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Changing Communities for Cats: A Tale of Two Kitties

Every morning after the city’s gridlock has peaked, Dolores Smith loads up her old Volvo with kibble and canned cat food and starts driving through Washington, D.C. By lunchtime she’ll have visited three neighborhoods where hungry feral cats will be anticipating the sound of her car.

A decade ago Dolores realized that even small efforts for cats could make a big difference. Animal control was rounding up feral cats in an alley about four blocks from her house and taking them to the shelter to be killed. Catch and kill was the norm. Policy or no policy, she wanted to help those cats.

Soon she’d worked with a neighbor and gotten the cats spayed and neutered. “I took them as my own,” she remembers, about 16 in all.

She’s since taken on two other colonies, all in working-class urban neighborhoods. The cats—all trapped, neutered and returned—congregate in alleyways used by residents and garbage collectors. Vet bills, food, time—she’s all in.

Dolores is fortunate to live in a community that now embraces Trap-Neuter-Return. In spring of 2004, Alley Cat Allies approached the D.C. Department of Public Health with a proposal to establish a TNR pilot program. And the department accepted it—funded primarily by Alley Cat Allies and promoted to city residents as a partnership between the department, Alley Cat Allies, and other local animal protection organizations. Under the program, animal control officers and shelter officials referred calls about feral cats to Alley Cat Allies, which then worked with residents and volunteers like Dolores to humanely trap cats and bring them to local clinics for subsidized spay/neuter and other veterinary services.

And it got even better for the cats: In 2008 the District passed a law that requires the Animal Care and Control Agency to practice Trap-Neuter-Return in managing the feral cat population, provided that all efforts are made to adopt out a trapped, tamable kitten.

Sustainable change was in the air.

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This year’s National Feral Cat Day® theme is Changing Communities for Cats, and Washington, D.C. has proven that it’s possible to turn around the places where we live, even communities as vast as our nation’s capital. Dolores was going to help those cats in her neighborhood no matter what. And now she and the hundreds of caregivers like her are doing so out in the open, without fear of animal control.

The gorgeous cats featured on our logo this year are in Dolores’ care. One’s a dilute calico, the other a buff tabby. We affectionately call them Fred and Ginger. They’re happy, healthy, loved. They’re family. Their colony has thrived for almost a decade.

“These guys are proof that the dream for a safe place for cats can be a reality,” says Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies. “This is what National Feral Cat Day® is all about—working to make it accepted and legal to do what’s right. That’s what cats in every community deserve.”