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Community Relations Resource Center
How to Resolve Issues about Cats with Others
Managing a feral cat colony involves more than just caring for cats—it means dealing with people, like neighbors and officials, in the community where the cats live. Just as you want to be heard and respected on behalf of cats, neighbors also want to know someone cares about and handles their concerns.
As you perform Trap-Neuter-Return or colony care, or even if you simply care about the welfare of your neighborhood cats, you may need to address your neighbors’ concerns about the cats. Your first step should always be educating your neighbors and community members about the cats to begin a dialogue with them.
If neighbors’ concerns are not alleviated, your next step is mediation. Alley Cat Allies does not mean “mediation” in the legal sense; we use “mediation” to mean resolving conflicts. Mediation is an important tool for resolving disputes between neighbors because it allows everyone a chance to speak and establishes an ongoing dialogue within the community.
If neighbors voice concerns about cats you are caring for, listen carefully to them and follow these steps to uncover the root cause of the concern or complaint and work towards a solution that meets the needs of the whole community, including the cats.
(Remember there are steps you can take preemptively that may help you avoid potential questions or concerns altogether.)
- If you just can’t remain calm when dealing with neighbors bring in a third party to help you negotiate. Put the discussion on hold and skip down to step 7 below.
- If someone is making threats to cats, remind them that feral cats are protected by anticruelty laws and read our Conflicts and Threats to Feral Cat Colonies section for how to proceed.
1. Make Contact
- Reach out – If someone in your community has concerns about cats, reach out to them and ask if there is a time you can get together to talk about their concerns. This emphasizes that you want to hear what they have to say and shifts the focus from the cats to the underlying concern.
- Use your judgment – Contact your neighbor in whatever mode (phone, mail or dropped-off note, email, in-person) you think they will be most comfortable with and most likely to respond to.
- Set up a meeting – Don’t knock on your neighbor’s door and expect them to sit down and talk about cats right away; they may feel confronted and get defensive. Planning a time and place to meet will allow you both to think things through and prepare.
2. Come prepared
- Gather information – Bring any vaccination records you have for the cats, as well as educational materials, such as our How to Live with Cats in Your Neighborhood brochures. These may come in handy if they have misconceptions about feral cats or Trap-Neuter-Return.
- Be professional – Your favorite cat shirt may seem like a good idea, but neighbors won’t take you seriously or believe that you are sincere about fairly addressing their concerns. Dress and act professional to show the community that you are organized and capable.
- Practice – Think about what you might share with the neighbor after you meet and listen to them. Use our How to Live with Cats in Your Neighborhood deterrent information and our educational information to help you prepare what you might say.
- Consider your bargaining chips – Think about the services you are already providing to the community and what else you are prepared to provide to get what you want for the cats. Review our bargaining chips guide for ideas on benefits you can offer—as well as what you should never offer—as you negotiate to help cats and people in your community co-exist. Your primary bargaining chip will always be that…
- You are already stabilizing—stopping the growth of—the colony through TNR – In our community relations experience, explaining that either all of the cats have been neutered, or that you are proactively working toward that goal, solves the majority of concerns right off the bat. You can inform people that there will be no more kittens once all of the adult cats are neutered. And, neutering will have the added benefit that the cats will rarely fight or roam.
3. Listen Carefully
- Understand the concern - To come up with an agreeable solution, you first need to understand the problem. Start out by asking your neighbors why they are concerned about the cats and what their experience with the cats has been, in chronological order from the beginning.
- Get beyond “I don’t like cats” as their answer – Sometimes, people will tell you at first that they just don’t like cats, but we’ve found that this is rarely true—and it is never the root of the dispute. There is always an underlying concern that can be addressed, so don’t let the conversation stop there. Ask follow up questions to help you sort out their specific concerns that you can address:
- What are the cats doing that’s bothering you?
- When did you start having concerns about the cats?
- Take notes – Writing down your neighbors’ concerns will help you remember the conversation accurately and show them that you are listening and engaged in the conversation.
- Sympathize – Even if you don’t agree, make sure neighbors know you understand why they are upset. Use phrases like “I understand, I wouldn’t want that either” or “I see where you’re coming from” to let them know their voices are being heard.
- Stay calm, don’t be defensive – It may be tempting to interrupt neighbors when they make incorrect assumptions about feral cats, but the key to mediation is active listening and understanding. Listening “actively” involves putting your emotions aside, asking questions and paraphrasing the person’s response, and using neutral body language, like direct eye contact and relaxed arms. You should also let others voice their entire concerns before calmly and sympathetically addressing them.
Tip: In our Community Relations podcast, Dawn Kua of The Cat Welfare Society in Singapore says she keeps calm during negotiations by remembering that being defensive and emotional will only make things worse for the cats.
4. Build Understanding
- Emphasize common ground – Start off by reminding your neighbor that you all share the same goal—you’re all there to help the community.
- Clear up misconceptions– Often, disputes over feral cat colonies result from misinformation. Once you have identified your neighbors’ concerns, you may be able to address them simply through education. Learn more in the Educate Your Neighbors section of the Community Relations Guide.
- Feral cats live healthy lives outdoors. If neighbors are concerned about feral cats suffering from or spreading disease, explain that scientific studies have proven that feral cats are healthy. Show them vaccination records for the colony and direct them to our Feral Cat Health webpage for more information.
- Trap-Neuter-Return is the only effective method for feral cats. Depending on their specific concerns, explain to your neighbors that:
- Trap-Neuter-Return works, and scientific studies have proven its benefits to both the cats and the community.
- Feral cats are not candidates for adoption at shelters, even though this is widely—and wrongly—believed.
- Communities all over America have embraced TNR. “Emphasize that this is how it’s done,” advises Emily Facet, Alley Cat Allies’ Outreach and Education Coordinator. "Communities in every landscape live with feral cats and have found that TNR is the program that works for everyone, everywhere—the people and the cats.”
- Calling animal control about a feral cat is almost certainly going to get the cat killed. Many people simply do not know that reporting the cats to animal control is a death sentence. Once they understand this, most people will choose to work with you on a humane solution.
- The cats are part of the community and nothing you can do will make them “just go away.”
- Trap-Neuter-Return and community relations address the concerns of the entire community now and develop an ongoing, long-term way to live peacefully with feral cats.
- Relocation and catch and kill don’t work. Not only are these methods cruel, but as a result of the vacuum effect, residents will be engaged in an endless cycle of calling, trapping, and killing. Our “The Truth about the Vacuum Effect” truth card is especially handy for explaining this to neighbors.
5. Working Towards a Solution
- Mediation is a compromise – “Right off the bat, everyone is going to have to make concessions,” says Facet. This is the nature of mediation: to meet in the middle, both sides will have to give up some ground. However…
- You Are Offering a Valuable Community Service – Cats and people are both part of the community. By trying to help them co-exist, you’re doing everyone a favor. Be confident, don’t sell yourself short, and don’t compromise on the safety of the cats.
- Use Your Notes – Analyze your neighbors’ complaints to see what bargaining chips would address their concerns. For example, if they are concerned about cats in their flower beds, you could offer to perform and fulfill a property assessment—a suggestion from the “Addressing Neighbors’ Concerns” section of our Bargaining Chips guide.
- Offer Appropriate Bargaining Chips – Offer and explain the services you think will work best for everyone and negotiate an agreement from there. Remember that making small concessions is going to help you achieve your larger goal—protection for the cats. Learn more about Bargaining Chips.
6. Finalizing the Agreement
- Get It in Writing – A handshake is nice, but if there is a dispute later on, it won’t help you clear up the terms of the agreement. After your meeting, follow up with an agreement that you both sign, stating the resolution you worked out, so that both parties have it in writing. This document will be your proof that you addressed your neighbors’ concerns and you both agreed on a plan.
- Establish a Timeline – Modifying cats’ behavior and stabilizing a population through TNR takes time. Establish a realistic timeline to ensure that neighbors will give the new method time to take effect. Include the timeline in your written agreement. Use our sample written consultation form, or sample agreement.
- Be a Community Contact – Community Relations is an ongoing process. Your goal is to make it easier for neighbors to call you than to call animal control, which means being accessible and providing support. Pass out your contact information (phone, email, etc. so people can choose how to contact you) and establish yourself as the person to call with feral cat questions and concerns.
7. Bring In an Objective Mediator
If you can’t discuss your neighbors’ concerns calmly or if you have a history of conflicts with a particular neighbor, find an objective third party to mediate. Mediators must be familiar with feral cat issues in order to keep cruel or ineffective solutions off the table. Request a list of Feral Friends in your area to see if one of them can mediate for you.
Tips for Third-Party Mediators:
Mediation is a crucial first step in addressing your neighbors’ concerns and you should feel great about reaching a solution that works for everyone. Just by talking, educating and offering bargaining chips, you have protected cats’ lives. The next steps are just as important: Now it’s time to put your plan in action and fulfill the agreement you made to improve the community for people and cats!
- Meet with each side separately to make sure you’re getting the whole story, without interruption.
- Emphasize that you are not taking sides.
- Determine what each party thinks is the problem; both sides don’t always agree on what they’re arguing about.
- Ask to hear the story chronologically, from the beginning. Follow up with questions, such as “When was your first dispute with your neighbor?” Often, you’ll find that the dispute between neighbors started before the cats even entered the picture.
- Remember that you’re not there to enforce rules or judge right from wrong. Your job as a mediator is to facilitate discussion and come up with an agreement both sides can agree upon.
- Remember that feral cat caregivers may be able to incorporate or learn new ways to improve their caregiving routine that will resolve the dispute. Many caregivers have not had enough experience to know specific tricks of the trade.
- Check out the neighborhood for yourself, unannounced, to make sure you’re getting the whole picture. It’s unlikely that either party with tell you everything, so a visit will help you fill in the gaps.