Of the 3.4 million cats that arrive in U.S. animal shelters annually, 1.3 million of them are euthanized, but a new shelter-based campaign wants to change that.

The Million Cat Challenge is a joint project of the University of California Davis' Koret Shelter Medicine Program, the University of Florida's Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program and hundreds of North American animal shelters.

The challenge is designed to save the lives of a million felines over five years by helping animal shelters implement key initiatives that reduce euthanasia rates for cats.

"Participating shelters can focus on one, some or all of the initiatives, depending on what's right for their organization and community," Kate Hurley, director of UC Davis' Koret Shelter Medicine program, said in a news release.

The initiative was inspired by the 5 Million Lives Campaign, which aimed to prevent 5 million incidents of medical harm in U.S. hospitals from 2006 to 2008. Participating hospitals implemented one or more tactics designed to save lives, and the results were dramatic, with millions of medical mistakes prevented.

Drawing on the success of that campaign, Hurley discussed ideas to save cats' lives with more than 1,000 shelter managers and staff at the Humane Society of the United States Expo in 2013.

Afterward, she asked how many incidents of feline euthanasia could be prevented by implementing the tactics, and the response was more than 10,000 cats.

"When we got home from Expo, our email boxes were full from people who were desperate to help cats in their shelters," Hurley told the Veterinary Information Network. "They were hungry for new opportunities to change how their shelters managed cats."

The Million Cat Challenge key initiatives are designed for animal control facilities, private shelters and individual rescuers, and they focus on balancing the intake of cats, ensuring humane care and implementing trap-neuter-release programs.

In addition to coaching organizations on how to implement these plans, the Million Cat Challenge also provides participants with articles, case studies and webinars.

There's even a private online forum where they can interact with peers and veterinarians.

"We expect some of the most valuable information each shelter will get will come from the other participating shelters," said Julie Levy of the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine. "This effort is based on collaboration and the sharing of resources.”

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