Published in the Huffington Post on January 13, 2017.
I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
—Edward Everett Hale
When it comes to community cats, change begins locally. Often it starts unintentionally. A person discovers a cat in need and is unable to turn away. A retiree feeds strays in his backyard. Someone learns that his or her animal shelter “puts down” healthy community cats and decides to do something about it. A teacher builds cat shelters with her students. An individual, committed to the humane treatment of cats, inspires others in his community to challenge municipal animal control laws to reflect their values. Advocacy begins with the power of one. And usually, that individual may not even consider himself or herself an advocate. That person simply cares.
I’d like to tell you about two people who didn’t turn away from cats in their communities. Holly lives in Mesquite, Texas, and Robin lives in Virginia.
Holly called my office in 2015, asking for advice. She had always wanted a cat, but her son was allergic, so instead she fed and cared for a feral cat named Bobbie Sue. To make sure Bobbie Sue remained healthy and didn’t have kittens, Holly coaxed her into a trap and had her spayed and vaccinated, a process called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). She even had the veterinarian eartip Bobbie Sue, so people would know she had TNR. Then Holly returned Bobbie Sue to her neighborhood.
Bobbie Sue arrived at the same time each day to be fed. So one day when she didn’t show up, Holly became alarmed. She searched everywhere, calling neighbors and the Mesquite Animal Services. The receptionist there assured her no cat had been impounded. She called back later in the day, and this time she was told a cat fitting Bobbie Sue’s description had been brought in that morning and quickly euthanized. Holly was horrified. Mesquite had an ordinance requiring impounded animals to be held at the shelter for 72 hours. Shelter staff had ignored it.
Holly wanted to make sure no more cats in her city suffered the same fate as Bobbie Sue. Though she had no political or advocacy experience, she decided to speak to the city council about the cost-savings and community benefits of a city-wide Shelter-Neuter-Return (SNR) program. In such a program, community cats would be neutered, vaccinated, and ear-tipped at the shelter, then returned to their outdoor homes. Holly’s efforts paid off. Mesquite now has an SNR program, with the help from local TNR groups and colony caregivers. All it took was one person to care enough to start the process that would ensure Mesquite was safer for cats.
And here’s what happened with Robin, a woman I met at a national Best Friends Animal Society conference. Unassuming and introspective, at first glance, you would be hard pressed to describe her as an activist. As we chatted following a workshop, she peppered me with questions about my own experiences with TNR and working with elected officials. While our conversation was pleasant enough, it truly seemed to be just that; a conversation. A year later, she called to tell me she had provided TNR to cats living near their county landfill. And there’s more! Not only had she persuaded a veterinarian to offer low-cost spay and neuter services, but she then mentioned speaking with her city’s mayor, convincing him to set up a TNR program at the local shelter. One thing led to another. Each time it got easier for Robin to take the next step. She realized the importance of working with her municipality. And it recognized they needed her.
Holly and Robin are two individuals who joined with others in their communities to make a difference for cats. They couldn’t help all cats everywhere, but they could do something to help the cats in their community.
Doing something is all that’s needed, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential. Most people wrongly believe they don’t know how to step in, or they are afraid it will take too much time.
Why should you do something when there’s municipal infrastructure to help community cats? Because, often, there’s not. Millions of healthy, beautiful cats and kittens are killed every year behind closed doors in animal shelters. Some towns and cities even have ordinances banning the feeding of community cats. Local rescue groups are stretched beyond capacity if they exist at all. Turn your back and the cats have no one.
So, my advice is to plant the seed. Talk to your neighbor about outdoor cats. Take one step. Find out what your local shelter does when cats are brought in. If you don’t like the answer, schedule a meeting with the shelter director. Ask what you can do. Capitalize on the compassion that is an attribute in every community. Committed individuals can reshape communities to fit their values of compassion for cats.
If ever you doubt, remember the words of Edward Everett Hale. You are only one, but you are one. You cannot do everything, but you can do something.