When shelters shut down, cats got lucky

cat in cage with portalWith many animal shelters closed to intake due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for their cats to get a housing upgrade. Thanks to support from animal welfare and veterinary organizations, cats in 82 shelters across the U.S. and Canada are going to be living large while they wait for new homes.

Dubbed Portalmania 2020, the campaign was headed up by the Million Cat Challenge, a shelter medicine initiative launched in 2014 with the goal of saving the lives of one million shelter cats in North America within five years. When the 1,075 participating shelters met and exceeded that goal a full year early, the Challenge then turned its attention to ensuring shelters could provide the right care and outcomes for every cat.

“Multiple studies have looked at the effect of poor housing on cats, and have linked it to a high incidence of stress-related illness, particularly upper respiratory infections (URI),” said Challenge co-founder Dr. Julie Levy, Fran Marino Endowed Professor of Shelter Medicine Education at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. “Shelters frequently assume this condition is simply being spread from cat to cat like the flu, but what’s really happening is the cats are so stressed out they become ill.”

While COVID limitations on shelter operations gave a huge boost to fostering and adopting cats in the community rather than the shelter, some cats will still enter shelters as pandemic precautions ease.

For those cats, the installation of portals between two smaller cages can create much-needed space and allow separation of litter boxes from sleeping and eating areas. Such housing keeps cats healthier and happier, which means they’re adopted more quickly and spend less time in the shelter.

“Shortening the length of time cats spend in the shelter frees up resources to help more pets, saves money, and improves staff morale,” said Dr. Sara Pizano of the Million Cat Challenge and Team Shelter USA. “During this difficult time, we are grateful to our Portalmania 2020 sponsors for helping us provide more than 2,400 portals to shelters across North America!”

Donors supporting Portalmania 2020 are:

  • Shor-line
  • Joanie Bernard Foundation
  • Banfield Foundation
  • ASPCA Northern Tier Shelter Initiative
  • Petfinder
  • Virox Technologies
  • The Dave and Cheryl Duffield Foundation
  • GreaterGood.org
  • Team Shelter USA
  • Ontario Shelter Medicine Association

“This will be a game changer for us and for the cats we care for,” said Monica Wylie, Executive Director of Animal Friends of the Valleys in Riverside, Calif. “With this set-up, we will be able to reduce the likelihood of stress-induced illness and euthanasia for our feline friends.”

A total of 2,685 portals have been awarded, but there are applications for 4,835 more that have not yet been funded. GreaterGood.org’s Jackson Galaxy Project is partnering with the Million Cat Challenge to raise money directly from cat lovers to purchase the rest of the portals.  Thanks to a special offer from Shor-line to match all donations, just $40 covers the cost of buying and installing a portal. Donations can be made at https://bit.ly/3gKwJ93.

“Happy cats equal happy homes,” said Genny Brown, Executive Director of the Humane Society of St Joseph County in Mishawaka, Indiana. “We are excited to give the most vulnerable population within our shelter the space they need to decompress and find forever homes.”

Download a list of all recipient shelters here.