Published on:  
Oct 22, 2015

Doesn’t implementing Alternatives to Intake just shift the problem to other nearby organizations?

Dear Million Cat Challenge,

You say incorporating Alternatives to Intake doesn’t mean foisting the problems on other organizations, but most of the suggestions were referring them to other organizations. How does that not just shift the problem? It’s hard enough getting all the animal welfare groups in our area to get along – I’d sure hate to jeopardize that by forcing cats on an organization that’s not able to handle them. – Trying to be a Good Neighbor
Dear Neighbor, 

That’s a great point. It’s not good for community alliances, nor is it good for cats, to just hand the problem off to someone else without their knowledge or consent. However, it can be positive for all concerned when each organization works to their own expertise and within their capacity. 

Referrals make sense when there is a better match between one organization’s mission/resources and the needs of the cat and community member. For instance, a publicly funded animal shelter that can’t legally sterilize and release a feral cat may be able to refer to a private group in the community that performs or assists with this activity as an alternative to admitting feral cats for euthanasia. 

At some shelters this is offered as an option only should the finder actively seek out the alternative; however, other shelters have discontinued intake of feral cats entirely (unless causing a special risk or injured/sick/suffering) and instead provide information/advice on managing the situation along with referral to a private TNR group in the region. 

Another example of a good referral is when one shelter knows that the likely outcome for an adoptable cat will be transfer to another shelter for adoption. Bypassing the original shelter via referral will save stress for the cat, free up space at that shelter for cats that must come in, and may even result in savings for the transfer organization as cats are often in better health when admitted directly versus after a stay at another shelter. This can be an especially good option for neonates and kittens who will be transferred to an adoption-focused shelter or rescue group. Zipping these youngsters directly to their final destination for foster care and adoption will save stress and expense on all sides. 

Variation in resources over time can also be a good reason for referrals. Sometimes just due to the ebb and flow of populations and staffing levels at different shelters within a region, one shelter may find itself at capacity while another may have some room. 

For instance, if one shelter has just been hit with a hoarding case, another shelter may be better able to handle admission of cats on a fast track to adoption. One shelter may find itself over-capacity with kittens while another shelter happens to have room, and later in the summer find that the roles have reversed. 

When each shelter focuses on their mission and works within capacity most of the time, it is more likely that they will be able to help each other in this way when needed. 

Of course, these efforts work best in coordination. If one or more shelters within a community manage admissions to match their capacity, while other shelters nearby continue to accept all cats that come their way regardless of capacity, people told that one shelter is full may turn to the shelter putting no constraints on intake. Just as when one parent says no to junk food before dinner, and a child turns to the other parent in the hopes of finding an answer more to their liking, people will always tend to shop around for an answer they want to hear.

Ideally all shelters will develop a consistent message and allow the community to become the additional partner in allowing each organization to operate at humane capacity. Remember, when shelters operate at capacity, stick to their missions, and relentlessly seek live outcomes for healthy cats, they tend to be able to serve more, not fewer, cats over time.

Dr. Kate Hurley