Alley Cat Allies is saddened to hear about the passing of AnnaBell Washburn, an early pioneer of the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) movement in the United States and a longtime friend, inspiration, and major donor to our organization. 

AnnaBell, who lived in New York City, passed away on August 12 at age 90. 

“AnnaBell’s passing is so sad for all of us who revered her for her courage and compassion to do something new to save cats’ lives,” said Alley Cat Allies President and Founder Becky Robinson. “Her prominent leadership in the 1980s validated the determination by people everywhere who were quietly practicing TNR on their own. She inspired us to join together and make an even greater impact than we could as individuals.” 

AnnaBell successfully implemented TNR for community cat colonies in Martha’s Vineyard, MA, at a time when the method was still largely unknown in the United States. She became a trailblazer and major voice for the TNR movement, inspiring other caregivers and promoting a new way of thinking about community cats and the value of their lives. 

In the early 1980s, AnnaBell founded the nonprofit Pet Adoption and Welfare Service (PAWS) on Martha’s Vineyard to care for the dogs and cats who were left there after families departed for the summer.  

She first heard about TNR from British cat expert Peter Neville, and immediately knew that it was the best way for PAWS to help the cats of Martha’s Vineyard.  

“I was so overwhelmed. I thought, ‘That’s what we’ll do!’ I rushed up the aisle after Peter had given his talk and I just said, ‘I want to know more about this.’ It was like my heart went out to [TNR],” AnnaBell said in a 2011 interview with Becky. 

Her successful TNR work with PAWS greatly improved the lives of cats on Martha’s Vineyard and was received enthusiastically by the community.  

She also started a TNR program with her husband, Stan, on Virgin Gorda island in the British Virgin Islands, where she had a home. With the help of veterinarian Jim Ross and veterinary students at Tufts University, this annual TNR project treated 50 to 100 cats each summer—and provided students with vital hands-on training. AnnaBell took the collaboration with Tufts a step further, leveraging their success to push for the inclusion of TNR in the curriculums of many other veterinary medicine colleges. Those teaching innovations still resonate today, as engagement from the veterinary community is a critical factor in the success of TNR programs. 

The pivotal moment for AnnaBell—and the TNR movement—was when her work was featured in a July 1990 article by Ellen Perry Berkeley in Cat Fancy magazine. This publicity spread unprecedented awareness of TNR and empowered others who cared and advocated for community cats, including the newly-founded Alley Cat Allies.  

Becky knew AnnaBell personally for many years and was greatly influenced by her. In turn, AnnaBell was a steadfast supporter of Alley Cat Allies. Our work has been and will always be inspired by her commitment and enthusiasm. AnnaBell’s impact is noted in Becky’s book, “The Evolution of the Cat Revolution.” 

“AnnaBell’s diligent work set the stage for people to change their attitudes about cats and stop killing them,” said Becky. “Her legacy is that people all over the world carry on the lifesaving work that she began.” 

In her 2011 interview with Becky, AnnaBell said her greatest hope for the future was that “all cats should be protected, not euthanized, and live a happy life.” 

That’s our hope at Alley Cat Allies, too, and we work every day to make it happen.