Feral cats, street cats or community cats, whatever name you choose to call them, they need our help. It is not their fault they were lost or abandoned, not their fault they were born or are forced to give birth on the streets with no one to stop it.
While there are many kind souls who advocate on their behalf, trapping, fixing and caring for them (TNR), even more find them pests. Individuals, entire communities and even countries (you know who I’m talking about Australia) choose to kill them.
What does advocacy mean?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, advocacy is
“the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal”
An advocate is
“one who pleads the cause of another”
“one who defends or maintains a cause or proposal”
“one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or group”
It means speaking to your family, friends and neighbours about the feral cat situation in your area, coming together, figuring out what needs to be changed and set about changing it.
Animal control, local government officials and shelter staff make decisions every day about their treatment of feral cats. They could be trapping and killing them, allowing members of the community to poison them, or offer no protection at all.
While bringing people together and forming groups who will perform TNR is crucial, changing the law will have the greatest positive impact.
What can you advocate for?
Depending on where you live and the policies regarding the treatment of feral cats, you may want to advocate for –
- Financial support from the local government to fund spay/neuter surgeries
- The right to TNR cats
- Protection for people caring for cats from abuse by members of the public
- Local councillors rejecting proposals that will harm feral cats
- Educating the public not to trap cats and bring them to shelters where they are almost always killed
- Overturning a feeding ban
- Ending ordinances that allow caregivers to be prosecuted (a caregiver is someone who cares for a group or colony of feral cats)
Allowing compassion to be punished is wrong, yet it happens every day in communities around the world. Kind hearted people often have to resort to caring for the cats late at night when no one is around. I know two women who have actually been physically assaulted by those who disagree with what they’re doing. One woman even ended up in the hospital and the police did nothing. These incidents did not happen in North America.
What’s going on where you live
Before you start advocating, it’s important to have a clear picture about –
- Policies in your city or town
- Organizations or bodies involved (gov’t reps, shelters, animal control facilities)
- What group/body is responsible for what
- How the city/county deals with feral/stray/street cats
- Shelters or animal control facilities they have contracts with
- Obligation of shelters/animal control regarding handling of these cats
- Who funds animal control?
- Who funds the shelters?
- Other advocacy or rescue groups/individuals helping cats in your area
Read this – “Is Feeding Feral Cats Against the Law”
How to find your government representatives
Type “who is my local government representative” into your search bar. Once you’ve found the name(s) learn everything you can about them, including the issues they stand up for, and of course check for any mention of animal welfare connections. Even if they just share their life with a pet it’s a start! Make notes of any relevant points so you can speak knowledgeably when you contact them to discuss your concerns.
When compiling your list be sure to include the person’s full name, title and contact details. Personalizing shows you made the effort.
Finding animal control agencies and shelters
As above, do a search for animal control facilities and shelters in your area, and be sure to include contact details of those “in charge.”
Local advocates and those opposed to TNR
The next pieces of information you’ll need –
- Other advocates in your area you can meet/join forces with
- Any individuals/groups advocating against feeding/trapping and for killing – have others tried to open a dialogue with them to work together and find a more humane solution
Does the city have a contract with a “pest control” company for example, that rounds up cats and either brings them to the shelter to kill or they do it.
Advocating for humane care of feral cats means advocating for TNR. There are lots of “experts” opposed to the practice who don’t believe it works or is “right.” Be prepared with facts, figures, case studies and scientific research supporting your claims it is the most humane and effective way of managing feral cat populations.
Reach out to other communities
The next city or town may have managed to change laws, or at least garner support and cooperation for a TNR program. Speak to those involved and get tips and advice.
Along with all the research you’ve done, gathering signatures of residents wanting a change can be an effective tool when reaching out to local officials.
It’s time to be a voice for the voiceless
You’ve done your research, gathered support and now it’s time to reach out to those that have the power to make the changes you’re after.
Contact local elected officials, animal control and shelter directors
It’s up to you to decide how you want to contact them – in person, letter, phone call or email or a combination. If sending a letter or email, please be sure to get the spelling of the name correct and use the appropriate title. Don’t forget to include your petition of signatures.
Social media campaign
You’re ready to let everyone know what you’re doing.
Start with FB
This is the quickest and easiest way to start spreading your message
- Post what you’re doing
- Why you decided to get involved
- What you hope to accomplish
- Suggestions on how people can help
- Images of feral cats in your neighbourhood
- Share it regularly and ask everyone you know to do the same
Don’t be surprised if others find you quickly and offer to help.
Local media outlets are always looking for stories about what’s going on in their neighbourhood.
First you (or someone offering to help!!) should compile a thorough list of media outlets –
- Podcasts (animal welfare worldwide or a general podcast specific to goings on in your area)
Write a press release or send an email letting them know what you’re doing, and ask if they could run a story, do an interview of even feature you on a segment. I did that and I was contacted by a journalist every time!
Create a movement and be a local resource
Your FB page is the first step to creating a movement. It’s a great way to keep everyone updated on what you’re doing, what you need help with and how others can get involved. Once your story starts appearing in local media, you’ll be known as a resource for anyone in your community wanting to do more.
Have a list handy of ways people can help, so you don’t have to keep repeating yourself. You may even be able to ask for donations for food for example.
How people can help
These are just a few ideas to get you started.
Take pictures – images are crucial to help spread your message, so all they have to do is take a picture of a feral cat or kitten, mention the location and send it to you. I hate to say it but, pictures of cats who don’t look well are better to garner support. Note-if a cat seems ill, trap him and take him to the vet, but if you’re not set up for that please contact one of the local groups for help.
Ask for help compiling lists of local media outlets, representatives, shelters and the like. Be sure they include all contact details, and when reading bios include any mention of sharing their life with a pet, or being involved/supporting animal welfare charities.
Those with a gift for the written word are always needed to write creative post titles, catchy slogans, social media blurbs and letters to policy makers.
Contact pet supply companies and ask if they would be willing to donate dry cat food, or sell it to you at a wholesale price. The same can be done for traps.
Do’s and don’ts when advocating for feral cats
(this applies to all advocacy work)
♦ Be well informed. Whether you’re trying to get the public on board or you’ve managed to get interviewed by local media, you need to understand current policies/laws, what’s going on in shelters and animal control facilities so you can speak intelligently.
♦ Connect with other trappers and cat rescuers (if there are any) where you live and learn from them.
♦ Offer alternatives. Don’t just scream about what you don’t like, offer tangible solutions. Present facts and figures, research and case studies to support your position.
♦ Create a call to action. When spreading your message be sure to include some concrete steps people can take to make a difference.
♦ Be mindful of how you present your message. The wording you use may differ depending on the audience you are trying to reach. For example, someone who grew up on a farm with unfixed cats will respond do a different message then someone used to fixing pets so is comfortable with the idea of spay/neuter.
♦ Make your message short, powerful and to the point. You only have a second or two to grab someone’s attention.
♦ Don’t get nasty or rude. I know passions run high when it comes to animal suffering, but swearing and screaming will only lose you sympathy from decision makers and the public.
♦ Don’t just raise awareness and stop there. Many people may be “aware” there are lots of cats running around, but they have no idea what to do to help. Offer concrete examples of what can be done.
♦ Don’t only post pictures of suffering street cats. Either people will find them disturbing and scroll past, or they’re so inundated with all the other sad animal pictures on social media they’re immune. Before and after pictures will prove your way works, and you don’t even have to say a word!
♦ When doing an interview and you’re speaking with someone who obviously doesn’t share your views, don’t let them trick you into losing your cool. I’m sure you’ve watched interviews where it seems the only goal was to antagonise the guest. Remain calm and focused, and they are the ones who will look like fools.
♦ Don’t get discouraged by trolls on social media. I know how upsetting it can be and I used to respond, but all that did was make me even more upset. Either calmly reply, look like the better person and move on, or don’t even bother just delete.
There’s definitely a lot involved in advocacy, so I hope you have found this post helpful in getting you started. Good luck with your efforts, and I hope you’ll keep me posted. I’d be happy to share your story on my website as well.
What made you decide to advocate for feral cats? Is there a large population of unfixed cats where you live? Have you started your efforts, and if you have what kind of reaction are you getting? If you’ve been involved in advocacy work for some time, what other tips do you have to offer? Sharing helps others so please leave your comments below.
Please help support my spay/neuter campaign by donating and sharing. You can find all the details on my GoFundMe page.