Julie Brommer never carried out Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), but that didn’t stop her from launching a TNR program on Virginia’s Eastern Shore with help from Alley Cat Allies and Caring Hands Animal Support and Education (CHASE).

First, Brommer recruited volunteers to trap and return cats to their outdoor homes, and veterinarians to spay and neuter them. Then she used a grant provided by Alley Cat Allies to CHASE to fund a successful TNR clinic in June run by Brommer’s group, CI Community Cats, on Chincoteague Island.

Thanks to the grant, more than 25 cats have been trapped, spayed or neutered, and vaccinated so far at nearby Pocomoke Animal Hospital in Maryland and returned to their outdoor homes. Another 18 kittens were transported to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington in Virginia and Delmarva Cat Connection in Maryland to be offered for adoption.

Tam Dang, a volunteer from Northern Virginia, helped trap cats on Chincoteague Island at the June clinic.

The clinic, Brommer says, marked the beginning of what she expects will be a sustainable TNR program on Chincoteague Island year-round. To make this project a success, Brommer held information sessions on the island and promoted her efforts on Facebook to recruit volunteers to carry out TNR. She got a big response from people who were concerned about the cats and wanted to help, she says. She also connected with people who were already feeding and caring for cats on the island.

Next, Brommer consulted Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network to find groups and local veterinarians in the area. She also found the Pocomoke Animal Hospital, which had been offering a monthly community cat spay and neuter day. The veterinarian on staff had seen a decline in cats coming to the monthly clinics and was interested in participating in a more robust and sustainable program.

Bringing the Community Together

Brommer and her husband, who live in Pennsylvania, have been visiting Chincoteague Island year-round for more than 20 years. Brommer says they’ve been aware of the outdoor cats on the island. A few years ago, she nursed a sick cat back to health and adopted her. That spurred her interest in learning more about community cats.

Volunteers transported 18 kittens to organizations in Maryland and Virginia for adoption.

She did some research and attended Alley Cat Allies’ Boardwalk Cats Project tours, which was part of the Best Friends National Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, last year. “That inspired me to try and go after the crazy dream to help the cats in Chincoteague,” she says. “I was able to see how bringing the right people together could really help the cats, and the community.”

Alley Cat Allies helped connect Brommer with CHASE, the nonprofit arm of Caring Hands Animal Hospital. CHASE, with support from Alley Cat Allies, had conducted high-volume clinics on the island in previous years. CHASE recognized that to make a sustainable impact going forward, it needed to share its resources and expertise with local groups that could carry out TNR. When Brommer reached out to CHASE, the group knew it was the perfect opportunity to once again help cats on the island.

“We realized we had tools and connections,” says veterinarian Michelle Vitulli, board vice president of CHASE. “That has become our broader mission—to really help other community animal hospitals do this in collaboration with rescues or other people who might be interested in helping community cats.”

Brommer is working to build a network of volunteers who will do systematically carry out TNR colony by colony, then track the impact. She says she will share that information with people on the island in an effort to recruit as many as possible.

“I’m looking to connect people with the right skills and experience,” she says, “so we can have a grassroots effort to work through the cat colonies one at a time.”