Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why Are You Killing the Cats? (Part 2 of "The Correct Answer is...")

Puma, a healthy happy barn cat
A couple of weeks ago I started a blog series on questions that you can ask your shelter director to determine their commitment to life-saving. These questions will help you decide if it is the sort of place that you want to give your hard-earned money to or volunteer at. If it is an animal control facility or a private facility which holds the stray contracts for the municipality,  then your tax dollars are going there also and you have a right to know the answers to these questions. Remember, emailing is okay! Emails give you written proof of the responses.

Today I'm going to focus on the outdoor cat questions, a biggie.  Nationwide - over 70% of cats that enter shelters are killed. (Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission killed 69% of cats entering its doors in 2009 and 67% in 2010) How did cats get in such a bad way? Basically, because sometime in the 1980's humane societies began endorsing adoption policies that only allowed indoor cats. Many animal shelters have never let go of this notion.  Cats have lived outdoors for thousands of years and yet most Wisconsin shelters have "indoor only" cat adoption policies. Really? In the Dairy State? With all of those farms and barns and mice for cats to manage?

Try it for yourself. Go into your local shelter and ask if you can adopt a barn cat. Watch as they gasp and sputter in horror and deny you before you are even allowed to fill out an application. These shelters would rather kill cats with litter box or behavior issues which prevent them from being house cats, than adopt them out to good farm homes.

Many shelters consider feral cats, shy cats or cats with litter box issues "unadoptable". So shelters can say they are saving all the "adoptable" cats because they have twisted the words to defend their killing.

The other problem is that many shelter staff cannot distinguish between a true feral cat and a scared, lost cat. Many lost pet cats are killed because they were deemed "feral" when they were really just terrified of the noises and smells of the shelter.

Yes, feral cats are unadoptable and should be spayed/neutered, vaccinated and re-released where they were found. Shy cats or those with other behavior or litter box issues are very adoptable as barn cats (or other workplace cats).

Below is the euthanasia policy for cats for at one Wisconsin shelter. Ask to see YOUR shelter's policy. On the flip side, here is a Model Feral Cat Policy put out by the No Kill Advocacy Center as well as their Life Saving Matrix. Compare the three documents and see the difference for yourself.

xxxx Humane Society
Criteria for euthanasia are as follows:
1. Cat is feral.
2. Cat is positive for FIV or Feline Leukemia
3. FIP is suspected
4. Ringworm is confirmed
5. Health is poor
6. Behavior issues - may include issues such as; not using the litter box, not socialized, bite cases
7. Owner requested

So you can see that it is pretty tough for a shy, feral, or litter box-challenged cat to have a second chance at life at the above "shelter".  Why then is it called a shelter? Shelters should be about life, not death.
Here's my list of questions  to ask your shelter director regarding outdoor cats to make sure they're getting a fair chance at life:

1.   Do you participate in a Trap Neuter Release program? The correct answer is yes. If the answer is no, and most Wisconsin shelters do not have TNR programs; then they get a big fat fail. Every national animal organization now endorses TNR (except PETA) and there is no reason for a shelter not to do so. Even the National Animal Control Association supports TNR.  Listen very carefully to your shelter's answer. Some shelters are appearing to support TNR on their websites when in fact, they're not (more on that soon). The only thing I dislike worse than a bad shelter, is a shelter that lies to the public to get donations and support.

If they claim that they can't do it because of local ordinances that prohibit it, then ask -

1a) Do you have a volunteer political action committee in place to change those ordinances? The correct answer is yes.  Shelters need to take an active political stand in their community on the side of life-saving. Shelter management and board members that are hiding behind the coat tails of their city council to defend their killing are not acting in the animals' best interest and do not deserve your hard-earned money.

1b) Are you working with a group that does the TNR for you and re-releases the cats. Some of these Wisconsin groups are listed on the left hand side of my blog. (if your TNR group is not listed please contact me).  If the answer is still no - then I seriously question the shelter's commitment to lifesaving. Feral and outdoor cats are our biggest issue in Wisconsin shelters right now.

2. Does your shelter rent or loan out cat traps? The correct answer is no. If the answer is yes and they are not actively involved in a TNR program then they are participating in the failed model of "catch and kill". Here's a blog entry I wrote on this - The Magically Disappearing Cat

3. Do you have a Barn Buddy or Barn Cat program? The correct answer is yes.  If the answer is no, ask why. Many cats lives could be saved with a Barn Buddy program in place. Barn cats are spayed, neutered and vaccinated and then adopted to good farm homes that agree to provide food and shelter. Most farms value their cats and the mousing services they provide.  Here is a blog I wrote regarding the barn cats where I board my horses: Still Mousing After All These Years

Some shelter directors will argue that if they start a Barn Cat program it will send a mixed message to the public about cats living outdoors. Really? You think the public is that stupid? Please, give people some credit.  Put a sign on the cage - This cat is for an indoor home only. Or - This cat is suitable for a farm home. Use the opportunity to educate people and show them that you value all life - not just the lives of indoor cats. It's a win-win situation. The cats get to live, and your shelter shows compassion (and probably picks up some extra donations at the same time).

In closing, I want to make it perfectly clear that I don't recommend that people let their inside cats outdoors. Living outdoors comes with risks (living indoors also comes with risks: stress, obesity, boredom). But the biggest risk for cats right now is not living outdoors. The biggest risk is ending up in an animal shelter.

Next time I'll focus on  health and behavior questions for both dogs and cats. See you then! Be brave, take your courage pills and ask the questions! I would love to hear the answers. My email address is on the left hand side of the page.

For more information on lifesaving ideas and information for outdoor cats go to and

People that hate cats will come back as mice in their next life. ~Faith Resnick


  1. I was turned down to adopt a cat from a private rescue group when I answered a multiple choice question truthfully - that the cat would be "indoor/outdoor". My current cat, who is 16, INSISTS on going outside and has done so for 13 years. I never 'threw him outside' against his will. HE started it ! I learned, from him, and seeing how much he ENJOYS being outside...... that it would kill him to stay indoors all the time. We live in a rural area, not the city. Long story short, so I didn't get to adopt that cat, and in the future, I guess I will have to LIE on applications until shelters/rescue groups get their heads straight !

  2. Once again an excellent blog Kathy. I would like to again extend the offer to shelters to contact Community Cat for help on implementation of these programs. We would love to discuss TNR and our barn cat program. I just picked up acclimation cages last night and got to see two of our farm cats. Once thin, sick, and being shot at, they are now healthy with gorgeous coats, sitting on huge straw piles. Better off dead? I don't think so. Neither do they. Contact

  3. Thank you for your great articles!

  4. Thank you for this information! This is wonderful. I am working with a few others to get a TNR program stated in my town in Indiana. Any help or useful websites you could give would be so helpful.
    Thank you!

  5. I work at a shelter in Minnesota and we are always looking for farm homes to take fixed outdoor cats. We have spread the word through the vet clinics, the 4H groups, and with friends and family but we still don't have enough barn homes for cats. I agree that it's a great solution for cats that aren't indoor material, but unfortunately it's not always possible.

  6. I'm pleased to say that several major regional shelters do have barn cat programs, and others do participate in Trap/Neuter/Release.

    But loaning or renting traps can be a godsend to someone trying to recover a pet, or who wants to get the local ferals spayed/neutered, and their new kittens adopted.