The Million Cat Challenge
The Right Outcome for Every Cat

Million Cat Challenge masthead

Communities and shelters alike have long been developing and seeking solutions to the euthanasia of healthy and treatable cats in animal shelters. Today, we know that “a cat revolution” is at hand, and that euthanasia of cats who aren’t hopelessly suffering can be replaced with programs that are dramatically more humane and effective. Shelters are hungry for this change.

The Million Cat Challenge was conceived as a shelter-based campaign to save the lives of one million cats in North America over the course of five years, a goal its 1,075 participating shelters met in less than four years, prompting a second phase of the project: #allthecats.

#allthecats means the right outcome for every cat, whether inside or outside of the shelter, and the right care for every cat every day in the shelter. For a great many cats, that means we’ll help them to stay safe in the community rather than ever having to come in to a shelter at all. It also means lost cats go back to their families, cats who have lost their homes are placed in new ones, and cats who are thriving in the community are spayed or neutered and returned there if possible, or relocated to a “working home” if not. And it means that for cats whose suffering can’t be remedied any other way, euthanasia will be available with the most kindness and comfort that can possibly be provided. 

This life-saving campaign is a joint project of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program and the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida, led by Drs. Kate Hurley and Julie Levy. It is supported by the generosity of Maddie’s Fund.

How will we accomplish this goal?

Five Key Initiatives

The core strategy of the Million Cat Challenge is centered on five key initiatives that offer every shelter, in every community, practical choices to reduce euthanasia and increase live outcomes and well-being for shelter cats. The foundation of the Million Cat Challenge rested on Five Key Initiatives, which together represented a holistic approach that addressed the “before, during and after” for any cat at risk of shelter entry. Alternatives to Intake and Managed Admissions helped keep cats out of shelters and safe within the community, Capacity for Care allowed shelters to ensure the welfare of all cats in their care, while Return to Field and Removing Barriers to Adoption smoothed the pathway for cats to leave shelters alive.

Alternatives to intake:

Provide positive alternatives to keep cats in the home or community when admission to a shelter is not the best choice.

Managed Admission:

Schedule intake of cats to match the shelter’s ability to assure humane care and safe movement through the shelter system to an appropriate outcome for every cat.

Capacity for care:

Match the number of cats cared for at any one time with the capacity required to support the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare for all cats in the shelter.

Remove barriers to adoption:

Expand the pool of adopters by removing barriers to adoption such as cost, process, or overly prescriptive or discriminatory processes.

Return to field:

Sterilize, vaccinate, and return healthy un-owned shelter cats to the location of origin as an alternative to euthanasia.

These initiatives originated from the creativity, determination, and courage of many shelters and individuals, and the participating shelters served as a source of inspiration, mentoring, and leadership. In the course of the Challenge, the MCC five key initiatives were refined and adapted to shelters of every size and type throughout North America and proven by over 5 million more cat lives saved by over 1500 Challenger Shelters. Then, we as a movement and a profession were invited to think even bigger. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to rethink business as usual, paradoxically allowing many shelters to reimagine what could be permitted and possible. At the same time, the call came for animal “sheltering” to shift focus from shelters to the surrounding community, with an increasing recognition that racial and social justice must be central to every aspect of our work.

Paralleling this (r)evolution, the Million Cat Challenge grew into the Maddie’s® Million Pet Challenge. The cat-oriented methods embodied in the Five Key Initiatives have been expanded to include other species at risk in shelters, and a greater focus has been placed on ensuring the people who care for and about those pets are able to access affordable veterinary care. However, while the methods have evolved, the same holistic “before, during and after” approach has been maintained: community safety net services, humane care within the shelter, and appropriate outcomes for the animals that do come in, all work in concert to support one another. Borrowing from our colleagues in human healthcare, we were inspired by the vision of providing every patient with the Right Care at the Right Time in the Right Place. Because it has not always been a given for animal shelters, we added the Right Outcome to round out the Four Rights.