelter from waiting list chart

So it’s ideal and often economically feasible to get cats sterilized while waiting. If your shelter has severely limited access to surgical services, however, then you’ll have to juggle some priorities. Perhaps some local veterinarians will offer lower cost service to a limited number of cats, and the shelter can provide vouchers to cover part of the cost. At minimum it would be great to offer this to cats likely to stay on the waiting list for a relatively long period or those with behavioral issues that may be mitigated by sterilization. 

No matter where your shelter is in terms of ability to offer surgical services, I encourage you to not allow this to become a barrier to implementing managed admissions. With the improved efficiency, lower disease and reduced costs associated with a managed admission program, options may well emerge in the future even if you aren’t able to offer spay/neuter services to all cats on the waiting list right now. 

Dr. Kate Hurley