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« Very Good Sentences - Experts against breed-specific laws | Main | New study points to many factors related to dog bite fatalities »

December 08, 2013


Casey Post

"Smart shelters are always looking for ways to minimize length of stay."

My local shelter has no stray hold time for cats. They also refused to advertise cats at all, would not take their photos and post them online, would not allow volunteers to come in and photograph them, would not market their cats in any way, shape, or form. Most people in our area weren't even aware that our shelter had cats available.

On Christmas Eve last year, my (very small) shelter had one animal left two hours before closing. One. A stray cat. A declawed, neutered cat with bold markings. Three shelter workers on duty, one cat in need of a home, two hours to closing. They did nothing to get that cat a home for Christmas. They did nothing to market that cat. A few days later, they killed that cat for "time" (he had been at the shelter too long, they decided, even though there's no official maximum time, either) even though they had plenty of open cages.

Any cat who comes in to my shelter in a trap is killed for being "feral" (even the ear tipped and microchipped ones). Any cat who freaks out being housed in the same room as the dogs (because it is all one room), is killed for being "nasty" or "wild" (these are the actual reasons written down on the forms). Any sick cat, any cat missing an eye, any cat they think doesn't measure up, all killed.

My shelter was not scanning cats for microchips. My shelter was not posting stray cats as found. My shelter considers cats to be completely disposable.

We will never know how many owned and wanted cats ended up dead at my shelter. But the lack of a stray hold time and the lack of compassion combined to make my shelter a cat killing machine.

So while "smart shelters are always looking for ways to minimize length of stay", lazy shelters are always looking for excuses to kill pets. And lack of stray hold time is an easy one for them.

Dog hero

wow that is the opposite of my shelter they always advertise cats and any other pet animal they get.


I like your take on things, Brent. The No Kill movement is a fluid thing and I, for one, welcome discussion. Your point about the difference between "Prevent Killing" and "Save them All" is interesting. One does not preclude the other, of course, but I can see where your distinction makes sense.

I wholeheartedly agree that there has to be some sort of hold period for cats because otherwise you do have regressive shelters using the fact that it isn't illegal to kill on intake making that the de facto (or official) policy. It's bad enough that some shelters kill even if they are breaking the law but they definitely don't need assistance.

So I think your idea is a good one. If more cats were returned to owners (and I am sure there are ways to help improve that percentage to at least some extent)a stray holding period might make more sense. I can tell you from my personal experience that of all of the cats that I or anyone that I have known have lost not a single one was found at the shelter. They were usually found by a neighbor a mile away since cats have a different "running away from home" style than do dogs. Some were never found and we will never know what happened to them but not a single cat was returned by the shelter despite the owners going to look. The cats simply weren't there. This is just my personal anecdote and, of course, the plural of anecdote is not "data".

So a mandatory hold on unidentified cats that allow for immediate adoption or rescue makes sense to me. At least where I am it is nearly impossible to get a cat into a rescue because they are all so overwhelmed and they would need as much time as possible to network and if they can start that process immediately they have a better chance of pulling that cat.

The one point I would like to draw attention to is your expectation that owners should be responsible about identifying their cats in some way. It is great and I wish all animals were microchipped and those microchips were up to date but microchipping is expensive. $50+ around here. Just like how the majority of pet owners want to spay and neuter their pets but are facing a financial burden to do so and so low cost programs are created. I think microchip clinics should be more widely available. Maybe even focus much more on cats. Collars come off, or people worry about having a collar on a cat due to fears of it snagging on things so microchipping is really the best identification, even if those sometimes fail as well, and it should be made easily available for cat owners.

Thank you for the point of view.

Steven Phipps

I am positive that taking hold times off the table would be used for evil much more than good for our nations shelter pets. In the community I live in the shelter hold time was increased from 3 days to 20 days. This is one of the reasons that has led to a 99.8% save rate in our community. Our local humane society markets the city shelter pets and now most of them are adopted from the shelter during the 20 day hold period. The hold period gives us time to line up adopters and fosters. If they don't adopt during the 20 day hold we pull them and they go into foster. A win win... Steve @ No Kill Revolution


Thanks Jamie for your thoughts. $50 for microchips? That's way too much. It can be done for like $2 at cost and we do a lot of them at our shelter. Not all shelters would over course....

I also agree on the rescue component. We have very few cat rescues here, and the ones that exist are generally good, but always at capacity, and I think the idea of relying heavily on rescue to solve the hold time situation isn't based on the reality of where rescues are right now. I just think if most cats are going to be rehomed in a community, or statistically through adoption or transfer (not RTO), we need to figure out a solution to make the likely best outcomes happen faster, not slower. Time and space are their worst enemies at shelters right now.



That doesn't sound like a "hold time" in the definition that's being talked about. During hold times, that's a time that is reserved for owners to reclaim, but a cat cannot be adopted or transferred.

It is my opinion, based on looking at the numbers, that we need to speed up the ability to move animals onto the adoption floor, or transferred. Because even in very high kill shelters, that is the most likely way they will safely get out of the shelter (definitely NOT RTO).

What you are talking about sounds a lot more like the "safe time" like what I proposed. While 20 days may be too long for many shelters, a shorter time would be ideal as a start.


Casey Post,

What you need at your shelter is new leadership....not longer hold times. Longer hold times are really just going to prolong the inevitable at a shelter like what you describe. If they are making no effort, at anything, hold times are going to save, what, 1%?

We need to focus on more than that.

In most shelters, time and space are the biggest risk to cats. The longer they are held on "stray hold" and cannot be made available for adoption or transfer, the less time they have to actually get adopted or transferred (which is by far their most likely successful route out of the shelter). And the faster they get out, the more space there will be for others coming in.

I just don't see the solution as longer hold times for regressive shelters -- it's new leadership.



I hate to keep coming up with new terms...but since many people aren't coming from a sheltering background we should start refering to it as "stray hold" and "safe hold"? But crap, the acronyms are still the same!

In Casey's situation, fighting for overall shelter reform would be a much better use of time than worrying about stray hold times - which right now isn't saving any lives. In the hold time discussion, a cat would be held for 5 days and killed or 0 days and killed. The end result would be a dead cat. What shelter is this Casey?

Stray hold times for cats are making people FEEL better - but are they saving lives? I personally can't get past the fact that no more than 2% of cats ANYWHERE are getting saved via stray hold times - why is that not the alarming take away here? IMO - way too much of this discussion is centered around people a) Not actually reading the studies or articles but merely the titles. b) using anecdotal evidence of and not real data c) the lack of understanding of length of stay (which seems to be a constant in every argument involving shletering).

Steven's post actually proves the point that what you are proposing (SAFE HOLD with no STRAY hold for cats with no id) will bring about positive outcomes. Although we need the hard data or this is merely another anecdote...



I agree Michelle.

I really had no idea that the RTO rate for cats was that low. I've spent a lot of time volunteering at shelters, but only with dogs.


Joel -- I think the interesting thing is that it's extremely low at even well-run shelters. So while improving intake and lost & found procedures for dogs dramatically improves RTO rates for dogs, it doesn't appear to have anywhere near the same impact on cats.

I also think it's striking that even at poorly performing shelters like Hillsborough, cats are 20x more likely to leave via adoption than via RTO --so holding them longer at the shelter actually would seem to decrease their odds of getting out of the shelter safely, vs increasing it.


I'd also like to point out that many cats in shelters are euthanized because they get sick. Reducing the hold time to allow them to move from the intake area to an adoption floor or even better, into rescue, would reduce that as well.


Exactly Nicole...and this risk increases DRAMATICALLY for kittens.

Honestly, can someone name ONE instance in the history of the world that an owner "lost" a litter of kittens? And even if you have one, I really don't care to make policy based on incidents of gross negligence. We need policies that get them out immediately.


Elimination of the hold period for cats IS just a way around waiting to kill. If all shelters had to post their "Euth" numbers in addition to celebrating their adoption numbers, it would be a clearer picture to those NOT in the know.


Tracy. A cat's biggest threat in a shelter is time and space.

Their most likely way out, even in a poorly run shelter, is through adoption or rescue (not RTO).

Delaying the time it takes to get to the adoption floor or being made available for rescue is not helping to save more lives. Only delaying the death.

Amee Davis

While I do understand the logic behind shorter hold times I have to wonder if the numbers include owners that are not able to pay the sometimes ridiculous reclaiming fee's with in the stray hold period.
Additionally I would only give support to shorter times if that shelter notifies the public via facebook or their own website with a picture of the animal upon day one because trying to check by phone or email with a shelter is highly subjective based on how the owner describes their pet versus how the shelter staff describes the animal and due to shelter hours the owner may only be able to go to the shelter when(if) the shelter has late hours which may only be once a week or on the week-end which might not fall inside a stray hold 3 days or less. I also would hope the stray hold is clearly defined X days hold minus days shelter is closed to the public.
I think this issue will continue to be debated so in the mean time I will continue to promote micro-chipping and keeping contact info updated.

Casey Post

MichelleD, unfortunately, my shelter (Medina County Animal Shelter in Medina, OH) is run by the Dog Warden, which is an appointed position. So no leadership change is likely.

What we did was change the rules - on December 16th, care of county cats will go to the Medina SPCA and the Medina County Animal Shelter will go back to being a dog-only shelter. This is good because live release rates for dogs there is 92% (cats are 45%). Of course, dogs always got marketed...just not cats.

I will say though, that while I was campaigning for change, one of the things I questioned was the legality of no stray hold for cats. If my shelter took in my cat in as a stray and then sold him or killed him immediately, you can be sure that I would be hiring a lawyer over the issue. On the surrender forms, they would cross out "owner" and write "finder", so they KNEW that the stray cats they were getting in (at $10 a piece surrender fee) were not being surrendered by their owners. How then are they able to legally sell or kill those cats immediately?

As I told Brent, any shelter trying to work with a no stray hold period will have to be very sure that they are functioning within the law.

I can certainly understand the need to get cats out of a shelter quickly, but there also needs to be a means for an owner to reclaim a lost cat. Compassion demands it. This is an opportunity to innovate new methods that address both issues.


Here's my issue with this number...

As this post correctly states, many (perhaps the majority) of cats who enter the shelter system are not owned. They are feral, stray, or community cats.

So this oft-quoted 2% does not mean "only 2% of owned cats who enter the shelter system are reclaimed." It means "2% of all cats who enter the shelter system (included strays and community cats) are claimed by an owner."

The difference between the two is important, vitally so. Yet even within this post, which recognizes that many cats entering the shelter system are unowned, the author keeps slipping back into statements that imply the 2% reflects a failure of owners to reclaim.

You can not identify how many owners reclaim their pets by including unowned animals. At the same time, we have no reliable method to remove unowned animals from the number.

What that means is that the 2% number is MEANINGLESS if the question is 'how many owners reclaim lost cats?" It's a false number, but it is being repeated again and again, and worse, it's being used to justify policy changes.

If we remove all unowned cats from the base numbers of all cats in shelters (which is not possible to do), that 2% is going to jump up. The simple fact is that we have no way of knowing the percentage of OWNED cats are reclaimed by desperate, heartbroken owners.

If the question is "how many cats of ALL cats that enter the system are reclaimed", then okay, the 2% is meaningful. But we can't have an honest discussion if people keep forgetting what question they're actually asking, and what that number actually means.

We also have to keep in mind that these numbers are coming from a broken system. If the shelter is failing to do everything in it's power to increase the RTO rate for cats, are their numbers meaningful? If they don't take picture of incoming cats, don't scan, etc. etc. etc...are we still counting that shelter as proof that the OWNERS are the ones not looking?



I don't disagree. But that's a big part of point. Under the current laws, there is no distinction on the hold time for feral cats vs owned cats. And the goal would be to be able to move truly feral cats out of the shelter more quickly (and back to their "home", which is outside). However, right now, shelters are mandated to "hold" these cats that no one is looking for; which traumatizes the cats, takes up kennels and other resources at the shelter.

The goal then should be to figure out a way to separate these two groups of we can safely "hold" ones that may have owners, but not inhumanely hold others that need to be released.

That was the point of the requirement for identification...because right now that is the only sure way to make the distinction.


But the problem there, Brent, is that is not possible to separate owned cats from ferals in a shelter environment. Cats entering the shelter are under considerable stress, but are often judged 'feral' (and often euthanized because of it) on intake.

I can see a policy that separates out ferals if they come from a known, managed colony. Or separating out any cat that 'appears' to be feral...if the policy is to s/n if needed and return that cat to its community, rather than euthanize or adopt out.

But the truth is that any policy that removes hold times will be a death sentence to most cats judged feral, because most of those cats will be entering shelters that don't have a TNR policy.

Removing hold times for some categories of cats really only works if all of the no-kill policies are set in place at the same time. Without those policies, it simply removes the safety net for owned animals, and also gives the shelters an excuse to kill 'ferals' faster (now, granted, those cats in shelters w/o a TNR policy would die anyway.)

The only category for which it could make a possible difference is the third cats who are not feral, but do not have an owner. And I do believe we can think of better ways to help that category without sacrificing the human/animal bond for owned animals.


To add...the requirement for ID is useless if shelters aren't checking. This goes back to what I was saying about numbers drawn from a broken system. We KNOW that many shelters do not scan. Even if they do, they may not have the correct scanner or the chip may have moved. Or the cat can't be handled because again, cats in a novel, noisy environment can become aggressive without being feral.

I don't put tags on my cats because they're indoor only. They are, however, both tagged. My two local shelters are death factories for pets, and I highly, highly doubt they would be scanned on intake, especially if they were lashing out (and I'm very certain my male would.)

With the shelter system as it currently stands, many shelters operate in a way that makes it incredibly difficult for a cat owner to reclaim their pet. If the shelter doesn't scan, then the owner might go online. If the shelter doesn't take photos on intake, then the owner has no option but to visit the shelter. There they may be shown only a few animals of the many there. This is not an uncommon or exaggerated scenario.

So take all of the above, and now add no-hold policies that are blamed on the owner for not chipping (when they did) or not looking (when they did.) It's grossly unfair, and it's based on a false starting point that assumes that shelter is doing all it can to aid the owner when all too often they AREN'T. That's what bothers me the most.


Triangle, this is why I included more than just the national number and specifically tried to include information from well run shelters that are no kill to show that even in well run shelters, cat RTO numbers are still extremely low.

I agree that there is a LOT of reform that needs to be made in the way shelters care for cats -- particularly feral cats. But if a shelter's policy is to kill all feral cats, upping the hold time isn't going to help that, it's just going to delay it. The problem is the shelter's policies toward feral cats.

I just feel that there has to be a way to provide protections for cats while still not mandating that shelters hold feral cats, with no owners, under the unlikely hope of a n owner coming to reclaim them. It's putting the feral cats under undue stress, puts kittens at health risk, and causes shelters to use resources that could be better allocated elsewhere. There has to be a better way to handle feral cats so that they're not subjected to these hold times and can be released quickly back to their home...


Every single discussion revolves around how its the SHELTER'S responsibility to do 100% of the work to get pets back home. NO, that isn't the way it works for ANYTHING else in this society. And honestly, it looks like everyone is looking for more ways to shelter bash as opposed to work towards solutions to get cats out ALIVE. Since when is our first responsibility to the owner? No, our first responsibility is preserving animals' lives - hopefully with its loving owner.

You know how its REALLY easy for an owner find and reclaim their lost pet? MICROCHIP AND TAG IT!!!!!

And for the uptenth time, Brent' proposal accounts for a regular hold period for cats with ID to get reclaimed by their owners. And cats without ID get the same hold period
to find a safe outcome.

Casey (sure you know but for others sake) - Lucus County, OH got rid of their Dog Warden of Death and now, while still run by a "warden", a really great woman who cares about life saving is running the place now. I know its not easy took 20 years to get rid of that evil man. Just an encouragement for people not to give up when reform is needed.


Yes, I recognize you posted stats from no kill shelters. But that still doesn't prove that the RTO for cats is low. The phrasing there implies that a large percentage of cats are not being reclaimed by their owners, and these stats prove no such thing. "The RTO rate for cats is low" is a false statement (and not provable.) The RTO rate by definition can only include cats that CAN be returned. A cat that never had an owner by definition CAN'T be. We don't know what the RTO rate is, but it may be much higher than 2%.

I know it may seem like I'm nitpicking over phrasing, but I do believe the distinction is important. This 2% number is being used to blame owners for not searching or chipping, and in turn to justify policy changes under a belief that the owners are failing and don't really want their cats anyway. You can see that mindset in several comments, where suddenly this is a discussion not about shelter reform but about how owners just need to chip or tag. It rather sounds like how so many shelters blame all of their own failings on failure to s/n, yes?

Michelle...the problem is that chipping and tagging is not protection for many, many cats entering the shelter system. This perceived 'simple' solution ONLY works if shelters do their jobs, and we can categorically say that this is in fact a rare occurrence. If the ONLY change that occurs tomorrow is that removal of hold times, then I could do everything 'right' and still lose my beloved cats because the shelter didn't want to scan an aggressive, frightened animal.

If the issue at hand is ferals, then remove hold times for ferals that are being returned to the community only. This has numerous frees up space, protects ferals themselves from stress, and doesn't remove the only protection that owned cats and their owners have.

Policy changes like this aren't happening in a vacuum, and we can't afford to assume that they are. We can't afford to assume that shelters will scan owned cats when we KNOW many don't. We can't afford to assume shelters will use it to benefit ferals instead of to quick-kill them, since we KNOW many shelters have no TNR programs. We can't assume that we are starting with a well-managed shelter run by people dedicated to saving lives, because this is sadly not factual in far too many places.

But that fantasy starting place does seem to be where people are starting from in this discussion.



I think you're just splitting hairs. I'm simply pointing out the huge percentage of cats that come into the shelter are never reunited with an owner -- either because they are not reconnected with the owner, or because they didn't have one to begin with.

But when you make rules for hold times for cats, they apply to all cats. Owned or not. And my point is, that doesn't make sense when a large number of them are not owned and thus will never be "RTO'd".

The same is true for shelters also. While we make policies to try to keep the worst from the worst from killing cats quickly, we also are putting in place rules for shelters that are trying, but facing real challenges in time, space, resources from getting them moved out safely.

We need to be open to policies that help those shelters that are trying, while also trying to provide safeguards for animals in shelters that are not. That allows us to move cats with no owners out safely and quickly to not take up valuable resources (and cause undue angst for the cat), while still trying to provide safeguards for owned cats. Which is what I've tried to do with my proposal.


Maybe it's a difference in perception. I'm unfortunately convinced that the shelters who aren't trying their best outnumber the ones who are. That's certainly very true in my local area, and from what I see from reports online, very likely true in many others.

If you start from a place of good faith, I can see the merits of the proposal. But I can say with certainty that should such a proposal be enacted where I live, it would be disastrous for ferals and owned cats alike. So perhaps you can understand why I have grave doubts that it would go any better in other locations.

Also, I see no reason why a policy enacted for cats has to cover ALL cats. That's already not true...we don't release ALL cats to the community, only ferals. We already treat ferals as a separate category, a limited no-hold would only be an extension of it. I'm fairly sure some shelters already TNR ferals immediately.

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