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Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

  • 1.  Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

    Posted 07-14-2022 10:46 AM
    I work with rural shelters in Northern California to bring TNR resources to underserved communities and lower the euthanasia rates of feral cats. The majority of the shelters I work with are less "animal shelter" and more "animal control holding facility" and I've seen the same thing time and time again - more or less "open admission" shelters who accept any cat brought in a trap, often by property owners citing them as a "nuisance". 

    These cats are instantly labeled "feral" and in many cases given just a few days to find rescue or adoption before they are euthanized.  At the larger shelters with TNR programs, they only intake cats in traps if they are sick or pregnant - the rest are instructed to come back on TNR days or get TNR appointments before trapping - so why do so many small shelters accept any cat in a trap - especially if they are just going to euthanize them?

    Would it be better for shelters to turn them away, even if there aren't resources in the area for people to TNR? We know that killing feral cats is not an effective means of population management, but in the absence of TNR, is it better than leaving the community with no options? Would investing in educational material on ways to deter "nuisance" cats from people's property be an adequate alternative?

    Levi Fistori
    Feral Freedom Northern California

  • 2.  RE: Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

    Posted 07-15-2022 04:00 PM
    Hi Levi,

    It sounds like you have a big project ahead!  Instead of worrying about whether a shelter should or should not admit/euthanize these cats, why not get some of the local cat people together to help you design an alternative approach to that cat population?

    • Fundraise for more spay-neuter surgeries
    • Organize groups of community cat caretakers and outreach teams and 
    • Educate property owners about how spay/neuter resolves many of the really objectionable nuisance behaviors (fighting, territorial marking) and about the benefits of havings a small, well-cared-for number of community cats doing rodent-patrol on their property. 
    Once you and a small team have put together a well-organized program to pilot, work with community and shelter leaders to change the policy for the course of the pilot project, then evaluate the results and adjust as necessary.  It sounds like this area needs a small revolution for cats, and you have an opportunity to lead it!

    April King
    Volunteer and Board Member
    Kotor Kitties

  • 3.  RE: Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

    Posted 07-16-2022 03:19 PM
    Hi April,

    Yes we have actually been doing this! We have so far TNR'ed about 40 cats from one small shelter - the issue is our area is experiencing a HUGE vet shortage and getting appointments is very difficult and often involves driving cats several hours away. Meanwhile, the shelter gives us just THREE days to get them out before they are euthanized, which is stressful and unsustainable.

    Levi Fistori
    Feral Freedom Northern California

  • 4.  RE: Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

    Posted 07-16-2022 04:27 PM
    Many programs do turn-around for TNR'd cats in 24-48 hours.   Remaining in a shelter, whether in or out of a trap, is never a good solution for a cat

    • Is the problem finding transporters to do the drop-offs and returns at the right time?  (i.e. not enough volunteers/flexibility for pick ups and returns?)
    • Are the cats not recovered enough for release after 72 hours?  (your vets may not be using the tiny keyhole techniques that usually make recovery fast) 
    • Is the stress coming from another sourse, like the way the shelter communicates with you about the cats, or your sensitivity to the time limits?
    The cats in our project in Montenegro are usually ready for release in 24-30 hours; even with injectable anesthesia they're alert and well-coordinated at that point.  Our vet clinics are so small that they are unable to hold the cats for recovery, so  ometimes we have to scramble to find longer-term recovery space for late-stage pregnant cats, cryptorchids, or those who've had other procedures in addition to the spay/neuter surgery.  But we don't feel any pressure for euthanasia, just knowing that there is no space or car available at the clinic.

    You may want to check out the HAAS job-alike group Focus on Felines.  We meet online once a month, and can tailor the discussion to specific needs like you're facing.  There's a pretty broad range of knowledge and experience in the group, and people are good at helping to problem-solve certain situations.

    Good luck with the problem-solving on this!  I still strongly advise focusing on your TNR project design until you're in a position to boost foster care, adoption, and intake diversion to aleviate the need for euthanasia.  I've witnessed many well-intentioned but unprepared "no kill" shelter situations that become absolute horror situations for the animals inside and outside the shelters.

    April King
    Volunteer and Board Member
    Kotor Kitties

  • 5.  RE: Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

    Posted 07-16-2022 04:40 PM
    No, the stress is that there are no spay/neuter appointments available within the 3 day time limit we are given once a cat is brought into the shelter. Northern California is facing an extreme vet shortage - the four big shelters in Silicon Valley are all short-staffed and have either closed their TNR programs or halted them , and they can't even get their kittens fixed, let alone finding TNR appointments for cats in more rural shelters.

    For example, the next bulk TNR day I was able to book isn't until August 24th - and I was lucky to get that. We have two clinics that will allow 1 TNR a day, but not only are they also booked months in advance, with gas prices it costs more to drive a single cat 2 hours to a clinic that it costs to actually fix the cat. 

    If the shelters stopped doing open intake and instead sent everyone who needs a cat TNR'ed to us to make an appointment, we would be backlogged for months but at least these cats wouldn't be getting euthanized - which is where the dilemma comes in. Is it better to make people wait possibly months - with the cats continuing to breed in the meantime, or allow the shelters to keep euthanizing healthy feral cats.

    Levi Fistori
    Feral Freedom Northern California

  • 6.  RE: Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

    Posted 07-17-2022 04:59 PM
    To answer your question: NO, shelters should not take in feral cats if the only option is to euthanize them!  

    When the city took over operations of the shelter in 2012, we did open admission like it had been run in the past.
    By 2013, we had limited our intake of cats to only sick or injured cats, and orphaned kittens, since we were not required by law to take in healthy stray (or owned) cats. 

    The reason shelters take in trapped cats is they think they have to.  You'd have to check with the laws in the jurisdictions you serve to see what the laws are.  Nowhere in our city ordinance does it say cats can't be at large (only dogs) so we have no legal obligation to pick them up, just sick or injured cats.   We do have a "nuisance" clause in our ordinance, but a cat that is just hanging around is not considered a nuisance, only cats that are actively a danger to the public (attacking people).  If you let your cat out and it gets into a fight with another cat, that is on you as the owner since you can prevent that by keeping you cat indoors.  Property owners are given tips to discourage cats from coming onto their property.  

    So the other part of this is that most animal control shelters are taxpayer funded and it is a complete waste of taxpayer dollars to bring in healthy stray cats because it doesn't solve the pet overpopulation problem (as you mentioned) and it cost a lot to impound, house then euthanize cats.  That is the way to appeal to the powers that be to stop this futile practice.

    We have a local TNR group that we work with.  First we find out why the person is calling.  Many times they are in a panic because they are seeing the second (or third) litter and feeling overwhelmed,  so we let them know that the local TNR group can come out and trap the cats and they will re-release them so they can't reproduce any more.  We also explain that if they are seeing healthy stray cats - friendly or feral - they are thriving and the only intervention they need is getting spayed/neutered, and explain the benefits of cats for rodent control.  Most people have no problem with this and it helps that the TNR group does not charge.  The TNR group will make arrangements to set traps.  If there are kittens, it depends on if they are older they would be TNR'd, younger and friendly they go to various shelters for adoption.  So maybe you can work something out with the shelters not to take in the cats, but instead refer to your group as an alternative to intake.

    As for vets, check with your local large animal vets if you have any, or a mobile vet that would come your way a few times a month.  You also might want to do what we had to for a while and that is book appointments with a vet every week for the foreseeable future.   Maybe you can find someone that will transport, or at least raise funds to help pay for gas.  But the more cats you can get done at a time, the more cost effective it is.

    Tracy Mohr
    Animal Services Manager
    City of Chico Animal Services

  • 7.  RE: Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

    Posted 07-18-2022 05:50 AM
    No. Absolutely not. Community cat programs are essential.  For 'friendly' cats, a listing of rescues and programs should be provided. Counseling for people who don't understand cat behavior, and FREE or very low cost vet care is essential. We need to look at allowing animals into housing without 'pet rents' and helping people who need to learn to trap, get animals in for spay/neuter.

    Debra Hoffmann
    Safe Harbor Animal Coalition

  • 8.  RE: Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

    Posted 07-20-2022 07:41 AM
    Hi Levi,

    One of my favorite guiding principles is that a cat should not be worse off because of our intervention.  Of course, doing nothing isn't really an option for us either -- we are driven to make a difference. 

    April mentioned the HASS Focus on Felines Job-Alike group. It's open to anyone who wants to join and talk about cats. At the monthly meeting, there is a short presentation, followed by discussion, which doesn't have to be about the presentation.  The next meeting is August 7th. You are welcomed to ask this question to the Job-Alike group. 

    FoF Job-Alike.jpg
    How to get "stray" cats back home. 
    MSPCA's Corine Bourgoin will share how their Boston Adoption Center reached a 40% Return-to-Home rate for cats over 6 months of age in 2020. Get some ideas and inspiration and share what is working for your community. 
    Thursday August 4th 
    4pm Eastern/3pm Central/ 1pm Pacific
    Help us grow this group! Share this registration link with your feline focused colleagues: 


  • 9.  RE: Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

    Posted 08-03-2022 07:27 AM
    Hi Levi;   Great question and one that many organizations have a hard time dealing with especially where access to s/n is a challenge.  In a normal world Trap, Neuter, Return of healthy community cats is the way to go.  If cats are just removed you will have a vacuum effect.   There are a ton of strategic resources on the Community Cats Podcast website that you are welcome to share- One is: .

    This is also a good video on targeted TNR:

    However, at the end of the day- the bigger question I think you are asking is what do you do IF you don't have access to s/n appointments?  Right? 
    1.    Do nothing
    2.    Remove kittens of age/leave adults
    3.  Trap and Euthanize
    4. What else?  Create other s/n opportunities like partnering with private vets/doing MASH style clinics etc. is working on alternatives to help increase s/n capacity in communities.  
    Let me know if I am misunderstanding your thoughts..  I have been thinking about this a lot recently..  Thank you, Stacy

    stacy lebaron

  • 10.  RE: Should shelters accept healthy feral/community cats if their only recourse is to euthanize them?

    Posted 08-03-2022 12:12 PM
    Levi - This is a great question that I come across often living the Los Angeles area. I definitely do not think dropping off feral cats/community cats at shelters for for them to get euthanized is a solution. Turning them away is not a solution either. It is easy for me to say that all rescues and local vets should have resources, appointments, vets, and stands at local shelters to assist people who bring in feral cats for whichever reason. Proper education on TNR, re-homing resources for friendly outdoor cats, and a network of individuals who can trap, house (for a couple days until full recovery) is all essential.

    To me, the solution is continued education about how important TNR is and how it can help keep the cat numbers low in neighborhoods. Many people think dropping off a feral or stray at a shelter is the solution when they might not even know about the six kittens the momma cat has hidden somewhere.  To me, the barrier in Los Angeles tends to hang around culture and language. I come from immigrant parents and I can honestly say, street cat care is not a priority where they came from - it is what it is. But there is slow progress and awareness is improving in SoCal. Unfortunately, it is too slow right now and cat numbers are as bad as ever in Los Angeles. 

    Like I said, it is easy for me to say what I think the solution is. But I know it' s harder than that. I agree with what Debra Hoffman said.

    Demetrio Gomez
    Pet Support Specialist
    Heavenly Pets / Perrys Place