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Bargaining Chips: How and What Services to Provide to Get What You Want when Negotiating on Behalf of Cats

Want a win for the cats? You have what it takes to get what you want!

When you’re negotiating on behalf of cats, the first thing to do is recognize that you’ve got multiple bargaining chips at your disposal—actions you can take, items you can provide, or services you can offer.

If you’re hoping for a compromise, it is important for both sides to have things to offer. You can’t tell decision or policy makers that they have to make changes if you don’t also have some of your own solutions and resources at the ready.

Some bargaining chip tips:

  • Remember, always think in terms of what you can realistically offer; you don’t want to promise more than you can deliver.
  • You may already be providing some of these services. If that is the case, don’t overlook them as bargaining chips. Your opposition may not know you are providing these services, or they may not understand how the steps you are taking directly benefit the community. Take the time to break down everything you do and include this information in your negotiation.
  • Some of these bargaining chips could cost you money. Alley Cat Allies has ideas on how to make providing them more affordable, including resources for obtaining food and for helping you cover emergency veterinary costs. Read more about finding ways to help provide the services listed below.
  • Be sure to read our negotiating tips, mediating tips—these will also help in your discussions. If a back-and-forth dialogue doesn’t yield a positive outcome for the cats, it’s time to kick into high gear and launch a campaign on behalf of cats.
  • Once you come to a resolution, use our sample agreement to get any terms in writing.

Bargaining Chips:


Trap-Neuter-Return is not only in the best interest of the cats, it is the best method for the community. Trap-Neuter-Return is a lynchpin of any successful community program for stray and feral cats. By ensuring the cats are sterilized, you are stabilizing the population (no more kittens), as well as eliminating behaviors such as howling, spraying, and fighting; you are making the cats better neighbors.

Break down the various elements of a TNR program (stabilizing the population, finding homes for tame cats) and offer them each as benefits to the community. If you have already performed TNR for the entire colony, there is still more you can do.

  • Place the tame cats and kittens that you can into foster or adoptive homes. The most important thing is always to TNR the animals you do see, regardless of socialization. If you can find foster and adoptive homes, you can trap cats who are friendly to humans as well as kittens. This can have an impact on perceived colony size.

  • Expand your reach. If all the cats in your colony are already neutered, remind your opponent that you are vigilantly trapping and neutering any new cats who enter the colony. Consider offering to work with other local colony caregivers to ensure their colonies are properly managed with TNR as well. You could also institute targeted trapping, expanding TNR in a logical manner, making sure the best, most effective approach is being used across the entire community. Learn more about targeted trapping

    Another cat population possibility: neighborhood pet cats. You could leaflet information about local spay/neuter resources, ask a spay/neuter clinic to provide discounted surgeries, provide transportation to the surgery locations, and/or if you can afford it, offer to pay for the surgeries yourself.

  • Provide financial support. If you’re volunteering or working for a TNR group or humane organization, see if the organization can pay for all of the neuter surgeries. If you’re working as an individual, this can be a tall order. Consider holding a fundraiser in the neighborhood and soliciting donations—remember, you are providing a service to your community, and there are probably many people who would be happy to contribute to your worthy cause.

    At the very least, see if you can decrease the cost of the surgeries, whether you or your opposition are picking up the tab: research low-cost spay/neuter services in your community through our Feral Friends Network using our Email Assistance Form, talk to your veterinarian about donating services, or contact a local TNR group about their programs.

Colony Care – Best Practices

Ensure that best practices for colony care are in use. The colony and feral cats are only as good as their caregiver. This is an excellent bargaining chip, and it is a quick and easy way to alleviate concerns. These same practices will also guarantee that the cats are being well cared for. Read more colony care tips in our colony care guide.


    Build feeding stations for the cats. If the cats are not already being fed from a feeding station, now is the time to introduce one. Feeding stations help protect the food from the elements if there is a roof. And, it allows for the use of insect-proof bowls and other devices to be used so the cat food remains bug free. Employing a feeding station also helps with Trap-Neuter-Return efforts, since feeding cats at the same time and place every day makes it easy to know where and when to trap. Use our plans for building a feral cat feeding station.

    Feeding stations also make a TNR program more legitimate—they are clear reminders that the cats are cared for and about.

    TIP: Use the feeding station area to educate others—many caregivers post signs providing information about how to contribute or volunteer, and explaining that the cats are fed on a schedule (and so people should not leave food).

    Strategically locate feeding stations and shelters. Cats tend to congregate around their food sources. Move the feeding station and the cats will follow—giving you an easy way to respond to neighborhood concerns. Feeding stations should be moved gradually so that the cats will follow the movement. It is appropriate to move them a few hundred feet at a time, making sure the cats can always see the feeding station from the previous location.

    If you have been prohibited from entering private property in order to keep feeding the cats, you can try to move the feeding site to a nearby property where you are allowed. Be sure to talk to the owner or property manager of the new location first. This will allow you to keep caring for the cats. Negotiate a schedule to move the feeding station off the property with your opposition. It helps for them to see a plan—and action.

    Conceal feeding stations. Lower the cats’ profile by camouflaging feeding stations or placing them away from high-traffic areas or private property. Paint the feeding station green or brown, hide it in a wooded area, or cover it with leaves. It’s important that the stations and shelters are out of sight if at all possible.

  • Use these same tactics for CAT SHELTERS: build them, move and strategically place them if necessary, and conceal them. Our guide of different shelters, grouped by degree of difficulty and gathered from feral cat experts around the country can help.

  • Provide litter boxes for the colony. To keep cats from using neighborhood gardens as litter boxes, build one or more litter box or place sand or peat moss in strategic areas for the cats to use as litter (do not use conventional litter; the weather will ruin it). Be sure that the litter area is in a quiet, sheltered space. Scoop regularly to alleviate odors and keep flies away. Be prepared to scoop more often in hot weather. If a neighbor is upset because he is finding cat feces in his yard, you can offer to install an outdoor litter box in a neighboring yard or concealed public area (like an area behind a tree line). The cats will prefer using a litter box full of sand and will stop using his yard for their litter area.

    Install deterrents to keep cats away from gardens.

  • Make sure all caregivers know and understand proper colony care protocols. People who care for feral cat colonies have the cats’ best interest at heart—but they don’t always know what they should be doing to ensure the cats’ safety and comfort. Reference our colony care guide and help others understand the importance of feeding at the same time and place every day, only putting out enough food for cats to finish in one meal, and removing any food (and plates or dishes) the cats don’t eat after 30 minutes. Also encourage caregivers to partner together to provide care; that way there is no overlap in coverage and everyone follows the same schedule.
  • Keep accurate records and share the information. It’s always a good idea to keep track of all cats in every colony under your care—their medical records, their age, and more. Use Alley Cat Allies' feral cat colony tracking system to help. Also, tracking the progress of TNR in your colony can be used as a bargaining chip to buy you time as you gather evidence and statistics. Track how many cats have been neutered, how many kittens and socialized cats have been adopted, and how the colony population has changed over time (the percentage of reduction). This information helps demonstrate that TNR has stabilized the colony and that you are keeping close tabs on the colony—and will always help you make your case. It will also prepare you to be able to say succinctly “I have reduced the number of cats by more than half in two years.”

  • Keep it clean. When following proper colony care guidelines, you’re picking up food after 30 minutes and providing specific locations for feeding and sheltering. These things help to keep the location looking spiffy. Make sure that others are also following these guidelines, as well as the age-old saying “leave it cleaner than when you came.” Even if the trash and debris isn’t yours, it’s great community relations to clean it up anyway. Offering to clean up the areas where colonies live is also something to offer when negotiating—it shows you’re taking responsibility for the area and improving it!

Educate Your Community - Dispelling Myths and changing attitudes

Education is a keystone for TNR programs. Educating members of the community and fostering support for your program is always a good idea. But, you can also offer it as a bargaining chip. Decision makers may be more likely to get on board if they know you are organizing other people and neighbors for your program—and that someone is responding to the issue at hand, and being responsive to your community’s needs. This is a golden opportunity for expanding your program’s reach. If people know there are answers at hand and know something is being done for the cats, your program will get the support you need to continue or even recruit volunteers!

  • Hold a regular Helping Community Cats Workshop –Teach people about feral cats, Trap-Neuter-Return, and cat deterrents by hosting a regular workshop in your area. These workshops are also great for networking with other likeminded individuals in your community. Learn more about how to put on a workshop. Learn more about how to put on a workshop.

  • Spread the word. Hand out flyers, doorhangers, or brochures with information about feral cats and Trap-Neuter-Return. List your contact information on it—by becoming a point person for the project, you are letting others know that you are available to address any issues or concerns that may arise. Go to the Educate Your Neighbors section to learn more about all of the tools at your disposal.

Address Neighbors’ Concerns

Feral cats often come to the forefront of community discussions because a few individuals become vocal about not wanting them around.

When negotiating, consider offering to address community members’ concerns on an individual basis. You will be demonstrating to decision makers that you are willing to work with neighbors to get to the root of their issue, while ensuring the cats’ safety. This is also a good time to point out that while people may want the cats “gone,” most people don’t want them to be killed.

  • Perform property assessments. Set up appointments with concerned community members and visit their property to gauge the situation. Talk to each person about their concerns and about where they are seeing cats. Look at each location and consider the best way to respond to their specific concerns in a humane and effective way.

  • Consult with individuals on the best approach that will respond to their concerns. There are many safe, low-tech methods to discourage feral cats from hanging out in gardens, yards, porches, or on vehicles or other places where they are not wanted. If you can, offer to provide and apply these methods for neighbors at your own expense. If cost is an issue, consider pooling resources with other caregivers to cover the cost. Remember, not all deterrents need to be high tech or expensive! Some easy fixes are very affordable, such as lemon peels, coffee grounds, chopsticks, and rocks.

    Along with deterring cats from areas where they are not wanted, you can also offer to implement changes that will encourage the cats to spend more time in areas where they are welcome. See the above “Colony Care” section for more information about how moving feeding stations and shelter can help cats move to areas where they are appreciated. Make it official by using a form for property assessments and consultations, so you are documenting all of your efforts and getting any agreement in writing.

  • Find all of our tips for How to Live with Cats in Your Neighborhood, and learn more about how to talk to your neighbors in our “How to Resolve Issues” section.

Bargaining Chips that Regularly Backfire

It can be tempting to acquiesce or offer options that your opposition will easily accept, like relocating cats or taking them to a sanctuary. But remember two things: 1) There is no “magic barn” that can house all of the cats people want to relocate; and 2) These approaches are not in the best interests of the cats, and that is really your number one goal.

For example, if animal control agrees to stop trapping a feral cat colony in exchange for relocation of all remaining cats, you have not made an agreement that benefits the cats. As you will read below, the cats’ lives are still in jeopardy because relocation is dangerous.

Additionally, these methods just don’t work—any method used to remove cats from an area is guaranteed to end in failure. Scientific evidence indicates that removing feral cat populations only opens up the habitat to an influx of new cats, either from neighboring territories or born from those cats inevitably left behind. Each time cats are removed, the population will rebound through a natural phenomenon known as the “vacuum effect.” Learn more about the vacuum effect.

So, when talking with your opposition, it’s important to point out that removing cats from an area will only ensure that the same conflicts will arise in the future, thus continuing the original problem that you are negotiating to resolve.

  • Relocation

    When dealing with situations where tensions are high, calls to “just move the cats” are extremely common. And it might seem like a great, easy solution to everyone—including you! Although moving the cats to places that appear safer may seem like a win for everyone, it is actually a misguided assumption.

    The fact is that relocation is not a win for the cats. Like us, cats build a connection to their home. If they are moved, they will feel completely out of place and likely attempt to return to their previous home. Relocation should only be considered if the cats are in imminent danger of death or injury (i.e., a building being torn down for new construction). Also, relocating cats is not easy—there are many steps that must be followed for it to be successful. It’s a time-consuming task that can easily fail, putting the cats’ lives in danger.

    A far better course of action is to resolve the problems that are causing the cats to be forced out of their established home. Be sure to review our tips for negotiating, campaigning, and educating. Please do not give up! Use your expertise and knowledge to fight this tactic.

    Only after you have exhausted all possibilities and you truly believe that the cats’ lives are in danger if they remain, should you consider relocation. Moving a colony of feral cats—and convincing them to stay—is a complex process. The process involves specific procedures, starting with finding a suitable new habitat or location, that must be followed without shortcuts if you want the cats to remain and survive at the relocation site. If you do indeed decide that moving a colony is your only option, refer to our Safe Relocation of Feral Cats guide. Also, make sure your opposition agrees to the time and care it will take to safely relocate the cats. Ask that they agree to this option in writing.

  • Sanctuaries

    Another suggestion you might hear is to remove the cats and place them in a sanctuary. People might think that a sanctuary is the perfect place for the cats to safely live out their lives. But sanctuaries are not the place for feral cats. Confining feral cats causes stress and could introduce them to disease. What’s more, there is simply not enough sanctuary space in the country for every feral cat. Sanctuaries nationwide report they are full, and deluged with requests to take in feral cats.

    When you are confronted with this proposal, remind decision makers that the money spent to house a few hundred cats (to build, maintain, medicate, and feed the cats) could be put to better use by neutering potentially thousands of feral cats. Read more about why sanctuaries are not a good idea. 

Now that you’ve presented your side and come to some agreement, it’s time to continue to build relationships, publicize your outcomes, and move forward with implementation. Learn more about all of these things and more on our Negotiating with Decision Makers page.