Find the info you need
Negotiating is what happens when you discuss opposing viewpoints and come to a mutually agreed upon resolution. When it comes to negotiating for community cats, the end result can save – or endanger – cats’ lives. Negotiating can be tricky, but our negotiating tips will help:
A few things first:
- Negotiation will only be productive if both parties are calm. If you can’t be calm during these discussions, get a mediator (more on that below).
- Negotiating may not work if the other party has made violent threats. Learn how to address violent threats to cats.
- How you negotiate will differ depending on whether you’re talking to an individual, like a neighbor, or a group of decision makers, like property management or city council. We’ve highlighted the differences below.
Consider Bringing in a Mediator
If you aren’t able to address concerns about cats calmly, or if you have a history of conflicts with the person or entity involved, consider getting an objective third party to mediate. Mediators must be familiar with community cat issues in order to keep cruel or ineffective solutions off the table. Request a list of our Feral Friends Network* members in your area to see if one of them can mediate for you.
Tips for Mediators:
- 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 like, “When was your first dispute with your neighbor?” Often, you’ll find disputes between neighbors started before the cats entered the picture.
- Remember that your job is not to enforce rules or judge right from wrong; you’re there to facilitate discussion and come up with a solution both sides can agree on.
- Remember that community cat caregivers can incorporate or learn new ways to improve their caregiving that will resolve the dispute.
- Check out the neighborhood for yourself, unannounced, to make sure you’re getting the whole picture.
Schedule a Meeting
When working to resolve a conflict with a neighbor: Don’t knock on your neighbor’s door and expect them to sit down and talk about the issue right away; they may feel confronted and defensive. Plan a time to meet at a neutral location so both of you can think and prepare.
When working to resolve a conflict with an entity: Setting up a meeting will likely be required to ensure the appropriate people are available for discussion. Property management and city councils may have a lot of various issues on their plate, so be polite and persistent with your requests for a meeting to ensure you are heard.
In both cases, be sure you are using a method of communication that works for them. If you need to communicate everything to an entity in writing, do so (you may have a conversation in person, or over the phone, but be sure to follow up in writing). If your neighbor never responds to email, call them on the phone instead.
There are several things you can do to be prepared for your meeting and position yourself in the best way possible:
- Be informed. Whether you’re meeting with a neighbor or an entity, you will be speaking for the cats so it’s important that you are educated on community cat topics. Check out our resource on Educating Others and try to anticipate some topics that might come up so you can research them on our website ahead of time.
- Bring your materials. Help educate whomever you are meeting with using our educational materials. It will be helpful for them to have something to refer to after the meeting is over. You may also want to bring information about the cats you care for, including how many cats there are and whether they are spayed or neutered and vaccinated. For that information, you’ll want to bring a copy, not the original.
- Consider possible outcomes. Think about what you’d like the outcome of the discussion to be, and ways you might get there. Think ahead about what you are willing to compromise on (for example, moving shelters and feeding stations out of sight), and what you will not compromise on (for example, relocating the cats from the property).
- Be professional. Be sure to dress and act professionally to show that you are organized and capable. It may be helpful to think of it like a job interview.
- Think about what you’d like to say and practice having conversations with a friend on the topics you’d like to cover, or issues that might come up.
Being prepared and feeling prepared will help your meeting go as smoothly as possible.
Listen Carefully and Build an Understanding
During your meeting, it’s important that you stay calm, don’t get defensive, and listen to what the other party is saying. The first thing you should do is thank them for taking the time to meet with you. All of us have a lot going on and we are so busy. It means a lot when people know you are appreciative and understand the value of their time. Understanding the problem from their perspective will help you reach an agreeable solution. It may be helpful to ask some questions like, “What are the cats doing that’s bothering you?” and “When did you start having concerns about the cats?” Practice active listening: ask questions, paraphrase the person’s response so you can be sure you heard it correctly, don’t interrupt or make assumptions, and use neutral body language. You might also try to sympathize with their position with phrases like, “I see where you’re coming from,” and, “I understand.”
You may want to take notes. Writing down the concerns and key points of your conversation will help you remember the discussion accurately and show that you are listening and engaged in the conversation.
It’s helpful to emphasize common ground: you both want to improve the community. By trying to help cats and people co-exist, you’re doing your community a favor and offering a valuable community service. Be confident, clear up misconceptions with accurate information about community cats, and don’t compromise on the safety of the cats.
Work Toward a Solution
Know that negotiation will always involve some compromise, for both parties involved. Think ahead of time about what you’re willing to comprise on, what you’re unwilling to compromise on, and actions you can take, items you can provide, or services you can offer to help the negotiations.
Some tips on compromising:
- 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 helpful services the other party is unaware of. Don’t overlook them as bargaining tools.
- Keep in mind, some bargaining tools could cost you money. Be sure to check out our financial resources and fundraising tips.
Bargaining tools to consider:
- Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). If you aren’t already doing TNR, starting a program is a big bargaining tool. By doing TNR, you will be addressing the community cat population by spaying and neutering them, and addressing health concerns by vaccinating the cats. Learn how to do TNR.
- Foster and adopt out friendly cats. If there are cats in the colony who are friendly, or who can be socialized—like kittens—include that option in your negotiations. Be clear that not all cats will be adoptable, but that it may be an option for some of the cats. Learn more about adopting out friendly cats.
- Community cat colony care best practices. Following best practices for community cat colony care will solve a lot of complaints. This includes building feeding stations for the cats, strategically locating and/or concealing feeding stations and shelters, providing out-of-the-way litter box areas for the cats, making sure all caregivers know and understand proper care protocols, keeping accurate records and sharing the information, and keeping all areas clean. Learn tips and guidelines for community cat colony care.
- Provide humane deterrents. Many complaints can be addressed by sharing humane deterrent options. While some deterrent options are things you might have around the house (like coffee grounds and orange peels), others will require some funding. Plan to take some time finding out which deterrents, or combination of deterrents, work best.
- Meet with community members. When working to resolve a conflict with an entity, it’s often helpful to hold a workshop and educate the community about community cats and TNR. Decisionmakers may be more likely to get on board if they know you are organizing other people and neighbors for your program. It’s also a good opportunity to address neighbors’ concerns about community cats or TNR. Learn how to educate others, including how to hold a workshop.
Bargaining chips that regularly backfire (or, what NOT to do):
- When conflicts arise, calls to “just move the cats” are very common. It may seem like a great, easy solution to everyone—including you! The fact is that relocation is not a win for the cats OR the community. Relocation is costly, time consuming, and may not be effective. It also opens a vacuum in the environment, allowing more cats to move in. Relocation should only be considered as a last resort after negotiation, education, and conflict resolution efforts have been exhausted.
- Another suggestion you might hear is to remove the cats and place them in a sanctuary. Sanctuaries are not the place for community cats. Confining community cats causes them stress and could introduce them to disease. What’s more, there is simply not enough sanctuary space—sanctuaries nationwide report that they are full and deluged with requests to take in cats. Sanctuaries should only be considered as a last resort after negotiation, education, and conflict resolution efforts have been exhausted.
Finalize the Agreement
- Get the agreement in writing. A verbal agreement and 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 stating the resolution you worked out. Both parties should sign and date it, and both parties should have a copy of it. This document will be your proof that you addressed the concerns and you both agreed on a plan.
- Establish a timeline. Modifying cats’ behavior and conducting TNR takes time. Establish a realistic timeline to ensure the resolution you agreed on has time to take effect. Include the timeline in your written agreement.
- Be a community contact. Community relations is an ongoing process. Pass out your contact information (phone, email, etc.) and establish yourself as the person to contact with community cat questions and concerns.
*Feral Friends are not representatives, employees, volunteers, or agents of Alley Cat Allies. Learn more in our FAQ.