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Ask the Expert: Juliana deRosa

Juliana deRosaJuliana deRosa is senior manager of community engagement for Alley Cat Allies and oversees the team responsible for National Feral Cat Day®, held each year on October 16th.

Q: How did you get involved in animal rights? What was your “click” moment?

A: I grew up on a farm in the western end of Loudoun County, VA with cats, dogs, goats, horses, and chickens in the backyard. My parents fostered an early love and respect for all animals.

As executive director at a small animal shelter north of Austin, TX, I managed a team of staff and volunteers that increased adoptions, improved facilities, and increased donor gifts in only 18 months. My “click” moment came when I moved back to the East Coast. I was employed by an organization whose executive director rejected progressive animal protection initiatives and public transparency. I made the decision to expose the truths regarding the welfare of the shelter animals under this director’s leadership, and was fired.

I knew my path had been set. I committed myself to finding an organization that represented the best in educating the masses on the truth about shelters and shelter reform. I found Alley Cat Allies.

Q: What is National Feral Cat Day®, and how does it fit into ACA’s mission?

A: National Feral Cat Day® was created to bring awareness to the unique needs of feral cats and the program known as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). We use NFCD every year as an educational tool and create all sorts of materials to get in the hands of caregivers and citizens concerned about the treatment of cats in their community. This is our big dance--no one else is doing this! Alley Cat Allies is the only national organization that exclusively speaks on behalf of feral cats. NFCD is the one time a year when everybody is learning about feral cats and TNR.

NFCD Team: Rebecca Katz, Office Cat Jazzy, Juliana deRosa, and Sophie WilmotQ: Describe the work involved in planning and launching NFCD year after year.

A: Planning for NFCD starts as early as January, with initial discussions about goals and that year’s theme. Spring is spent producing the materials we mail out, building the NFCD website, and promoting our awards. In 2012 we mailed hundreds of packets of materials that included posters, stickers, a “guide to community change,” and T-shirts, all free of charge, to event hosts so they could have the tools needed to have successful events.

Q: What’s the significance of the NFCD 2012 theme, “Changing Communities for Cats”?

A: After years of educating people about TNR (which is now mainstream), we recognized the need to bring about systemic change in communities. So we decided to challenge our constituents into putting efforts behind changing their communities. And they met the challenge head on! “Changing a community” can mean a variety of measures—from small steps to giant leaps, depending on where a community is in its evolution toward being a safe place for cats. We were excited that so many individuals and organizations stepped up and wanted to participate!

This year we introduced the opportunity for individuals and organizations to track the change in their own communities, and in others, through our NFCD website. In years past, NFCD has focused on single-day or month-long efforts. With this year’s theme, though, we wanted to track and share those long-term efforts in place for making communities safe places for cats. They’re great models for others to learn from. You can read about them at www.alleycat.org/NFCD.

Q: Describe some of the most memorable people, organizations, or events from NFCD 2012. How do they represent the theme of “Changing Communities for Cats”?

A: Dr. Paul Johnson, a veterinarian with the Animal Health Center in New York, donated 52 free spay/neuter surgeries for feral cats in honor of NFCD. According to one of his assistants, he frequently wears his “I Heart Feral Cats” pin (which he got from his NFCD toolkit!) on his scrubs. TNR’s not possible without contributing veterinarians. His generosity, devotion, and commitment to TNR are a shining example of how one person can make a difference for cats.

Q: What advice do you have for anyone interested in participating in NFCD for the first time?

A: Anyone entertaining the idea will have Alley Cat Allies’ support and encouragement, and access to staff to help with any coaching or feedback to make their effort successful. Whether your event is small or large, or something in between, its impact will be felt! It’s very rewarding to participate in NFCD, and it’s exciting to add your voice to hundreds, maybe thousands, who are speaking up on behalf of cats.