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Pets 101

Tattle Tails March 2008 – Becky Robinson

By Laura Oppenheimer

A love for cats of every stripe and color is what sets Becky Robinson apart from your average cat person. While many feline advocates focus on finding homes for domesticated kitties, Robinson’s singular goal is improve the lives of feral cats across the U.S. It was with this end in mind that she started Alley Cat Allies, a feral-cat advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., that promotes Trap-Neuter-Return as a humane method for reducing feral cat colonies. She spoke with Tails about the group’s origins, the Every Kitty Every City initiative, and how people can become advocates for the feral felines in their own communities.

How did you get involved with Alley Cat Allies?
I’m the founder! The reason I’m involved and continue to be involved is because I found feral cats and continue to do so. Through the grapevine, people learned that I was working with these cats. This was just me, by myself, in the summer of 1990. People started calling me. We didn’t have email; we didn’t have a website or anything like that. I don’t know how they got my home phone number. One time I came home from my job, and there were 80 phone calls! I knew I couldn’t call 80 people back, but I could create a fact sheet, and I could create a group, and I could create a newsletter.

From that grassroots beginning, how has Alley Cat Allies evolved?
On one hand we know what people need. They need to have the tools. If they find cats, there has to be a network. We have a national network, Feral Friends Network, which has been a formal network and program of Alley Cat Allies since we were formed. But then, as things evolved, we saw that we were getting people from the same town calling us, and sometimes from the same neighborhood. Every Kitty Every City is [a new program designed] to let people know who is who and what resources are there. If there’s a spay/neuter facility, if there are traps … it’s putting all those people together.

What’s one of the biggest misconceptions you face?
The big thing is that people don’t know the difference between stray and feral. A stray cat is not a feral cat —[she’s] a cat who’s been abandoned or who has strayed from home and become lost. These cats have been living with humans at one time, and they’re socialized to them. Feral cats are typically ones who don’t have that socialization from humans; they have it with [other cats]. They are going to be difficult—next to impossible—to socialize to humans. The care that feral cats need is to be neutered and vaccinated and kept where they are, [not] taken to a shelter.

What is your response to people who would argue that feral cats are a nuisance?
I think this is the beginning of the problem. What we discovered when we spoke to people who called [ACA] is that people didn’t want the animals hurt, and they were not telling us that [the cats] were a nuisance. They didn’t use words like what we typically hear and read, like what Animal Control uses. About two people whom we know of said they didn’t want the cats there. Every single other person out of almost 300 people whom we took calls from said they didn’t want the cats hurt, they didn’t want the cats killed, and they knew if they were taken away they would be killed at the shelter.

Is Alley Cat Allies working on any legislation this year?
The short answer is no, but we have been tracking [legislation]. There’s a piece of federal legislation that we want to make sure doesn’t get passed. It’s a piece of legislation about invasive species, and it doesn’t really even name feral cats, but it would result in the killing of them. So we’re fighting that. It’s really important for people to understand that [a lot of these laws] that sound like a good thing are really a bad thing because they would result in the killing of more cats.

How can people get involved with Alley Cat Allies’ work?
The best thing they can do is join what we call Feral Power. It’s a national list, and we send out not only notices about things that affect everybody across the country, but we also send things out that affect people within their region and city. People can get involved, whether it’s volunteering to trap or learning how at workshops or if they need to write their elected officials. It’s so easy; you can be an armchair activist in one minute. The protection of cats is only as good as the people are locally.

For more information, visit AlleyCat.org.

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