Published on:  
Dec 30, 2015

How can we lower the number of cats in our shelter to meet Capacity for Care without euthanizing more?

Dear Million Cat Challenge,

Ok, I get it. Fewer cats with better care and shorter length of stay equals happier cats, staff, and volunteers; less illness; lower costs; more adoptions; and to hear you tell it, possibly rainbows and unicorns in the shelter courtyard! It sure sounds great. But all kidding aside, what if we have too many cats in the shelter today to meet our Capacity for Care? How can we lower the numbers without euthanizing more cats? Of course, that’s not something we’re willing to do. – We want our rainbows and unicorns, but at what price?

Dear Rainbows,

Don’t worry, we’re right there with you. We would never recommend a shelter euthanize even one extra cat to provide better housing or reach their Capacity for Care (C4C).

Luckily that’s not necessary. Getting to C4C without euthanasia is well within the reach of every shelter. You can read about four specific strategies here (hyperlink to question below titled “What are some options to bring population down to Capacity for Care target and portalize our cages?”), or to learn more about the general principle behind this, read on.

To illustrate the principle behind getting to C4C without euthanasia, let’s think about a college student handed her first credit card. One time, she has an unexpected expense, and racks up some debt. Then the next month, if she can’t pay off the card, she has to pay a little interest as well as the minimum payment and has less money left over for her monthly expenses. Now she’s more likely to have to put a bit more on the card. Time passes, and soon she has a hefty balance accruing interest and eating into her ability to make ends meet.

What are her choices? Pretty simple: unless she wants to declare bankruptcy or just pay interest and live with less for the rest of her life, she will need to earn more or spend less for a while and use the difference to pay down her balance. Pay off the card once, and she actually gets to spend more on the things she needs every month from then on.

It’s the same with C4C. Think about admitting cats as an expense, and providing live outcomes as earning income. If every week a few more cats are admitted than are released alive, either some cats are euthanized or the population in the shelter builds up. If it builds beyond C4C, that’s like having to pay interest on a credit card balance – with longer lengths of stay and more illness, each cat costs a bit more to get to its outcome, even if in the end the outcome is a good one. With more costs per cat, more illness and stress, it gets harder and harder to provide good outcomes for everyone.

Fortunately this situation can be reversed, often pretty quickly. Just like a credit card can be paid off by earning more or spending less for a while, we can bring the population into balance by releasing alive more cats than are admitted – just until a new set point is reached. That set point then becomes self-sustaining with lower costs, better care, and more opportunity to get the good outcomes every cat deserves. 

Dr. Kate Hurley