Getting Started

The Million Cat Challenge encompasses five key initiatives to balance intake, humane capacity within the shelter, and live outcome:

alternatives to intake

Alternatives to intake:

Provide positive alternatives to keep cats in the home or community when admission to a shelter is not the best choice.
managed admission

Managed admission:

Schedule intake 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.
capacity for care

Capacity for care:

Match the number of cats cared for at any one time with the capacity required to support the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare for all cats in the shelter.
removing barriers to adoption

Removing barriers to adoption:

Expand the pool of adopters by removing barriers to adoption such as cost, process, or location.
return to field

Return to field:

Sterilize, vaccinate, and return healthy un-owned shelter cats to the location of origin as an alternative to euthanasia.
These initiatives were chosen because they have the potential to create major impact singly or together; offer choices for shelters of different types and sizes; and relate directly to what happens in the shelter, as opposed to more broadly targeted community programs.

The five initiatives are not the be-all and end-all of what we hope our shelters can achieve for all the animals and people in our communities. However, they can provide a foundation for better serving communities as well as better caring for cats in shelters.

  • What is the right choice for your shelter?

  • The beauty of the pilot program

The Million Cat Challenge arose out of the innovations of shelters that were aware of the risk inherent in not taking risks or making changes. There is freedom in dissatisfaction – when things aren’t working out the way we want them to, in terms of either the welfare of cats in the shelter, or the outcomes for cats leaving the shelter, there’s less to lose in trying something new.

The only real caveat is that success is addictive. Once everything starts getting better, it’s hard to turn back! For example, the Return to Field program in partnership between Alachua County Animal Services and Operation Catnip began with a question from an animal control officer and just a few cats. By the end of the first year it had expanded to save nearly a thousand cats.
Our RTF program started almost by accident. An animal control officer at the shelter asked why we only took out the eartipped cats, and not all the other feral cats that were likely to be euthanized. We agreed to help ease the shelter crowding that week by neutering and returning a few feral cats. He called again the next week, and the week after that. Before we knew it, we had pulled 911 feral cats out in a year’s time. Now the RTF program has become a permanent fixture of shelter operations.

– Audrey Garrison, Operation Catnip program coordinator

Click here to view our annual impact report for fiscal year 2019/2020