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4) Responding to Local Crises

The following information should help you in determining how to respond to a variety of situations that might arise in your area. The key to any response is to remain calm at all times and to make sure that any comments you make are grounded in truth and fact. Look for the positive angle.

  • Gather the Facts – Again
    When you hear that there is a crisis in your area, gather all of the information you possibly can, using this classic model. You need basic information, but do not get bogged down in the details while the animals are being harmed or killed.

    • Who? Who, if anyone, takes care of the cats? Who decided the cats should be removed? How many cats are involved? Are any other groups already involved with this situation?

    • What? What exactly happened? Is there anything available in writing (a citation, order, contract, etc.)? Have any cats been removed? Killed? Answering this question provides the basic facts of the situation.

    • When? Prepare a timeline of the situation making it as specific as possible. This will not only help you stay organized, but it may allow you to connect events as you find out more. (For example, a new head lifeguard was hired on June 10, and on June 13 an announcement was made that all cats would be trapped and removed from the beach. Do not assume things are connected: perhaps a trap and remove policy had been discussed by beach management for months before the new policy was announced.)

    • Where? Where is the crisis occurring and who will it impact? A neighborhood? A state? This will help you determine who to alert about the crisis.

    • Why? You may never figure out why people do the things they do, but you may be able to find a little insight into a particular decision. Was the landlord’s daughter scratched by a cat? Was the neighbor a superior landscaper, unhappy with the cats in her garden? Did an opposing group meet with the city council? Did a cat walk across the hood of a car—the last straw for someone in the community?

  • Know Your Enemy (and know they probably are not really your enemy) - People often make decisions based on missing or sometimes bad information. Remember when you are working with your opponent that he or she may not really be against nonlethal feral cat management, but instead has never heard of it. Or perhaps a friend or family member shared part of a feral cat story without revealing all of the details. Find out what your opponent knows and how she or he defined their stance on the issue before trying to rectify the situation. The solution may be as simple providing accurate information to help your opponent make a well-informed decision.

  • Identify the Decision Makers - Determine who is involved in the decision making process. This may include animal control, elected officials, public health officials, etc. Review the agency structure, responsibilities, and previous policy decisions. Talk to people who have participated in similar campaigns before and find out who really holds the power and has the ability to influence those people. Narrow your list so you can focus your work and attention on just one or two decision makers.

  • Request a Meeting - Send a letter, preferably by certified mail or signature receipt, asking to meet with the key decision maker. Ask for a response by a specific date and give time to respond. If there is no response, always follow up with a phone call.

    If the situation merits it, you may also ask for a moratorium on the action that you are trying to stop or an extension on the deadline to remove cats if there was one given.

    Send the letter on organizational letterhead. Make sure you have a few people read your letter to ensure that it reads well, remains positive, and is free of grammatical errors.

  • Document Your Efforts - When trying to set up a meeting or make contact with decision makers, document your efforts. Keep copies of letters and write down the dates and times that you leave telephone messages. If you write an email, if possible, send it with a read receipt and delivery confirmation. If you still have not received a response or the decision maker refuses to meet with you, the situation may require confrontation.

  • Do Not Let Anyone Minimize Your Concerns - You may be passed from one person to the next or told you can meet with a lower level official. Do not agree to meet with someone who does not have decision making power. Be persistent.

  • Develop Your Written Campaign Plan - You already have most of the information you need to develop your plan. Learn more about creating a strategic campaign plan.

Next Step: Negotiating with decision makers.

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