Kate Hurley: When to release healthy, friendly free-roaming cats

Guest: Dr. Kate Hurley. After being an animal control officer in Santa Cruz, Dr. Hurley became a veterinarian and is now director of the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program. She is co-author of the “Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters” and co-editor the textbook “Infectious Disease Management in Animal Shelters.” And along with Julie Levy, she helped launch the Million Cat Challenge, a successful campaign to save the lives of over 3 million cats in North American animal shelters.

Main question: Why should shelters consider returning healthy, friendly free-roaming cats back to where they were found rather than always adopting them out?


  • A main mission of shelters is to reunite pets with their original families – and cats are 10 to 50 times more likely to be reunited if they are in the area of their original home than at a shelter.

  • When people bring a cat they think is lost to the shelter, get as many details as you can to see if the cat is really abandoned.

  • Assess the condition of the cat to determine if the cat really needs to come into the shelter (injured, sick emaciated or basically healthy).

  • Scan the cat for a microchip to see if you can identify and contact the cat’s person.

  • By not taking in as many healthy friendly cats, shelters can spend more time finding good homes for cats who have been traditionally harder to place.

  • Cats disproportionately come to shelters from lower income or marginalized communities. Spaying and neutering and vaccinating cats who have been brought to the shelter and bringing them back rather than adopting them out to people in more well-off areas is a great way to make a connection with underserved communities and to demonstrate you value and trust them as pet caregivers.

  • Increase communication with your community about alternatives to try first before taking the cat to the shelter (talking with neighbors, posting the cat on Nextdoor, looking for lost cat postings there and on Facebook, etc.), in part because they become at increased risk of stress-caused illnesses.




Recorded January 28, 2021

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