Cats and Shelters: They’re Doing the Research. Here’s Some Findings.

I am not a fanatical member of the No-Kill Nation. While I, too, do not want animals to die needlessly, I think mindlessly spouting off at the mouth about not killing animals is too simplistic and naive. There are MANY changes that must take place in order to reach this Nirvana, and I don’t hear that being talked about or see the hard work being done.

Fortunately, there ARE people out there that are doing the hard work to find out what we need to do to become a nation that doesn’t engage in the mass-slaughter of animals.

Hissy Fit Jones- born feral
Hissy Fit Jones- born feral


Recently I was made aware of a couple of interesting studies published this year involving cats and shelters. Sadly, far less attention is paid to cats than to dogs, so I was interested to learn of their research.

As you can imagine, surrender to a shelter is a time of great stress for a cat. Some cats are euthanized because they don’t handle the stress well and become aggressive. Nadine Gourkow, Sara C. Hamon & Clive J.C. Phillips set out to study whether increased petting, or “gentling,” would reduce the amount of stress experienced by cats.

They assigned 139 cats to either the control group (who were treated the way cats usually are) or the gentled group. The cats in the gentled group were stroked 4 times a day, for 10 minutes a session, over a 10 day period. Cats that were too aggressive to be petted were stroked with a special tool.

The results? Gentled cats were less likely to be anxious or frustrated after 10 days. Shedding increased in the control group, but not in the gentled group. And the gentled group was 2.4 times LESS likely to develop an upper respiratory disease.

Malachi, an older stray cat when found
Malachi, an older stray cat when found

Another study by 

The results? The number of shelter intakes in this zip code dropped by 66%, compared to little change in other zip codes in the county.

Little Girl, offspring of a stray
Little Girl, offspring of a stray

What do these studies show us? That it IS possible to greatly reduce surrender rates, and further reduce euthanizations due to the stress of shelter placement.

It also tells us that in order to implement these findings, we need a society whose members are willing to do the hard work, and are willing to financially support the changes made.

So, what are your ideas for changing hearts and minds in YOUR community in order to enact these changes in YOUR shelter program?



34 thoughts on “Cats and Shelters: They’re Doing the Research. Here’s Some Findings.

  1. So very interesting on both accounts. I will be sharing.
    The second study brings to mind the organization, Downtown Dogs, out of Los Angeles. They do the work of orecenting surrenders by doing spay/neuter clinics, educating owners, offering training and sometimes paying for care that forced the owner to consider surrendering their pet. The organization is making a huge difference. Maybe we need a Downtown Cats too.

  2. And we either have to keep on everyone’s back on it constantly or in a few years we’ll lose our gains–or make compassionate treatment of animals part of our social mores so that people expect and search for that activity rather than having it be a special custom offered by concerned individuals.

    I’m a big fan of No-kill Nation’s goals, but not the tactics, I agree that it’s much too simplistic, and that over-simplifying sets everyone up for failure and disappointment. “Kill” rates are given in actual numbers, while “success” rates after implementing the suggestions are given in percentages, but part of that equation is that shelters become “limited admission”–and when you’re taking in fewer animals, if you’re not increasing your adoption rate, you should just get out of the business.

    1. And if you don’t change public perceptions of what it means to be a pet owner, you continue to have lots of homeless animals. What happens to all those animals that aren’t admitted to your limited admission shelters?

  3. Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, MA is No-kill. But it wasn’t always thus. When we got Tippy, 20-odd years ago, we literally saved her life. She was scheduled for euthanasia at the end of the day. We got there only an hour or so before she would have been put down. She cost us about 50 bucks in fees. Jack came from the same shelter, but after the change-over to No-kill. He cost us almost 500. The costs of running a No-kill shelter have to be passed on to those who adopt the animals. I had no problem with this extra expense, nor did my wife. We both, regularly send donations to NeAS, and I raised 1000 dollars and sent it to “Old Fella Burke County Animal Rescue,” the organization that rescued Jack, and sent him up here to Salem.

    As usual, you are 100% correct in your assessment, that if we want No-kill shelters, we need to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

    But then again, that statement applies to any and all social issues. Standing around bitching about domestic abuse, war, racism, sexism, the penal system, economic inequality, healthcare, the War on Drugs… this accomplishes nothing. Neither does incessantly posting about these issues on FaceBook. If we’re not willing to make the sacrifices, and put in the hard work, nothing will ever change.

    And of course the very first step, is to vote. Vote in every election. Even the stupid little local ones.

    1. Money is an issue, though, for many people. Sure, you and I see the value in that $500 fee, but for many, it’s a whole lot easier to go to the Walmart parking lot on a Saturday morning and get a pup for free. Unfortunately, you don’t value what doesn’t cost you much. That means there’s yet another cat living on the streets or being surrendered to a shelter.

      1. Oh, absolutely.

        There should be only 2 ways to acquire a companion animal. Through rescue (either individual or via the rescue and sheltering network), or from a trusted friend who can no longer care for his animal, or that animal has had a litter.

        Growing up, that was always how it was done. It was a half century ago, in a rural community – but a friend would call you up and tell you he had puppies. You’d pick out the one you wanted, and 12 weeks later – after proper weening and vetting – he was yours, to be your dog for the rest of his life.

        Later on, I remember one example where a friend had to go away. He left his dog “Sadie,” with me. She was my dog until she died of cancer, a good 7 years later.

        No Wal-Mart, no Craigslist and my parents wouldn’t be caught dead, buying an animal from a pet store.

  4. I adopted my last cat from our local shelter that is not no-kill. I have two cats from that shelter, one from a no-kill shelter and one plucked off the streets as a kitten. Locally our problem with the no-kills is that there also is no admittance as they are always full. The “other” shelter has come a long way from the days when they kept an animal a certain number of days before putting them down. I was pleasantly surprised to see the cages are much bigger with the litter in a separate area from the food. They also have cat rooms where social cats live. But (there is always a but isn’t there), they have too many cats and it’s very stressful. They do free or low cost vaccinations for both dogs and cats and have some animals with no adoption charge. They will do the neutering prior to the adoption so no one forgets! Private neutering at a vet here has become so expensive that it’s a bargain to adopt a neutered animal. That shelter is just starting a “cat socialization” program. They have had dog walkers (volunteers) for years but nothing for cats. I am anxious to see how this goes. While they have done some progressive things over the years, they have consistently turned me down when I volunteer to work with cats. On the other hand we have a very wonderful no-kill shelter that has a dog therapy pool in the lobby, all cats are in social rooms except those that don’t get along with other cats or are sick and (probably best of all) it doesn’t smell. It is very difficult to surrender a pet there because it’s always full. People drop them off in carriers at the door just before they open. That appears to be the only way to do it. What I find most disheartening is the competition between shelters. We have a lot of that here.

    1. One dirty little secret no-kill shelters won’t tell you is they don’t accept surrenders because they pull from the kill shelter. They WANT you to surrender there. So while on the one hand, they’re getting an animal that’s already been screened for health and behavior issues, on the other hand they’re preaching about not killing animals.

      1. Rumpy,
        that’ is not always true. Our county animal services where strays go is no kill. They work with best friends adoption center to get dogs out of the shelter and noticed. We are on our way to becoming a no kill state. SOmetimes you have to deliver dogs and cats specially if they are stray to the county animal control for a stray hold.

  5. Hopefully with more education about what is possible, more will be done to decrease the number of animals who end up in shelters to begin with – thanks for spreading the word!

  6. Communicate to educate and communication by example are vital so good pairings of animal and owner take place and the owner isn’t into some emotional compulsion or compensation in wanting a pet. There is work involved in all aspects but the biggest job (aside from spaying and neutering) is a pet owner who understands how to make their new fur baby a family member which involves doing responsibly right by them. The study is no surprise, to be honest. Let’s hope it helps. Thanks, Rumpy.

    1. Yes, I worry that some shelters are not having those conversations with potential adopters. I understand why. Those conversations aren’t easy and they take time.

  7. I am changing the subject, but would like your thoughts on this..Is it possible that dog owners can give their dogs some kind of sedative to keep them from barking and just sleep all day while they are gone..??

      1. If the dog is barking all the time, I’d guess it’s stressed in some way. An “I’m concerned” talk with the neighbors might be in order. May not work, but they need to know what’s up, because eventually some other neighbor is going to get tired of that noise and perhaps take matters into their own hands.

      2. Hi actually it is quite the opposite. we have a new neighbor and she either has three or four dogs. When she first moved in one of the dogs was barking alot in the morning. She keeps them in a chain linked kennel while she is gone…long hours, but I have observed that they are sleeping and don’t stir when I am in the back yard making noise. They just appear to be knocked out. It is possible that someone already complained to her about. I don’t know I won’t be talking to her about it as it is most likely not my business but I was just curious if some one would go to that extent..I think I’d better keep my noise out of it.. I do feel bad for the dogs, but they are safe and have food and water..Thank you!

  8. Howdy this is kind of of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.

    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding experience
    so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience.
    Any help would be enormously appreciated!

  9. Thanks Rumpy! This information is good do know. I have only a little experience with cats, but my experience is that they have a more difficult time adjusting to new situations than dogs. After finally settling in to our new home in Iowa, I’ve signed up for the ARL in Iowa and will be taking a class on Friday for cat companion training. This means I will be able help cats be less stressed out. 🙂

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