Of the millions of cats who enter American shelters each year, around half are unowned, free-living felines, some of them lost or abandoned pet cats and many others not socialized to humans enough to be adopted. All are worthy of life and care! As part of its campaign to save the lives of 1 million cats over the next five years, the Million Cat Challenge advocates an initiative known as “return to field” or RTF, which involves sterilizing healthy cats who are thriving in their outdoor homes, then returning them there.
But what about the cats who come into programs like that who aren’t healthy or thriving? “The beauty of the Challenge is that we seek the best outcome for each individual cat,” said project co-founder Dr. Kate Hurley. “We can look at cats who come into return to field programs, evaluate them as individuals, and make the right choice for that cat.”
That’s just what All About Animals in Warren, Michigan, does. A major spay/neuter provider in Southeastern Michigan, they joined the Challenge as the RTF partner for Macomb County Animal Control.
One cat who came in through the program was in terrible shape when they took her in. She had flea alopecia, weighed only 4.5 pounds, and was definitely not thriving where she was. They named her Flower, cared for her until she was healthy and weighed in at 7 pounds, then put her up for adoption.
Oscar and Tilly came into All About Animals as RTF cats from two different locations, but turned out to love humans and each other. They’ve been adopted into the same loving home.
Of course, every cat in RTF programs is just as worthy of a happy outcome as these lucky ones. Truly feral cats will never adapt to living in a home as a pet, and in many shelters, the suffering of a hold period followed by death is all they can expect.
When shelters like Macomb County Animal control put RTF programs in place, it means cats who are healthy and happy where they are will have a chance at the outcome that’s right for them. With the stress of reproduction removed, the population of outdoor cats will grow smaller over time. What’s more, due to vaccination, the risk of disease will be reduced as well. That means the lives of those individual cats will be healthier and happier.
But these programs also mean more resources – time, space, money, staffing, veterinary care – will be available for cats like Flower who need extra care can get it, and cats like Oscar and Tilly who can be put up for adoption. And wouldn’t any cat lover rather see a shelter’s resources used to help cats than euthanize them?