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Bowie, MD 20718
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Last Updated:
7/24/2014 6:10 PM
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   how do we even get started to find like minded people?

Question from Stacey:

I am very interested in starting a feral cat trap-neuter-return program in my city but I don't know where to begin to find others who are interested. I know there is a large stray cat problem, and know of some feeders, but many of them want to stay underground for fear of having their colonies discovered and killed (animal control does remove colonies if they know where they are). How do you start finding others who want to become involved and how do you make them feel safe to start publicizing efforts? We don't want to start publicizing what we are doing only to get animal control upset and trying to stop our efforts.

Nathan Winograd's response:

That is the primary problem with an animal control model based on trapping and killing. It pushes compassionate people underground and they can't partner to share resources, expertise, and to help one another. It also makes the community see the shelter not as an ally, but as an enemy.

I had a history professor in college, an old-timer. Notorious liberal. I liked him. He stirred the pot. He told us once that he taught a night history class, with a liberal bent, post-McCarthy to adults and passed around a sign in sheet. He noticed the older folks would never sign it. At first he thought nothing of it, but since it was consistent, he finally asked a couple people why not. The response was uniform. They didn't want their name on a list for a class taught by him. They lived through McCarthy and did not want to be stigmatized. Didn't trust the government. And he, they were sure, was on their list somewhere in some agency as, what they call, a "person of interest."

We live in a post-McCarthy era feral cat wise. People do not trust animal control, with good reason. I don't care who is running the shelter. I don't care how enlightened, supportive, progressive the shelter is. I don't care who is asking. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER reveal your colony locations unless there is a damn good reason (and even then, be general). It is none of the shelter's business and they shouldn't ask for it. And if you run a shelter, do NOT require that caretakers tell you where their colonies are: a lot of caretakers won't come forward and a lot of "feeders" won't get help to become "caretakers" (spay/neuter, vax, etc.). So when you try to find like minded folks, don't ask and don't tell.

Animal Control cannot stop you from associating with like minded people who share your love of cats, nor do I believe they would wantto. If the animal control agency is that backward in your community, then work around them for a while. When I was a district attorney we had a secretary in our office who would talk your ear off, never did work, complained constantly, and was always behind. But she had been there so long and was such a fixture, none dared terminate her. So what did we do? We worked around her. Like a rock in a river. If the river can't dislodge it and send it on its way, the water goes around it, goes over it, goes under it. But what happens over time? As the water gets stronger, keeps coming, little by little the rock begins to erode until it is finally crumbled, dislodged and sent away. A tiny river became a torrent that created the Grand Canyon. That is what is happening with TNR on a local level and on a national level.

Start a group. It can be small at first. There is no correct model. Start with a couple of traps. Start trapping. Neutering. Releasing. If you come across a feeder, talk to them. Offer to trap and neuter their cats. Use the internet, publicize your efforts, always working around animal control. You don't have to meet in secret. So long as the locations of colonies aren't made public, meet in their lobby! Who cares. There is nothing they can do.

I go back to my favorite example. Five people and three traps in San Francisco became 1,100 users of the SPCA's TNR program--over 10,000 surgeries, and a decline in feral deaths of over 70% at the city pound. It all started with one meeting.