Talk about a great mission. This shel-ter- based campaign wants to save
the lives of a million North American
cats over five years — 2014 through
2018. The project is a joint venture
of two highly respected shelter medicine programs: the UC Davis Koret
Shelter Medicine Program and the
Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program
at the University of Florida. Leading
the Million Cat Challenge are the
directors of both programs, Dr. Kate
Hurley (UC Davis) and Dr. Julie Levy
(University of Florida), two well-known experts in community cat
health, care, and management.
The program is open to all North
American animal shelters that work
to save the lives of cats and are
working with one or more of the
program’s five key initiatives: alternatives to intake, managed admission,
capacity for care, removing barriers
to adoption, and return to field.
Interested cat lovers like us can keep
track of the campaign’s progress by
checking out the daily updates touted on the Million Cat Counter on the
website’s home page, and by signing
up for email updates at millioncat
I was lucky enough to talk to the
two very busy directors and find out
more about the program.
Q: Why focus on cats? Why not dogs?
DR. HURLEY: There was certainly a
greater sense of urgency for cats.
Across the United States, cats were
being euthanized about three times
or more the rate of dogs. … There
is a significant contribution to cats
in shelters from community cats,
or free-roaming cat populations;
we don’t really have an equivalent
free-roaming dog population that we
wrangle with in North America. So,
there was both a greater need — and
potentially a greater opportunity —
in changing some of our approaches
to cats in ways that wouldn’t work
well for dogs.
Q: What was the inspiration behind the Million Cat
DR. HURLEY: The inspiration really came
from two directions: There was a campaign in the human health field called
the 100,000 Lives Campaign, and I read
about it in a book called Switch: How
to Change Things When Change is Hard.
… And, at the same time, the inspiration
also came from what we were seeing in
shelters. We were seeing shelters implement practical, field-tested — by definition — initiatives that could be replicated
at shelters across the country and seeing
dramatic results in terms of increasing
the number of lives they were saving.
It started with the 1,000 Cat
Challenge … with only 10 shelters. And
they committed to saving 1,000 more
lives in the first six months of 2013
compared to the first six months of
2012. And that was just 10 shelters, and
they did it. If that could happen with 10
shelters, what if we had 100 shelters in
a room? And it so happens, in early 2013
at the (Humane Society of the United
States) Animal Care Expo, we had more
than 100 shelters in a room talking
about these same techniques and strategies, and so we took the opportunity to
issue the 100,000 Cat Challenge.
… There’s more than 10 times that
many shelters in North America, so it
seemed like it could be scaled up. And
really the goal was to make visible the
progress the shelters were making, not
just for the public but for other shelters
and for themselves, to celebrate their
progress, share the strategies that they
were finding success with, work together
to overcome the challenges, and really
create many successful models.
Q: What can cat owners do that are not part of shelters?
DR. LEVY: The participation of the public,
rescue groups, and of veterinarian clinics
is critical to helping the shelters to be
successful. Shelters will have a hard time
doing it on their own without the support of their communities. So the way
individuals can get involved is to ask their
shelters what kind of help they need.
Very often the answer is they need more
foster homes, they need more volunteers
in the shelter helping promote adoptions,
or they need more help with off-site
adoption programs. Or, they can help by
joining a rescue group, so that the rescue
groups can take more cats from the shelters and adopt them out.
Q: Once the program ends, then what?
DR. LEVY: One thing that we expect and
hope will happen is that we are going
to hit a million lives saved much sooner
than five years. Because there should be
increased gains every single year as we
add more shelters and those shelters
become more and more sophisticated
and efficient at helping cats. … I suspect
that this program will evolve as needs
emerge, and we will continue to raise our
goals, and develop new tools for shelters as the easy stuff gets done, and we
encounter greater challenges that are left.
DR. HURLEY: We are already seeing a
lot of momentum, and certainly I hope
that well before even we hit a million,
there will be a tremendous amount of
just viral momentum for strategies that
work for cats in communities across
North America. And then the Million Cat
Challenge resource center will continue
to grow, but in some ways, it will get
less necessary as the campaign evolves
and just become part of an established
practice as a way to do things for cats in
shelters in North America.
10/ MILLION CAT CHALLENGE
Dr. Kate Hurley