By Becky Robinson, President of Alley Cat Allies
Last summer Alley Cat Allies took part in a large, island-wide Trap-Neuter-Return effort on the remote Tangier Island, Va., for a weekend spay/neuter clinic. Not unusual, really, until you consider that Tangier has almost as many cats as it has human residents.
The tiny watermen’s village off the coast of the Eastern Shore has no veterinary office, but islanders do right by the more than 400 community cats who live there by regularly inviting veterinarians and volunteers from the mainland to help with Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), the only humane approach to stabilizing feral cat populations. As part of TNR, stray and feral cats living outdoors are humanely trapped, vaccinated, sterilized and eartipped by veterinarians. Socialized cats and kittens are put up for adoption, and healthy cats are returned to their outdoor homes.
Tangier’s TNR program, spearheaded by CHASE (Caring Hands Animal Support & Education) of Northern Virginia, is proof positive that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Plus, it reflects how Americans feel: National polls show that an overwhelming majority do not support the senseless rounding up and killing of healthy cats. Nationally, 70 percent of all cats and virtually 100 percent of feral cats are killed in our nation’s animal pound and shelter system. But cats are also America’s favorite pet, and people don’t want taxpayer dollars spent on catching and killing them, as shelters have done for decades.
There is proof that we are moving in a humane direction: More than 350 local governments now endorse TNR, hundreds of shelters sponsor TNR, and there are millions of caregivers who help feral cats every day.
As momentum for this movement builds, more and more city officials, shelter staff and residents are interested in learning how to protect cats in their own communities, which is why Alley Cat Allies will hold a national conference, Architects of Change for Cats, between Nov. 8 and 10 in Arlington, Va. Cat advocates, activists and experts will gather under one roof to address community change. We will provide attendees with blueprints and tools that will help them fulfill their vision of creating caring communities for cats. Attendees will also hear from shelter industry leaders who will discuss how every shelter can change their approach to community cats.
One success story, among many, that will be highlighted at the conference is Fairfax County in Virginia, a model community located just minutes from our conference site in the Washington metropolitan area. Tawny Hammond, director of the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, will outline the implementation steps for launching a shelter TNR program. TNR, shelter officials say, has made a “huge and positive difference” for both animals and staff at the shelter.
In October 2008, Fairfax County Animal Shelter officially launched its TNR program. To date, more than 3,500 feral cats have gone through TNR, and the shelter’s cat intake has dropped by 16 percent from 2008 to 2012. The shelter has also achieved a 58 percent decrease in the number of feral kittens in its foster care program, and it has become a powerful advocate for expansion of TNR throughout the greater Washington area.
The program enjoys the wholehearted support of the community. More than 350 residents volunteer for the shelter and help manage feral cat colonies. The county has no laws prohibiting free roaming cats, and citizens are urged to take advantage of the TNR program for any community cats
Fairfax’s success with Trap-Neuter-Return can be replicated. Attendees at the Alley Cat Allies conference will come away with easy-to-implement tools, skills and programs that will empower them to build sustainable, lifesaving programs for cats where they live, whether it’s a community as large as Fairfax County or as small as Tangier Island.
Visit www.alleycat.org/conference for more information about speakers and sessions and how to register.
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