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Substantial societal investment is made in the management of free-roaming cats by various methods, with goals of such programs commonly including wildlife conservation, public health protection, nuisance abatement, and/or promotion of cat health and welfare. While there has been a degree of controversy over some of the tactics employed, there is widespread agreement that any method must be scientifically based and sufficiently focused, intensive and sustained in order to succeed. The vast majority of free-roaming cat management in communities takes place through local animal shelters. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, this consisted primarily of ad hoc admission of cats captured by members of the public, with euthanasia being the most common outcome. In North America alone, hundreds of millions of cats have been impounded and euthanized and billions of dollars invested in such programs. Given the reliance on this model to achieve important societal goals, it is surprising that there has been an almost complete lack of published research evaluating its success. Wildlife conservation and public health protection will be better served when debate about the merits and pitfalls of methods such as Trap-Neuter-Return is grounded in the context of realistically achievable alternatives. Where no perfect answer exists, an understanding of the potential strengths and shortcomings of each available strategy will support the greatest possible mitigation of harm—the best, if still imperfect, solution. Animal shelter function will also benefit by discontinuing investment in methods that are ineffective as well as potentially ethically problematic. This will allow the redirection of resources to more promising strategies for management of cats as well as investment in other important animal shelter functions. To this end, this article reviews evidence regarding the potential effectiveness of the three possible shelter-based strategies for free-roaming cat management: the traditional approach of ad hoc removal by admission to the shelter; admission to the shelter followed by sterilization and return to the location found; and leaving cats in place with or without referral to mitigation strategies or services provided by other agencies.