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4. Make Your Voice Heard

Take it to the Media

Media coverage is one of the best ways to draw attention and support to your efforts to secure humane policies for cats in your community. Unlike advertising, you have limited control in a news story over how you or your organization is portrayed—but the coverage and recognition are free.

There are steps you can take to manage all of your interactions with the media to generate the best outcomes and coverage possible. You can control the message. The trick is to be prepared. Before any media interview, be prepared with three key talking points (see sample talking points in the following bullet point).

Writing op-eds and letters to the editor are great advocacy tools and can help get the word out to your community. When writing opinion pieces, make sure to check the local paper for their guidelines, including word count, deadlines, and where to send it—and follow them. In your writing, focus on the issues that really matter and the compelling information that might change minds. Stay positive and not overly emotional, and use statistics when available.

See the Resources section of this toolkit for a sample letter to the editor.

Read Alley Cat Allies’ Guide to Working with the Media.

What to Say: Talking Points

Use these talking points when speaking with the media and public officials about Trap-Neuter-Return, feral cats, and the laws and policies that affect feral cats.

Feral Cats

  • A feral cat is a cat who has either never had any contact with people or her contact with people has diminished over time. She is not socialized to people and lives on her own outdoors. Feral cats are just as healthy as pet cats, according to veterinary studies.
  • Feral cat caregivers do not create or maintain the feral cat population.

Trap-Neuter-Return

  • Trap-Neuter-Return is the only effective approach for feral cats. Feral cats are humanely trapped, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped (the universal symbol of a neutered and vaccinated cat), and then returned to their outdoor home.
  • Removing cats from an area (i.e. catching and killing) is futile because of the vacuum effect. The vacuum effect is what happens when even a portion of an animal population is permanently removed from its home range.

Restrictive TNR Ordinances

  • The most successful TNR ordinances are those that are simple.
  • Onerous provisions like mandatory registration will only deter people from neutering feral cats.
  • Feral cat caregivers are volunteers who should not be penalized for helping their community.
  • Feral cat caregivers did not create the stray and feral cat population, and these cats will continue to breed unless someone steps in to spay/neuter and vaccinate them.

Leash Laws

  • Leash laws result in more cats being killed in our shelters because any outdoor cat could be impounded. 70% of all cats impounded in pounds and shelters are killed. Virtually 100% of all impounded feral cats are killed.
  • Leash laws are deadly for feral cats. The best approach for feral cats is Trap-Neuter-Return, the only way to effectively manage the feral cat population.

Licensing Requirements

  • Licensing is a waste of money and is ineffective. It doesn’t reunite lost cats with owners, generate revenue for the community, or ensure that animals are spayed or neutered. 
  • Licensing results in more cats being killed in our shelters because unlicensed cats may be impounded.
  • Feral cats have no owners to license them. The best approach for feral cats is Trap-Neuter-Return, the only way to effectively manage the feral cat population.

Feeding Bans

  • Feeding bans are ineffective and lack scientific support. They do not decrease the number of wild animals or feral cats in an area.
  • Feeding bans are counterproductive and discourage Trap-Neuter-Return, which is the only effective method of stabilizing feral cat populations.
  • Cats are territorial and bond to their surroundings. There are always other food sources available. 
  • Caregivers who set out food for cats should not be punished for improving conditions for the cats and the community.
  • Feeding bans ignore the real problem—the lack of affordable spay/neuter services in the community.

Mandatory Spay/Neuter

  • The primary reason that people do not spay or neuter their pet is cost. The only way to increase the number of animals spayed or neutered in our community is to expand low-cost spay and neuter resources.
  • Mandatory spay/neuter deters people from practicing Trap-Neuter-Return out of fear that they will be penalized while in the process of spaying/neutering the full colony.

Check out Alley Cat Allies’ Frequently Asked Questions for more information about feral cats.

Responding to Opponents

Many of the people who disagree with your position will ask questions that make it clear that they don’t understand the issue. The first part of the answer to almost any question is that catching and killing feral cats has failed, and TNR is the only way to go.

Some people will try to get you to “prove” that feral cats are healthy and safe community members. But the onus should be on them to defend the cycle of catching and killing, which all evidence indicates has failed.

Some people are under the mistaken impression that there is a choice between having cats in their neighborhoods and not having cats. But it’s not a choice. If catching and killing cats had worked, we would not need to address these issues. Communities have caught and killed feral cats for decades at great expense to taxpayers and with no success. A new online resource that explains this is CommonSenseForCats.com.

The fact is, feral cats who already exist in neighborhoods can either be spayed or neutered, controlling the population and decreasing the unwanted behaviors associated with mating, or they can be unsterilized and continue to breed. You do not have a choice between cats or no cats. Your only choice is what kind of cats you will have and how many of them there will be. Here are two angles that opponents of Trap-Neuter-Return often take and how you can respond:

Killing Cats Does Not Help Birds

The most vocal opponents to Trap-Neuter-Return have traditionally been wildlife or bird advocates because they mistakenly believe that the continued killing of cats will protect birds. But the mass killing of one species in an attempt to save another is never the answer. Killing colonies of cats simply opens up a void where new cats quickly move in and breed back to capacity. This is called the Vacuum Effect. Trying to protect birds by focusing on cats wastes resources and confuses the issue. Animal advocates interested in protecting birds must concentrate on the devastating impact that humans have on bird populations because of habitat loss and destruction.

Sanctuaries are Not Effective

Some opponents to Trap-Neuter-Return have realized that advocating for the killing of cats is not palatable to the vast majority of Americans. In an attempt to muddy the issue, opponents might suggest that feral cats be placed in “sanctuaries” instead. Sanctuaries are not an answer to feral cats. Sanctuaries are extremely expensive to build and maintain. Furthermore, they can only handle a tiny percentage of the cats already living in the community. The remaining cats will continue to reproduce without a Trap-Neuter-Return program in place. Simply put, sanctuaries are the most costly and least effective approach to feral cats. Don’t let Trap-Neuter-Return opponents convince local officials that sanctuaries are anything more than a pipe dream. Learn more about sanctuaries.

Your goal is to save cats’ lives, but others may have entirely different goals. Determine what is most important to them, and explain the benefits of the ordinance or policy in terms that are important to them. For example, to some officials, the most important issue may be money. If it is an election year, they may be concerned about their image. If you are working with the public health department, their focus may be rabies and other diseases. Point out the facts that matter to them: this approach is often less expensive in the long run; this approach will generate positive media coverage and community support; this approach improves the health of cats, and vaccination is a central component of Trap-Neuter-Return.

Next: Resources