Bringing dynamic lifesaving programs for cats where few, if ever, have existed before. That’s a major part of the Alley Cat Allies’ movement, which is always on the move in every sense. When cats and kittens depend on us in every corner of this country—especially in rural communities, where resources for animals are historically scarce—staying static is not an option.

So when Homeward Trails in Arlington, Virginia, talked to us about starting a much-needed Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and veterinary care initiative in the Twin County region (AKA the City of Galax and Carroll and Grayson Counties), we didn’t hesitate to provide support.

Thanks to the new initiative in the Twin Counties, adoptable kittens like Orange here were neutered, treated, and found loving homes.

“We recognized a gap in spay and neuter services in the Twin Counties and we’re taking steps not only to fill it, but to cement nonlethal management as the area’s official approach to cats,” says Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies. “In our work with Homeward Trails, we are bolstering existing TNR programs and developing an infrastructure for animals that can stand strong even through the evolving pandemic.”

We’re setting some big wheels in motion, starting with a goal to spay and neuter and vaccinate at least 200 community cats by February 2021 in a collaborative effort with Homeward Trails and local Twin County Humane Society (which currently runs the only TNR program in the region).

“The Galax area community has been very receptive to the project, and we’re running full steam ahead,” says Sue Bell, executive director of Homeward Trails. “We have great confidence that with support from Alley Cat Allies and our partners, we will implement humane solutions and best practices that will save the lives of cats and kittens now and into the future.”

We already have a milestone to celebrate. Recently, our funding gave more than 100 cats and kittens another chance at life through spay and neuter, transport, and emergency veterinary treatment—including tiny tabby Benjamin.

Levels to Saving Lives

Alley Cat Allies’ grant funding helped little Benjamin receive the eye treatment he needed. Now he’s healing nicely at home with his new family!

At any other time, Benjamin’s life could have ended, short and sad, in the local animal shelter. The good Samaritan who discovered the kitten alone in the woods with an eye infection planned to surrender him. The hope was that Benjamin, who was sweet and social and had trotted after his rescuer, would receive the care he needed and the loving home he deserved.

Based on the shelter’s numbers in 2019, there was a near 50 percent chance that would not have been the case. Alley Cat Allies helped to open new lifesaving doors.

When starting a nonlethal program in a city or county, the local connections you form make all the difference. Success involves tapping into and working with the existing animal care framework of a community even as you seek to transform it. Our support made it possible for Homeward Trails to do just that with the Twin County regional shelter.

For three and a half weeks, the shelter agreed to divert all cat intake requests to Homeward Trails. Rather than languish in a shelter cage, 100 cats and kittens were spayed or neutered, treated, and boarded in a partner veterinary clinic, then transported up to Homeward Trails to be adopted.

Little Benjamin was one of the kittens who found a lifeline in the diversion program. We covered the costs of his eye treatment and neuter surgery, and now he’s recovering in his new adoptive home.

“We’re aiming for this shelter diversion effort to continue on a more permanent basis so we can have more heartening results for cats like Benjamin,” says Bell. “This could not have happened without support from Alley Cat Allies.”

Reaching New Highs with TNR

Until the new collaboration, Twin County Humane Society (TCHS) operated the only TNR program in the entire Twin County region. That’s a lot of ground to cover for one organization…and a lot of cats in need of services. Though grassroots efforts have taken place, many residents cannot afford to carry out spay and neuter or purchase trapping equipment.

Now with help from Alley Cat Allies and in conjunction with Homeward Trails, TCHS has the means to reach once unreachable colonies of cats—and locals are eager to join in.

As with most communities, cats living outdoors in the Galax area have long received a paw up from dedicated caregivers. And when those caregivers heard a new TNR operation had kicked off, they jumped at the chance to get involved.

By spaying and neutering 10 cats in an apartment complex here, and 21 cats in a neighborhood there, the budding TNR initiative is working through a list of 100 TNR requests and counting. Many caregivers are doing their part by carrying out their own trapping.

The new initiative will save more kittens like Rudy, showing off above, through critical veterinary care and foster support.

And that community involvement, as always, is our real goal.

“We want to see the Twin County community become more a part of the solution in terms of assisting with TNR, fostering, and working towards sustainable and effective approaches for the cats,” says Bell.

With a recent and promising change in local shelter leadership, we’re on the way to a paradigm shift that will save not just 100 or 200 cats, but thousands more in the years to come.

The road ahead isn’t without its challenges. Recently, Galax made headlines for having one of the highest COVID-19 rates in the country. But the lessons we’ve learned in this difficult year serve us well in navigating pandemic obstacles.

“We have no intentions of letting COVID-19 be a real roadblock,” Bell agrees. “We have found ways to work around it and have been utilizing them since March.”

Transforming Virginia for Cats

As we have across the country, Alley Cat Allies has been working in Virginia for decades to bring an end to a long history of lethal approaches to community cat populations.

By elevating grassroots advocacy, engaging local officials, challenging outdated laws, and transforming shelters in community after community with programs geared to save lives, we’re strengthening a humane network throughout the state.

We will keep you updated with stories and successes out of the new Twin County initiative.