Twenty-five years ago–sometime between that childhood and today–Becky stumbled upon a colony of fat tuxedo (black and white) feral cats living in an alley in the Adams Morgan area of Washington D.C. Those cats lived to be 17-19 years old and no new cats were born into the colony. Why? Because of a TNR program. Becky launched Alley Cat Allies and subsequently National Feral Cat Day, which promoted and urged the implementation of TNR programs across the country. Becky traveled city-to-city giving presentations and educating people about TNR programs.
In order to control the feral cat population, it is essential to have these cats spayed/neutered. This is where TNR comes in. Because feral cats are adult cats that are not socialized to humans, a humane trap is set and once the cat, or cats, are inside, they are sedated. They are then examined, vaccinated, spayed/neutered and ear-tipped (some veterinarians will also microchip the cats). (Ear-tipping is a surgical procedure which involves the clipping off of 1 centimeter of one ear. Don’t worry, the cats are still under anesthesia during ear-tipping.) The cats are then placed back in the humane trap and returned to their pick-up location, where they recover overnight.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to the interview with Becky, who will be speaking in Norfolk this Saturday. (This was edited for clarity and readability.)
AltDaily: What are the changes you’ve seen since cities across the states have started their own TNR programs?
Becky: Feral cats are now called “Community Cats.”In Hampton Roads, the Norfolk SPCA and many other communities now have TNR programs. The concept of allowing cats to live out their lives is well known and is a new standard of care for cats; it’s mainstream. People can borrow a humane trap and learn how to use it and many places can now receive more than 1 cat per day. TNR is now practiced in every state (over 500 cities/counties have adopted ordinances and laws) and Washington D.C.
What are the challenges faced and how can these be overcome?
The status quo is for an animal control officer/dog catcher/part-time police officer to set traps for cats but it’s very indiscriminate and there is confusion about the laws and how they can be implemented. Removing a cat you may see doesn’t work, is cruel and is not a method of control. You may be trapping a mama cat who has kittens that are then left to die, or catching someone’s pet. And when they’re taken to shelters, they may be killed right away.
Those who have adopted the TNR laws now see that the old methods fail. Policy makers need to know that these out-of-date practices are no longer considered the best practice and has now been discredited. Thankfully, every single major national group (HSUS, ASPCA, etc.) endorses TNR. This is becoming what’s considered the future of animal control.
How can citizens help/how can they get involved?
Those feeding the cats should use a tracking sheet and write down every cat and kitten they see to initiate the trapping. When it’s time to humanely trap the cat(s) withhold food, set the trap correctly and once in the trap, transport them to a clinic with help from a neighbor. People can help by being part of this grassroots movement, educate others and dispel some of the common myths.
TNR stops the population from growing and stabilizes the colony. The cats can live out their lives, no new litters are born, and there is no new growth of the community, Feral cats/community cats that are spayed/neutered and vaccinated can live as long as a house cat (well into their teens). People enjoy having them around, they’re a healthy part of the community and they bring joy to people.
What are your philosophies on the relationship between people and animals?
Research shows that animals improve our health and reduce stress and blood pressure. We are a nation of animal lovers and people want animals to live out their lives. Americans love their animals and we are very close to them. There are millions of dogs in homes but even more cats in homes (more than 80 million); cats are the number one companion animal. Where there are kittens in cat communities people will bring them into their home. Americans are active in these programs with their time and financially (buying food, etc.). Many spay/neuter programs aren’t free so the caregivers pay out of their own pocket, living by the philosophy of “I get back more than I give.”
I also had the opportunity to speak with Rob Bilzard, Executive Director of the Norfolk SPCA, about their TNR program.
When did the Norfolk SPCA launch its TNR program?
Rob: We received a grant mid-2012 from PetSmart Charities and we completed the grant in January 2014. In the spring of 2013 we started more marketing around the issue (Hampton Roads Community Cat Caretakers). These community cats are everybody’s responsibility
About how many cats have been spayed/neutered/vaccinated in the TNR program by the Norfolk SPCA since its launch?
The grant covers 1,390 cats at no costs to the caretaker. So far we have spayed/neutered 1,200 cats.
What do you think of the community involvement?
We want everybody to be involved in this program. Most people will see a dog at-large and will call animal control because the assumption is that it’s someone’s pet. If someone sees a cat at-large there isn’t any urgency. But we need to pay attention to see outdoor cats, to look and see if there is someone taking care of that cat. We need people to educate themselves and others and give the TNR a try. It’s not rocket science, anyone can do it. The more people that engage in TNR, the fewer populated the community cat communities will be and there will be fewer in animal control center. Basically, don’t look the other way.
Becky Robinson will be speaking this Saturday, November 7th at 10:00 a.m. at the Norfolk Fitness & Wellness Center, located at 7300 Newport Avenue, Norfolk, VA. Her original presentation was rescheduled from October 3rd due to inclement weather. I urge you to attend her presentation, educate yourself on the importance of TNR programs and learn how to get involved. This interview is only a snippet of the wealth of information Becky will provide. Let’s work together to help lower the population of community cats, humanely.