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MDCAT Study Identifies Key Indicators in Building High Impact Community Cat Programs

The shelters, rescues and veterinary community in Denver have historically been on the cutting edge of animal welfare, offering a variety of low and no-cost life-saving services to our growing and changing population. However, we’ve found that segments of our community still can’t access what they need for animals in their care. Lack of reliable transportation, information, consistent schedules, money and equipment prevent our focus communities from connecting with life-saving services, especially for cats. Metro Denver CAT’s mission is to make Denver a place where cats are valued and cared for by an engaged community, and while this cultural change takes time, we have developed a model that efficiently addresses key barriers to service. This innovative project design is based around 5 central ideas that remove the barriers facing residents when they need help for cats in their community, and create a lifesaving impact quickly: Access, Saturation, Customization, Efficiency, and Flexibility. We provide focus communities with a comprehensive and efficient program that includes community outreach, trap-neuter-return for community cats, spay/neuter transport for pet cats, supplies and connections to other necessary resources for cat care at no cost to pet parents and caregivers.

An 18-month study of this already established project design in a new focus neighborhood, the Elyria Swansea area of Denver, has allowed us to compare results in areas that share some demographic commonalities but differ in important ways. The information gathered in this new focus neighborhood was compared to our existing data to create a template of key indicators and methods for other organizations designing programs for cats in their communities. This comparison will help us determine how to select focus neighborhoods where the greatest impact for cats can be made in the shortest period of time, and how to help a significant portion of the cat population quickly. Compiling and analyzing this data has enabled us to provide compelling support for the efficacy of our programs as we work toward growth and sustainability.

Our project in Globeville/Elyria Swansea ( the 80216 zip code) replicated the original model operating in the Southwest area of the city (the 80219 zip code). This innovative project design is based around five central ideas that remove the barriers facing residents needing help for cats in their community:

Access: Our program supports residents who have traditionally been disconnected from animal welfare agencies and services by providing bilingual staff and materials, free clinic transportation, pre and post- surgery recovery space for cats, and necessary supplies, all at no cost to our clients.

Saturation: Two types of outreach ensure everyone in our focus area has the information they need to access help for cats: door-to door (knock on every single door in the neighborhood) and focused (revisit homes and conduct follow-ups). Other marketing/ community outreach efforts include postcard mailers (USPS every door direct) and attending/tabling at community events, including free vaccine clinics with partners. Additionally, serving a small focus area within the larger city of Denver helps us achieve a spay/neuter saturation level high enough to impact cat reproduction and reduce overall population.

Customization: We now know that cats exist along a spectrum of socialization, and therefore we must customize solutions for each cat and caregiver. Unlike most other Trap-Neuter-Return groups and community outreach projects for pets, we serve all cats and find the most appropriate outcome for each one, regardless of their level of socialization or how they’re connected with their caregivers.

Efficiency: Concentrating our efforts in small high-need areas allows us to get a lot done in a short period of time, because we are not spending an inordinate portion of the day getting from point A to point B. We have also developed innovative methods that allow us to help a high volume of cats quickly in a way that traditional TNR methods do not such as daytime trapping at multiple locations simultaneously.

Flexibility: We took inspiration from the “pop-up” retail model, which allows small companies to test the response from a specific market without investing a great deal of their resources. During the grant term we relocated our facility from our original target neighborhood to Elyria Swansea with minimal cost, buildout and customization for the space. This move proved that an agile, easily transportable set-up works well for our program and we are confident can be repeated as needed.


Project outputs were tracked using a variety of metrics. During the term of our pilot project for which Maddie’s Fund provided a generou grant, Elyria Swansea was one of four neighborhoods being served simultaneously. The original pilot project in 2016-2017 focused solely on the 80219 zip code. This difference in focus and concentration accounts for some of the difference in output between the two pilot projects:

The cumulative data collected during the grant term in Elyria Swansea, when compared with the data from our previous pilot project in Southwest Denver, allows us to create a set of indicators that can be used to identify high-need neighborhoods. Historically, animal welfare groups in Denver have used internal data as a primary data source when determining areas of need in our community. However we’ve found that while intake data, complaint calls and anecdotal information from volunteers and concerned community members can be a helpful starting point when planning a community project, this data can be skewed in several ways- proximity to shelter affects intake, and the frequency of complaints can indicate level of concern more accurately than the actual need existing in neighborhoods. Often those who need services the most do not reach out to animal service providers.

We have found that broad socio-economic data can be more a useful tool to identify areas with a high concentration of underserved animals. When we compare key demographics of our original focus neighborhood of Southwest Denver to Elyria Swansea, we see they share key similarities: Median household income below state average, Hispanic population percentage significantly above state average, median age below state average, percentage of population with a bachelor's degree or higher significantly below state average, and both case studies have indicated that the neighborhood is vulnerable to gentrification and involuntary displacement. Indeed in both areas we were able to serve a high-volume of cats- maxing out our staffing and budget capacity.

While we were able to achieve our goal of serving 500 cats in Elyria Swansea during the grant term, we found that identifying cats in need required approximately 300% the amount of community outreach compared to Southwest Denver. The difference was especially stark when we look at pet cats- where we found more than 3 pet cats requiring services per hour of outreach in the Southwest Denver area, the same amount of outreach yielded less than one cat in 80216.

Several key demographic differences emerge as indicators to account for the difference in number of cats identified in these neighborhoods: population density, total population, land area and percentage of renters. The population density of Southwest is almost nine times higher than Elyria Swansea, and the total population is over five times higher, however the land area of Elyria is 30% larger than Southwest. As we know, even feral cats who are not social to people rely on humans as a food and shelter resource, so it is logical that areas denser in human population would see a correlating density of cat population. The percentage of renters in Elyria is 10-15% higher than in Southwest, which is a possible explanation for the significantly lower number of pet cats identified. Additionally, over 50% of renters in Elyria have no lease agreement, pointing to instability which makes pet ownership a challenge.

Along with implementing components of our successful service model, taking these demographic data points into account may be helpful for groups looking to design high-impact community cat programs. It is also helpful to consider the goals of the project design- if pet cats are a focus, neighborhoods with lower percentages of renters could be focused on. If the planned project has the resources to meet the demands of a highly dense neighborhood, groups should consider starting in these communities for maximum impact.

Groups can also consider conducting their own community survey of potential service neighborhoods, as we did in Southwest Denver and Elyria Swansea. Before project launch, randomly sampled residents were asked questions including: Have you seen kittens outside in your neighborhood in the past year? (20% said yes in Southwest, 30% said yes in Elyria) and Are you angry about outdoor cats in your neighborhood? (20% said yes in Southwest, 37% said yes in Elyria) With 220 hours of outreach and 18 months of service dedicated solely in our original focus area, we were able to see the percentage of residents seeing kittens outside and the percentage angry about outdoor cats both decrease to 3%. During the grant term we were able to complete 100 hours of outreach in Elyria and our services were spread between 4 zip codes, and therefore it is logical that our post grant survey did not record such drastic changes in neighborhood perception of cats. However we are confident that with more time working in this community, we will see comparable community impact.

We will incorporate the information collected during the grant term into our process of identifying new focus areas to replicate our program model in. We will also share our findings with other organizations that are seeking high-impact solutions for cat issues in their communities.


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