Published on:  
Dec 30, 2015

What are some options to bring population down to Capacity for Care target and portalize our cages?

Dear Million Cat Challenge, We have several shelters within our system and we’re looking to reach Capacity for Care at each one. This will mean portalizing stainless steel cages at most of the shelters – and that means cutting our housing unit numbers pretty much in half. What makes it really challenging for us is that each shelter is in a different place in terms of their ability to grow adoptions and options for managed admission. The one thing that’s absolutely off the table is increasing euthanasia. Do you have any advice that will help all our shelters get to C4C? – Looking for choices

Dear Looking,

Thanks for your question! It’s Challengers like you who challenge us to come up with solutions that work for every kind of shelter, and we love you for it.  Luckily for us, your colleagues in the Challenge have shared their successful strategies, so that we in turn can share them with you. We hope you can find a fit among the options below.

Just a couple of things before you begin. First of all, it’s important to know your target. It’s a lot easier to pay off a credit card when you know there is a finite balance you need to tackle. Likewise, figure out exactly how much you need to drop your population by to reach your ideal C4C. Post that number prominently and share it with staff and stakeholders to inspire everyone to reach the goal. 

(If you need help figuring this out, log in to the Million Cat Dashboard and get in touch with us – be sure and mention you’d like to figure out your C4C number, and we’d be happy to help. If you’re not registered, feel free to head over to and join now!)

The other thing to remember is, you only have to do this one time. Once you reach a new set point, Capacity for Care tends to be self-sustaining. You can go back to admitting and releasing cats at the same rate as before, only with fewer cats on site at any one time. If that sounds too good to be true, you’re not alone. You can learn more about the “Magic of C4C” here. (hyperlink to Title: How can we have fewer cats and save more lives?, first question in this set).

Now let’s get into the nitty gritty. How do you actually get from where you are today to where you need to be? Whether you need to end up with one fewer cat in the shelter or 100, the basic principle is the same: You will need to release more cats alive than enter the shelter until you reach your new set point. Here are four ways to do just that:

1. Hold an adoption special… or two or three! Just about every shelter adopts out far more cats over the course of a year than are in the shelter at any one time, so you know you can do it. You just need to find a way to get some of those adoptions that are going to happen eventually, to happen a little sooner, before another cat comes in to fill the spot. For instance, one Million Cat Challenge shelter held a “Construction special” and photo-shopped little hard hats on photos of their kitties, then sent out a plea to the public to adopt out cats so they could install portals in all the cages. You can see a copy of the article they used to promote this special here.

Of course you don’t even need to make it about construction. There are a million great ideas for cat promotions out there, from Catapaloozas to Catastrophes to Cataclysms. You can find inspiration from many sources, including your colleagues in the Challenge or the ASPCA’s Little Black Book of Adoption Promotion Ideas.

If your team is nervous about fee waived events or other large scale adoption promotion strategies, you might want to direct them to our section on Removing Barriers to Adoption,  or put them in touch with Million Cat colleagues who have already been down this path – we can help make that connection if you like; just let us know. Or, if some of your shelters have simply maxed out on adoptions by using every strategy available, read on for more choices.

2. Use a waiting list for a short time. Even if managed admission is not normally your cup of tea, deferring intake for non-emergency cases can be enough to bring the population into balance at a new lower set point after just a couple of weeks. The British Columbia SPCA was among the first to go really big with Capacity for Care, implementing it across all 36 shelters in their system. You can read about their experience in the Canadian Federation Humane Societies’ interesting “Cats in Canada” report on pages 47-48. Short term managed admission was one of the strategies they used. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“At first it was difficult to tell relinquishers that they were at capacity and some were upset; however once the shelter had implemented the program and was at its new capacity, it has never been a problem and in fact, they are often looking for cats and kittens to transfer in or calling fosters to bring cats back due to the greatly increased flow-through.”

3. Fast track your way to C4C! Already maxed out on adoption specials and doing everything you can to manage admission? Don’t despair! “Fast tracking” to C4C may be just what you need. This works on the same principle as letting people who can be served quickly skip to the head of the line. Although it may seem a little unfair, it means those people can be taken care of and move out of line, leaving the remaining line shorter. That may not matter to the comfort and health of the people left in line, but it matters a whole lot for cats.

Just like letting the easy people jump ahead in line, if you skip your most adoptable kittens and cats into adoption and get them on out of the shelter, there will be more room left for the remaining cats. But unlike people, having more room and less competition from too many cute kittens can turn those remaining “slow track” cats into fast trackers, and let you get your cages and rooms sorted out to meet your new Capacity for Care number.

If you think this might be the right path for your shelter, you can learn more in this excellent webinar and associated notes from the ASPCA, featuring the great work of Million Cat Challenge shelters Placer SPCA and Dane County Humane Society. Of course, if you’re a Challenger and you have any questions about the details, post it to your colleagues in the discussion group or log on to the dashboard and ask us – we never get tired of talking about this!

4. One final option: wait until winter. In many ways, the seasonality of kittens is an affliction to all of us in sheltering. We dread the annual onslaught of adorable, cuddly, sneezy, needy kittens that hits every spring. But there is an upside to this: It eventually ends! Almost all shelters experience a slow season where intake drops dramatically, often by as much as 50 percent or more compared to peak –  a perfect time to let your adoptions outpace intake for a while.

By a happy coincidence, this slowdown roughly coincides with the holiday season, which provides so many opportunities to move more cats into homes (and if you’re worried about folks giving or getting cats as gifts, check out this info from the ASPCA!).

If you use winter to reach your new set-point, be sure to make housing modifications and develop a strategy to calculate and maintain your new ideal number of cats. That way, when kitten season rolls back around, you’ll be ready.

I hope this has given you a few choices to play with. Of course you can use a combination of these in whatever way makes most sense given the constraints different shelters face.

Also remember you don’t have to do it all at once. While some shelters have gotten to C4C in one big blowout adoption weekend, others have gotten there gradually by adopting out just a few more cats than come in over a period of months.

The first step is just having one more cat leave alive than comes in today.  Then, repeat as necessary!

Dr. Kate Hurley