Note: This is a chapter in the Community Cat Programs Handbook.
As with shelter operations more generally, some of the most effective community cat programs (CCPs) are run out of very modest facilities. Our highly successful Community Cats Projects, for example, partnerships of Best Friends Animal Society, PetSmart Charities, Inc.,™ and local municipalities, are typically headquartered in rented office trailers. Even the most modest facilities, however, must address several key program needs.
The following provides an outline of the basic facility requirements for an effective CCP, as well as references to additional resources that give more detailed information.
CCPs typically house cats being returned to their outdoor homes for no more than 48 hours, including pre-surgery holding and post-surgery recovery. This not only reduces the pressure on a shelter’s capacity, but also minimizes the stress levels on all the animals (including non-CCP cats and dogs) potentially affected by crowded conditions. Trapped cats are generally kept at the shelter, stacked on shelves in an area designated for CCP cats (sometimes a rented office trailer). Alternatively, they could be kept at partner clinics or with volunteers, who set aside space in a spare room, basement or garage (assuming certain conditions are met, as described in “Housing Cats and Kittens”).
Housing of cats is perhaps the most obvious factor affecting CCP capacity and, by extension, facility requirements, but there are many other factors to consider, including the following.
Animal care. CCP staff and volunteers must be able to provide adequate care (including all necessary cleaning) for all cats and kittens that come through the program. Regardless of other factors (e.g., space for housing), a CCP’s capacity is limited by its capacity for appropriate care. The facilities provided must be able to accommodate such care and, as described below, the staff providing it. (See the Million Cat Challenge’s Capacity for Care resource for additional information.)
Finances. Even programs that rely heavily on volunteers require significant (and secure) budget allocations, with enough of a “cushion” to absorb unanticipated events (e.g., a ringworm outbreak or hoarding case impoundment). (See “Financial Considerations” for additional information on this topic.)
Hours of operation. The facilities provided must be able to accommodate a CCP’s hours of operation, which often means evening (and even late-night) trapping jobs and early-morning drop-offs. For programs operating out of a large municipal shelter, this is generally easy enough. But for programs reliant largely on volunteers and/or partner clinics, such accommodations can be more of a challenge (e.g., requiring after-hours access to a clinic).
If every program cat could be fast-tracked through a CCP — trapped, sterilized and vaccinated, recovered and returned to her outdoor home within 48 hours — the demand on resources (e.g., housing, staff time, finances) would be relatively modest. And while this is the norm, a CCP and its facilities must be able to appropriately accommodate the exceptions. Being prepared for these exceptions is important, whether you require in-hospital veterinary care or have trained staff who can accommodate such cases (e.g., giving subcutaneous fluids and injectable medications) in your own facilities.
Necessary preparation is reflected in both a program’s capacity (as described above) and its capabilities, including the following.
Long-term housing. Long-term housing must be available for cats and kittens requiring additional medical care and/or monitoring (including quarantine).
24-hour care. This is especially important for cats and kittens who need frequent medication and/or monitoring, and requires that trained staff and volunteers have 24/7 access to CCP facilities.
Ability to medicate. Trained staff and volunteers must be able to administer necessary medications and other treatments (e.g., subcutaneous fluids), requiring 24/7 access to CCP facilities. Note: CCP staff and volunteers must be properly trained to address medical issues.
Kitten nursery. Kitten nurseries are becoming an increasingly common part of CCPs, although the idea is still quite new. These nurseries can make a significant contribution to lifesaving efforts, but it’s important that CCP facilities are designed to meet their very specific demands. (See “Kitten Nurseries” for additional information about this topic.)
Beyond animal care
Naturally, the primary focus of a CCP is on the cats and kittens cared for by staff and volunteers. And the facilities generally reflect this focus (e.g., office space is sacrificed for a makeshift kitten nursery). For a CCP to be truly effective, though, facilities must address (however modestly) other needs as well, including the following.
Office space. A CCP requires a surprising amount of office work, including data entry, report writing, and phone calls to caregivers and complainants. It’s important that these tasks are given the attention they deserve, and that means having dedicated office space.
Loading zone and parking. Loading and unloading traps should be made as efficient as possible, and ample parking (including reserved parking close to the building entrance for CCP vans) must be provided.
Trap storage. Storage space must be provided for traps, transfer cages, feral cat dens, trap covers and the like. Since this equipment will be in frequent use, it’s important that it be easily accessible to staff and volunteers. It’s also important that clean and dirty equipment be kept separate.
Storage of supplies. A range of supplies, such as printer ink cartridges, cat food, humane deterrents and cleaning supplies, must be on hand and stored appropriately (e.g., in a dry and temperature-controlled place, as necessary).
Washing facilities. Traps, transfer cages and feral cat dens need to be cleaned thoroughly to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Trap covers and any other sheets, blankets and towels used for trapping or transporting need to be laundered after each use. CCP facilities must be able to accommodate these common tasks. (See “Trapping Protocols” for additional information about cleaning equipment.)
- Association of Shelter Veterinarians: Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters
- Million Cat Challenge Resource Center: Capacity for Care
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