Million Cat Challenge & University of Florida Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program
Tell us about you and your history in animal welfare
I live in Jacksonville Florida and have been here since 2002. I grew up in a military family and then married into the military so I have spent my entire life moving around. Jacksonville is where I’ve lived in the longest so I’m happy to now have a place that I can call home.
I work for the University of Florida’s Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program and Million Cat Challenge. I consult with public and private animal welfare organizations around the country to identify barriers to lifesaving, help them implement best practices and to share strategies on how to work smarter not harder. I specialize in community cat management, targeted spay/neuter and successful open adoption programs.
I started volunteering with a Weimaraner rescue organization in Dallas, Texas and as I would visit shelters to transfer dogs, I noticed how poorly the cats had it in every shelter. When I moved to Jacksonville I started volunteering with a local cat sanctuary and it soon consumed me. When my ‘real job’ was eliminated through corporate downsizing I was offered a position at First Coast No More Homeless Pets as their Program Director. FCNMHP is a high volume spay/neuter clinic whose mission was to end euthanasia in Jacksonville’s city shelters. FCNMHP’s success in Jacksonville lead to forming a new organization called Target Zero which is where I started consulting with other shelters around the country and that lead to my current role at UF.
What are you most proud of so far in your career?
I love seeing shelters that are struggling with overcrowding and high euthanasia implement the recommended strategies and see immediate positive results. The hardest part of my job is giving staff and leadership the courage to step outside of their comfort zone and overcome fears … once they do that they finally realize that what I’ve been saying isn’t ‘crazy’ and that it works! When they become the preachers to their neighboring shelters who are also struggling, that gives me a huge sense of accomplishment.
What's something related to animal welfare that you're super passionate about and want others to learn more about?
Community cat programs are definitely my passion! I can talk about cats all day long and am so lucky that my job allows me to do just that! I started the Feral Freedom program in Jacksonville in July 2008. It was a partnership between FCNMHP (the high volume s/n clinic) and our city shelter to transfer all community cats from the shelter (whether they were friendly or feral) to the clinic for spay/neuter, vaccinations and ear tip before returning them to their outdoor homes. Even though I was experienced in TNR I was scared out of my mind to run this program. I faced a lot of opposition from field staff (aka animal control officers) at the shelter and was repeatedly told that this program was going to fail and that we were doing an awful thing for the cats.
I’m happy to report that 11 years and 30,000+ cats later we know that people were talking from a place of fear and we’ve been able to bust those myths. It is now our culture that community cats do not enter the shelter and are instead taken directly to the s/n clinic for sterilization and returned to their outdoor home. Not only has this saved the lives of tens of thousands of cats, but it has allowed our shelter to focus its limited resources on those who truly need help.
Tell us something about yourself people might be surprised to learn
Even though I grew up with dogs and cats, I always considered myself more of a dog person. I have a not so secret addiction to senior Chihuahuas. I currently have 6 mostly toothless misunderstood Chis that I’ve adopted from shelters around the country including my latest a 17 year old from Puerto Rico.
My other secret crush is donkeys… I just love them! I got to visit a shelter last month that had a sweet one!
Who is your animal welfare crush?
Since starting my animal welfare career in 2008 I have always been in awe of Dr. Julie Levy from the University of Florida. Whenever I had the opportunity to work with her over the years, the hero worship continued. When I had the opportunity to become an official member of her team in 2017 I had to pinch myself! I still can’t believe how lucky I am to work with such an incredible mentor!
Visit MillionCatChallenge.org to learn more
Thanks for the interview, Cameron and all of the awesome resources you have shared and provided in the Maddie's Pet Forum community!
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