Dr. @Kate HurleyDirector of UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine ProgramCo-Founder of Million Cat Challenge
I moved over 30 times before I was 18 years old, so it’s hard to say where I am from exactly. My mother was an activist and we traveled the globe from one commune to another chasing the next worthy cause and burning our toasters in protest of undersea mining along the way. It was never dull but sometimes always being the new kid got a little lonely. Luckily I found a best friend I could always count on in my big fluffy tortoiseshell cat Pussywillow. Where-ever we landed she would quickly find her spot as the ruler of our new domain. With her as my inspiration, I always thought animals would be part of life in some way, but it was in Santa Cruz, California, that I began my career in animal welfare. I took a job at the Santa Cruz SPCA because it paid well (a big $4.49 an hour, if memory serves, nearly a buck more than I was making at the coffee shop where I worked at the time) and I needed the funds to put myself through college. I suspect you probably don’t hear that all too often, but it’s the truth: I got into animal welfare for the money 🙂 I soon went from front office clerk to kennel attendant to animal control officer, a job I enjoyed more than I would have ever imagined. For six years I suited up in that khaki uniform and proudly displayed my badge. I loved that it was my job to protect animals and help people take better care of them. I loved it so much that I decided to go to vet school. I packed my bags (still have that uniform!) and headed to UC Davis.
After graduation I jumped right back in, taking a job as a shelter vet, where I would soon spend many days battling feline upper respiratory infection and other shelter ailments and wishing there were more of us to commiserate. It was a different world back then; Shelter Medicine wasn’t a thing yet and we didn’t have a lot of places to turn for help. There was no sheltermedicine.com or Maddie’s Pet Forum. For the few of us practicing veterinary care solo inside a shelter, it felt a bit like we were our own islands. When an opportunity presented itself (thanks to a grant from Maddie’s Fund, as it happens), I jumped at the chance to become the first Shelter Medicine resident in the world specializing in the field. I returned to my alma mater, UC Davis, and embarked on a journey I still can’t believe was mine to take.
There were so many discoveries to be made, a good number of them that have changed the way we shelter, that happened almost by chance during those years. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, ya know? Like the time I learned on a phone call with Dr. Ron Schultz at the University of Wisconsin that vaccines could provide protection within hours, not weeks as I had learned in vet school. I looked up the research for myself and sure enough it was true. Once we learned that an animal vaccinated before they were introduced to the shelter population could be protected in as little as hours, distemper plummeted. Who knew? Now we did!
Another happy finding was discovered while researching the variables that contribute to URI outbreaks. What we thought we might find on a culture plate, we found on the floor – floor space, to be precise. Discovering that inadequate housing and floor space led to increased levels of stress, the most common contributor to URI, shaped the next stage of our work. It turns out, to give cats more space, you have to find the right outcome for more cats. Otherwise the shelter fills up and soon doors between compartments get closed. A chance visit to the City of Jacksonville shelter around the time they started Feral Freedom (now known as Return to Field) provided the missing piece of the puzzle. It was like a collective AHA moment that grew into what became the Million Cat Challenge. Hopefully you all know about that!
There’s been a lot of great moments along the way, but maybe the very best one so far was when I got to stand up on a stage at the HSUS Expo in Kansas City last year and announce to a cheering crowd that collectively the Million Cat Challengers had increased life saving by 1,148,129 lives a whole year early. I think of what Pussywillow meant to me as a lonely kid and multiply that by over a million and it still blows my mind. Pussywillow, if you’re out there, I hope you’re purring right now.
Dr. Kate Hurley as an animal control officer with her beloved first dog, Stumpy!
This is like asking a cat which of her kittens she loves most – I just can’t pick one. So in no particular order:
I want others to believe in the lifesaving, shelter-elevating benefits of doing less, better – what we now call Capacity for Care.
When we place top priority on welfare and truly meet the animals’ needs, stress and disease nearly disappear. Healthy animals move through our system faster and improve morale universally. The entire system flows better and ultimately results in an expanded capacity.
Now, I know that sounds too good to be true. There’s a real fear that we are in this alone- the buck stops here- that keeps good people from their deserved sanity, sleep and peace. We share a constant worry that if we don’t solve for this right here and now, no one else will. But we do our animals a disservice when we operate outside our capacity and take on more than we should. We feed the continuous cycle of being overburdened and under resourced that creates barriers to reaching our ultimate goal as an animal sheltering community. Imagine if we all had permission to focus on providing excellent service and made room for our community and rescue partners to step in at the same elevated level we are able to demonstrate when we do less, better.
I want others, who haven’t already, to feel safe making that shift knowing their communities share their goals and have demonstrated over and over again that they are our partners. Start down that path and watch the pieces fall in place in a way that I’ve heard described as magic more than a dozen times. And let this community in the Pet Forum help you when you run into a roadblock.
I love to ballroom dance, I hate bananas enough to start a club, I’ve never lost a game of boggle, my cat is a one-eyed pirate (I guess that’s redundant), and there’s a decent chance I’ll knock on your door sometime during the next election.
Not surprising: I don’t love knocking on doors, but I like it more than the current political climate, and I’m still optimistic enough to believe that talking to people makes a difference.
When it comes to shelter crushes, I’m definitely polyamorous. If you asked me this question 3 times this week you’d get 8 different answers.
That said, I have noticed I have a type. I am smitten with the shelter veterinarian or leader that doesn’t have the budget for the latest and greatest, doesn’t have permission to try something new, knows they’ll be taking some heat no matter what they do, and somehow still finds sheltering best practice resources and just gets after it and gets it done.
If you don’t want me crushing on you, never answer the question “Were you allowed to do that?” with “I don’t know, I never asked.”
Thank you for such a fun, in-depth interview and all of the amazing work you have done to literally help save a million+ animals!
Be sure to leave a comment or ask any questions for Dr. Kate Hurley below.
@Kate, I always knew you were a rock star but this interview confirms it. Not only are you a rock star, you're a funny rock star! This was so much fun to read. I loved all of your answers but especially loved your animal welfare crush answer. I couldn't agree with you more! Thank you for being an inspiration and shining example of a kick-a$$ leader!
I am trying to get help for my dogs. No one will help me. The shelter has them for 122 days. I've only been able to take them out and bath onnce. The next day they're poop was florecent green I was told could be the bottom of their stomach from moving. They are 2 beautiful pits and are being wrongfully accused. The prosecutors the one in charge but no one will stand up to him. I have a paid attorney but she's not helping please any advice will help. I love my dogs so much. Their story is on Facebook Ginger and Melony I've written several council people the mayor no one will help them
So, I'm fan-girling...I was introduced to shelter medicine not that long ago, maybe three years ago? at my first Animal Care Expo, and Dr. Kate Hurley is one of my heroes!
Dr. Hurley, you are one of those rare people who sees problems in the world and has the intelligence, grit, and well, chutzpah, to attempt to tackle them. I hold you in the highest regard, not just for helping fix problems that we didn't know we had, but for doing so in a scientific manner that documents results. This helps convince the skeptics (the proof is always in the pudding) but also confirms what I've often thought--that there was no reason we should all reinvent the wheel, separately.
Keep on rockin'! You inspire me, @Kate!
Aw thanks!!! Chutzpah is a quality I prize, so I really appreciate the kind words - and so glad I can help anyone not reinvent a wheel!
You are one of my all-time favorite people! Thank you for helping us figure out and navigate all the changes we have made at our shelter to have healthier cats who get adopted faster. You are one in a million.
You're my hero, Hurley!