STATE NEWS: Orlando Shelter Joins Others in the Million Cat Challenge

January 25, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

Sixty-nine of Florida’s 130 animal shelters have enrolled in the Million Cat Challenge, which aims to save 1 million cats in North America over 5 years.

The Pet Alliance of a Greater Orlando in Florida is joining a growing movement to stop hundreds of thousands of cats from being euthanized in North American shelters each year.

Sixty-nine of Florida’s 130 animal shelters have enrolled in the Million Cat Challenge, which aims to save 1 million cats over the span of 5 years.

Between 70% to 90% of dogs brought to animal shelters are either reclaimed by their owners or adopted, but the odds are not as favorable for cats.

Cats reproduce faster than dogs do, and owners usually don’t go out searching for them if they wander off, thinking their cats will somehow find their way back home or fend for themselves.

The Million Cat Challenge, which began its mission in 2014, aims to better balance the odds for cats. The challenge sends the message that the practice of euthanizing healthy in cats overcrowded shelters can be replaced with programs that are more effective and much more humane.

The challenge has 5 key initiatives:

  • Alternatives to Intake: Use positive alternatives to keep cats in either the home or the community instead of admitting them to a shelter.
  • Managed Admission: Make sure the intake of cats matches the shelter’s ability to properly care for and safely move each cat through the shelter system until adoption.
  • Capacity for Care: Match the number of cats that are cared for by a single shelter with the capacity required to ensure the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare (freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, or disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress).
  • Remove Barriers to Adoption: Remove roadblocks such as cost, process, and location to expand the pool of adopters.
  • Return to Field: Be sure to sterilize, vaccinate, and return healthy shelter cats to their original location instead of resorting to euthanasia.

The challenge notes that not every shelter will use all five of the key initiatives and states that there is no minimum for participation. It believes that one additional life saved or death avoided is an accomplishment to be celebrated.

As a participant of the Million Cat Challenge, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando will no longer euthanize animals simply because they aren’t easily adopted.

The shelter has also launched efforts to teach the public not to round up stray kittens and bring them to shelters but instead to wait for the mother cat to return while they care for the kittens themselves.

Trap, neuter, and release is a tactic that Orange County currently uses when rounding up strays. While the county is not enrolled in the Million Cat Challenge, this is one its key initiatives.

Since its inception in 2014, the Million Cat Challenge has saved about 676,000 cats, according to reports from participating shelters. Dr. Julie Levy, co-founder of the challenge, believes the challenge is on track to meet its 1 million goal by the end of 2017, way ahead of schedule.

She says she’s looking forward to seeing if shelters can stretch even further and save a million cats in a single year.

"It's a really exciting time in feline welfare," Levy says.