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Thread Starter 
This was from the Best Friends Message Forum and I thought I would share:

Question from Rosie:
Have you ever had to defend your program coming under attack from outside pressures like health departments? If so, how have you done it? We have been doing our program very quietly because our local health department is opposed to TNR. Up until now we haven't had a problem, but recently a girl was bit playing with a stray cat in an area where actually are doing TNR. We are wondering if we should be going to the health department now to try to be proactive about the situation and show them how our program would benefit particularly in this situation but are very worried that could jeopardize our entire program.?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Jan Raven’s response:
AzCATs is fortunate in that the local climate for TNR is fairly friendly at least on a governmental level. Governmentally the worst we deal with is indifference as to whether cats are TNR'd or trapped and killed. Most of the time problems come to us from organizations like homeowner's associations, schools, and employers worried about liability at their business. Unfortunately educating people about the benefits of TNR can be a long, slow, but necessary, process.

In my opinion you don't have any choice but to begin the process of trying to educate your health department about the benefits of TNR. There is a lot that you can agree with them on. We find it disarms TNR opponents to start by agreeing with them on some things that they don't expect us to. For example, we tell them that we don't like to see feral cats either - that we have a common goal - to eliminate the feral cat population. Then we point out that what we disagree on is the best method for accomplishing that. Things along those lines.

Your health department may well move on the free-roaming cat issues affecting your community with or without your input. They have to hear about your side of this.

If all the health department is hearing about these issues is opposition to TNR, they may think that there is no public debate on this issue. The danger is that they would then adopt policies that would make it even worse for you. At least if they know that there are a lot of people supporting TNR they may find the issue one that they don't want to be embroiled in. And, who knows, if educated, they may come to adopt your position - stranger things have happened.

Finally, while it isn't particularly relevant to the question, I think we all recognize that it wasn't a feral cat that bit this girl. Another point that you could agree on with your health department is that tame cats should not be allowed to roam free.

Chris Whyle’s response:

When a municipal agency, health department or other group is opposed to TNR, it means that they do not understand the principles behind this method of population control, and the consequences of not having a non-lethal way of controlling free-roaming cat populations.

The alternative to TNR in most communities is not trap-and-kill, but doing nothing, and reactively responding in a limited way when a situation arises like the little girl getting bitten by a stray in your example. If that particular stray cat were part of a managed colony, the cat would have been vaccinated for rabies, which is a very convincing argument for Trap-Neuter-Return.

In the past, Homeless Cat Management Team also tried to keep “under the radar†in fear that a public agency would try to shut us down. We just plugged on, spaying and neutering as many cats as we could, gathering community support from grassroots cat lovers and colony caretakers. Eventually, after sterilizing a couple thousand cats, our program had grown too large to keep it under wraps. Several positive articles in local newspapers brought us “out of the closet,†and gave us the courage to approach some small communities about TNR programs in their municipalities.

We used Alley Cat Allies educational materials, in particular the “Humane Solution†video, and found that the municipalities we targeted embraced the concept, even though they weren’t totally convinced that it would work. We emphasized the positive community involvement, the fact that no public dollars would have to be spent (that’s a BIG deal to cash-strapped communities), the fact that trap-and-kill, besides being ineffective, is very unpopular, and the fact that basically NOTHING would be done if TNR was not approved. The rabies vaccination for each cat was just icing on the cake.

Just recently the Allegheny County Health Department invited a speaker from Homeless Cat Management Team to address a series of training classes for municipal government workers throughout the county. We were able to educate over 120 people from 57 local municipalities on the benefits of TNR. These are the men and women who handle “pest control†complaints in their municipalities, and most were unaware of the concept of TNR and its benefits. Frankly, we were amazed that the Health Department sought us out—but nothing is as convincing as success. The Health Department representatives attending the classes were so impressed with TNR that they asked us to mail them a quantity of HCMT brochures so that their inspectors could hand them out to people in need of our services.

There are so many benefits to a Trap-Neuter-Return program, and local governments and agencies need to be educated about how it works, why it works, and why other alternatives do not work. The way in which you do this needs to be carefully thought out, and your presenter needs to be very well versed in TNR, the benefits, and the arguments against it. I would strongly recommend Alley Cat Allies website for tips on how to speak about the benefits of TNR.

Just last year TNR was under attack in Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and several wildlife and bird advocacy groups. The PGC introduced a ruling that would have effectively made TNR programs in the state illegal. It was a very scary situation. But TNR groups across the state banded together and spoke at the public hearing on the issue in Harrisburg, and the Game Commissioners voted down the ruling unanimously. I think if this governmental body had been more aware of what TNR is and how it works, the ruling would have never been introduced in the first place.

Sometimes if you sit back meekly and hope not to get “busted†for what you are doing, it looks like you are doing something wrong. Sometimes a proactive approach is the best way to promote your good works. It helps if you have some successes under your belt, but TNR has been so successful across the country (and the world), there are many examples you can use in a presentation.

You may want to look at an early February, 2004 NMHP forum by Amy Santiago of Alley Cat Allies and Dr. Julie Levy from the University of Florida; and also the September 8-12, 2003 NMHP forum by Nathan Winograd from Tompkins County SPCA. Both respond to questions about this same issue.