Category Archives: Feral Cat

Happy New Year!

Whether you rang the midnight bell…

Or tucked away early….

May this first day of 2014 be more than happy for you!

If you can play with the abandon of a puppy, correct with the finesse of a cat, and apply your ingenuity to make relationships work, it should be a good year!

We hope this will bring you a smile to help kick off the New Year: watch now.

With love from our house to yours,

Lucy Miracle and Benny Salad Houdini

Puppy Love

“Only love can break a heart, only love can mend it…” 

Hal David knew what he was talking about when he wrote those lyrics – even though he had not met either Wee Willie Winky or Benny Salad Houdini.

Willie, our beloved Shih Tzu rescued from a puppy mill runner, died* Wee Willie Winkyunexpectedly at the age of 4 ½.  Losing this happy, active, loving companion caused heartbreak that all devoted pet parents understand.  The outpouring of sympathy indicated just how many of those there are, and while it comforted, it didn’t stop the tears for my husband and me.  That was a job for Benny.job

Tom was determined that our next dog be a male Shih Tzu like Willie, preferably a puppy.  I started searching via our local shelters and rescue groups – no luck.  I chased a couple of leads on petfinder.com – no luck. I filled out applications with rescue organizations – luck!  One group specializing in Shih Tzus and small dogs had a litter of not one but five male puppies ready for adoption (their pregnant mother had been turned over by a backyard breeder). We snuggled and played with all of the squirmy adorable ten week olds and then picked “Puppy #3” because he was especially little and seemed quite laid back. cutness

Our tears pretty much stopped almost immediately – and idyllic as it might sound, it was not because of love at first sight. It’s because there is no time for tears! My grieving husband was naturally ready to give this tiny blonde bundle of lovability almost anything he wanted, but Benny is an extremely smart and equally willful little guy, given to the bossiness that is frequently found in Shih Tzus. So Mom (that’s me) had to start showing tough love with both of her boys – no small dog syndrome in my family, please! (Small dogs can take over a house – position themselves as the pack leader – because we cave into their cuteness and fulfill their desires and demands without making them earn it.)

leashSo here in the midst of intensive training, I am massively Mommy proud that at the age of 13 weeks, Benny understands “sit,” “come,” and “make a good decision,” and actually follows those instructions much of the time.  He accepts a leash and the city streets with equal aplomb. He knows “do your business” and responds admirably – although getting him out to the grass is a new adventure in house sittraining for me.  I’ve never done it from a condo before.  Sometimes it feels like we live in the elevator, riding down and up, up and down.  Thankfully, my husband handles most of the middle-of-the-night excursions (probably because he doesn’t want my naked face and bed head to scare anyone).

Baby Benny earned his big boy name of Benny Salad Houdini because he loved his fresh veggie dinners from the first, and can’t get grassenough of the greenery outside either.  He munches grass and leaves as though he were a deer rather than a dog.  He covets the free roaming ways of a deer as well. He easily escaped every barrier we tried for his confinement room: netting, higher netting, dog gate.  Finally we had to simply shut the door. We’re still working on the separation anxiety; Benny spent his first ten weeks in a foster home brimming with dogs and humans.  Being alone for even a moment is a brand new experience.

But Benny knows how to amuse himself.  He is a champion chewer of everything within mouthing distance:  rugs, curtains, pant legs, bedding.  That means relentless redirection.  Anyone eavesdropping toyon me these days would think that, “Chew toys!” is my favorite phrase.  And that tossing them is my favorite exercise.  Our floors look like FAO Schwarz for canines.

And then there are the cats.  Lucy, who was Willie’s best buddy, stepped right up as second mother to Benny.    This formerly feral eaterystarving kitten always eats her entire breakfast right away and then begs for more.  But she started saving half of it so that she could teach Benny how to find the supposedly secret entrance to the cat feeding quarters and help himself to her bowl.  Undoing that (frankly charming) act of generosity and maternal instinct has taken some creativity.  Lucy is also teaching Benny to play in a way that’s lucyteachacceptable to cats, which involves a lot of wrestling but a little less nipping than he might like.

Fred took great delight in trying to teach “Chase Me,” at a running speed that Benny could keep up with.  That meant I had followto play blocker between them in order to teach both that chasing cats is not an acceptable game – even if the cat thinks so.  Nowadays they usually walk together rather than run. Usually.

Frisco is still keeping his distance, in classic Frisco style.  He’ll come around.

Raising a puppy properly is like swimming the Florida Strait (I imagine; I haven’t actually done that). It takes intensive, consistent training, patience, persistence, and some sleep deprivation.  It can be anywhere from challenging to tiresome to irritating  to repeat yourself a dozen times to get the result you want once, but well worth it. Here’s a real time example.

This is what Benny is doing, next to my chair, as I write this. bennywrit

This is what Lucy is doing, just above him on my lap.lucywrite

This is what Fred is doing, just above her on my desk.fredwr

This is what Frisco is doing, just off to the side. fredwri

You’ll notice that Benny is thoroughly relaxed and making no effort to upend the established social order. I’m not kidding us, though. Once the writing is done and everyone’s back to bouncing around, he’ll give doggy dominance another whirl.  But we’ll keep working at it, because a dog who knows his place is a happy, secure dog.  And after only three weeks, Benny knows his place: firmly in our hearts.hearts

*We are awaiting final necropsy results on Willie, but it appears that the cause of death was a heart irregularity.

Furballs and bits

How do you get a 9-year old Rottweiler and her six puppies adopted out?

Easy! You put up the headline, “63 year old gives birth to sextuplets!”

That’s just one marketing nugget shared by Mike Arms of the Helen Woodward Animal Center. Mike is an apparent maestro at managing media and message in order to find homes for animals.

Getting animals out of – or better yet, never into – shelters was a strong theme of the Alley Cat Allies conference.  It’s a goal widely shared by companion animal advocates, and expressed as “no kill,” or more recently, “Save Them All,” coined by Best Friends Animal Society.

Close to 400 of us, from 37 states, Canada, and Israel gathered with ACA to talk strategy for saving cats.  (Israel’s government is joining feralstreetcatthe movement, with a cash infusion to Trap-Neuter-Return 45,000 street cats there.) And when you save cats, you save other companion animals, because you free up space in rescues, shelters, and hearts for them to find homes.

Favorite conference quote:

“The animals have your hearts, but it’s your minds they need.”  Mike Arms

Okay then, let’s play “I Spy:”

When Spartanburg Animal Services wanted to prove that free-roaming cats pose no dramatic danger to birds, their FBI National Academy alum, criminal investigator, used-to-do-narcotics-busts chief, Major Steve Lamb, targeted a cat judgecommunity with a bunch of birds around and then put up surveillance cameras to watch them. No murders were witnessed.  Case closed.

Common cents:

Also put your mind around this, Bonney Brown of the Humane Network reminds us.  When you save a cat, you are having a positive economic impact on the community, through purchases of DOLLARSIGNKITTYfood and other supplies the cat will need. So money is being pumped into the economy, as opposed to killing, which costs taxpayers money.

Save statistics:

Expenses associated with shelter intake, animal care, and euthanasia all go down when spay/neuter goes up.  There are statistics and stories (because every “euthanasia” is an animal who would like to live) from around the country proving this.  It’s even happening in that hub of hedonism, Las Vegas, at the Heaven Can Wait Animal Society. (Love that name!) And in the areas where it’s happening most dramatically, Trap-Neuter-Return of community cats is one big reason why. I’m seeing this in my own home area; check this out from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

And by the way:

Why are we calling them “shelters” anyway? Too few animals get out of “shelters” alive. We are working to change that, and one way would be to change our shelter names to “Pet Adoption Centers,” or “Pet Villages” – several names were thrown out, all of them designed to get adopters in and animals out. (See “Heaven Can Wait,” above, for creative nomenclature!)

The Let’s Go Get It Goal:

“Let’s put catching and killing in the history books and file it on the  shelves.”  Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies.

Becky, John, Cathy

Becky Robinson, president Alley Cat Allies, John Fulton, host of “Must Love Cats,” (Animal Planet) and Cathy Unruh, Animal Advocate, Author of TAMING ME: Memoir of a Clever Island Cat

The Future is Now and she’s named Kimberly:

11-year old Kimberly Hernandez learned about TNR from a neighbor, cares for outdoor cats, and wants to be a vet.  Here’s an excerpt from what she had to say:

KimberlyI am Kimberly.

I am the future.

I am an animal lover.

I believe that I can reach all my goals because I am me.  I don’t have to change.

I believe that cats are a gift.  To live is to give them some love.

I will do my best and nothing less to help cats…my best and nothing less.

Side note on conference chow:

The all vegan meals served up by the Hilton Crystal City   had non-vegans vowing to convert on the spot.  The food was beyond fantabulous.  Crowd favorite:  Gardein Beefless Strips served up asbeefless a stir fry/fajita filler.  I saw more than one person going back for third and fourth helpings.  (Another beauty of balanced veganism:  you can do that!)

And a non-conference thank you:

bloglucymiracle

A young Lucy Miracle and Cathy Unruh

To My Three Moggies   for naming Lucy Miracle their November Fur Friend of the month.

“Moggie” is a colloquial British word for an everyday cat – Lucy loves her friends across the pond.  They are a furry friendly bunch!

Snippets from the Front

Working on behalf of animals can often hurt the heart…

there is so much suffering and so far to go.  But every once in a while, a stretch of days comes along that gets the heart pumped up again and practically shouts, “HOPE! PROGRESS! POSSIBILITY!”

That’s been the case in my world the past week or so.

The No More Homeless Pets Conference Best Friends Animal Society 2013

The Best Friends Animal Society No More Homeless Pets Conference

First, the rallying cry of “Save Them All” from the 1,300 people gathered for the No More Homeless Pets conference.  “Save Them All” is a positive way of saying “no kill,” and it reflects the philosophy of Best Friends Animal Society, the conference organizer:  be positive, because we can do this.  We can stop the millions of deaths in animal shelters each year.

Want to help?  Adopt, foster, volunteer, advocate for spay/neuter.  All are key to making it happen.

Francis Battista and Cathy

Cathy and Francis Battista: The Best Friends Animal Society No More Homeless Pets Conference

For the Best Friends folks, saving the animals is not just a cause, it’s a calling – to which they’re devoting their lives.  As co-founder Francis Battista – whose sense of purpose is matched by his sense of fun – put it, “The spiritual expresses itself as kindness and the most basic expression of that is kindness to animals.”

Vegfest Florida Voices for AnimalsTampa Bay Vegfest celebrates kindness toward all animals, from farm to family room.  Sponsored by Florida Voices for Animals, Vegfest is a day during which you can soak up info on why a vegan diet is good for both your health and the environment, along with the animals.  You can learn in the Vegfest  Tampa bay - the day was filled with musicspeakers’ hall, via videos, or handouts from a plethora of organizations.  But perhaps the best testament to the joys of veganism is the bountiful selection of delicious dishes served under a Vegfest Tampa bay offers great food sunny sky in a downtown park. It was one of those autumn days that feel more like August in the sunshine state but people lined up to sample and savor the culinary creations.  Yum!

Passion for Pets - Humane Society of Tampa Bay

Cathy Unruh and Lucy Miracle: Passion for Pets – Humane Society of Tampa Bay

And finally, it’s always a good day when Lucy Miracle gets to step out as an ambassador for companion animals.  She did so for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, one of our hometown organizations working to Save Them All.

Together, we can.  I believe that together, we will. And it doesn’t hurt to hear it every once in a while from a few thousand of your fellow believers. Thank you.

Top 10 Reasons to celebrate National Feral Cat Day

10.  There’s a bit of wildcat in all of us.catwoman 9.   Mama cats are called Queens.  Nuff said.queen-cat-by-christina-hess 8.   Ear tipping is at least as attractive as ear gauging.eartipa
7.   Ferals eat outdoors – it’s a picnic!Cats on picnic table
6.   Trapping is great exercise.cathytnr
5.  TNR is trending.  Big time.trending4.  Helping the homeless is a higher calling.wingshalo2
3.  If the cats are cool enough for Rome’s palazzos, they’re cool enough for us.RomeCats_main
2.  Paws to appreciate.  Simple as that.lucylake
1.  Lucy Miracle and all of her relatives – of course!Litter of kittens hidden in tree

National Feral Cat Day was founded by Alley Cat Allies in 2001.  Lucy’s book, TAMING ME: Memoir of a Clever Island Cat, was released on this day one year ago.Taming Me cover

Note: I appre­ci­ate all of you who e-mail me with your com­ments – but if you are com­fort­able leav­ing a reply here, please do so. It con­tributes to com­mu­nity dis­cus­sion. Thank you!

“Pets before Profits”

Suppose Adam, Eve, and a serpent were each offering to sell you an identical apple –

same size, same color, same sweetness – for the price of four fig leaves. The serpent planned to use the fig leaves as camouflage.  Eve intended to turn the fig leaves into a new skirt. Adam planned to feed his fig leaves to the hungry doe who had just given birth to a fawn. Which apple would you buy?

If you chose Adam’s apple, then you just might be the ideal customer for a new business – one that, like Adam, promises to use its

Dr. Glenn Buckley

Glenn Buckley, DVM

proceeds to help animals.  Except that in this case, the products are pet treats, toys and other supplies, with the primary emphasis on pet pharmaceuticals. Glenn Buckley, the veterinarian who founded Pet Rescue Rx along with his brother Scott, got in touch to introduce himself and share their vision:  all net profits to animal shelters.  “I have reached an age when I can really appreciate what money cannot buy:  my health, my life partner…time spent walking my dogs and watching them play.  I want to share that appreciation for life by what I can give back through this business,” says Buckley, whose title is CEO.

Scott Buckley,  President and Computer Guru

Scott Buckley,  President and Computer Guru

Giving something back is not a new concept, thankfully.  There are any number of companies that donate a portion of their profits to help animals; adoptashelter.com is one of the best known.  1-800-PetMeds, which advertises itself as “America’s Largest Pet Pharmacy,” says it donates thousands of dollars in pet supplies and medications to shelters.  What sets Pet Rescue Rx apart is the promise to donate all net profits.  “I’m running into some skepticism,” says Buckley, with a note of what sounds like resignation in his voice.  “But we’re doing this for the same reasons volunteers at shelters do:  to get the money where it needs to go.”

Buckley says his eyes were opened to the needs of shelter animals when he volunteered in one, and started brainstorming a new way of 995834_379259572180130_1319919697_asubsidizing them.  He likens his business model to Newman’s Own, which funnels all after-tax profits to human causes.  Newman’s Own says that’s about $370 million so far.  How much will Pet Rescue Rx contribute?  It’s far too soon to know, as the company just opened in June.  And when financials are available, they do not have to be disclosed:  Pet Rescue Rx is not a 501(c)3 and is not publicly held.  Buckley says that he is currently funding the startup via his two animal emergency clinics in Florida and not taking a salary.  Both of those things will likely change if Pet Rescue Rx takes off.  But he vows that it will always be, “Pets Before Profits,” the company’s motto.

Buckley says he’s competitively priced with other online pet pharmacies (and here’s where the analogy comes in) because, “when you’re all selling apples, you have to be.” He’s being choosy about his apples, though, carrying products from other “do good” companies “out there to make a difference,” like Halo Pet, John Paul Pet Products, and yes: Newman’s Own Organic Pet Treats. “I have been given a gift, as we all have, to create something which can have a greater impact for good.  We should all look within ourselves to find that and let it grow.”

Pet Rescue RX

Glenn and Scott outside the pharmacy with Roz and Geri.

Growth going forward will be largely up to shoppers. It’s certainly a concept that holds promise, and enticing to those who care about the estimated 6-8 million animals who enter U.S. shelters each year, half of them only to face a death sentence.  They could use the help.  If Pet Rescue Rx should bear fruit, we can only hope – and perhaps even allow ourselves to trust – that Buckley will keep his promise.

Note:  Pet Rescue Rx hopes to become licensed in all 50 states.  At this writing, it is getting close to halfway there.

Summer Road Trips with the Family

Wagon…HO!

I remember the excitement and anticipation as my three brothers and I scrambled into the station wagon, Dad behind the wheel and Mom handling the maps, luggage rack on the roof. I would look back at the horses, cows, cats, dogs, rabbits, sheep – whichever creatures happened to be inhabiting our hobby farm at the moment, some of them standing watch as the car pulled around the driveway and turned onto the rural road, carrying us to exciting new adventures and explorations.

For a week or two, I wouldn’t be petting sheep, conversing with cows, riding my pony, crawling into the straw-bedded doghouse for a snuggle with our collie, carrying cats and rabbits into my playhouse, romping through the pastures, filling the water trough, sidestepping the manure, mucking stalls, or feeling the delicious tickle of a horse’s lips taking treats from my palm.

I was privileged to grow up surrounded by animals, to learn the traits of various species, the personalities of individuals, the many ways in which animals think, feel, and express – and the ways that animals we domesticate depend upon us for their sustenance: physical, psychological, and emotional. I wish that every child could have that privilege, and that every adult who’s missed it could make up for it now. So I have a vacation suggestion: don’t travel away from the animals, as I did: travel to them!

On the southern border of Utah, just above the Arizona line, cerulean skywhere rust red cliffs glimmer against the cerulean sky, and long stretches of open space call to mind settlers and cowboys, their horses kicking up adobe dust, sits an expansive parcel of paradise on earth. Nestled in Angel Canyon is Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, where abused, abandoned and neglected animals who have nowhere else to go find refuge and a level of compassionate care that leaves me searching for properly descriptive words. Best Friends Animal Society“Dedicated” is too shallow. “Heartwarming” is too trite. “Breathtaking” is barely hyperbole. Animals that would be considered hopeless elsewhere – injured, crippled, chronically diseased – and likely destined for euthanasia are instead rehabilitated to their greatest potential and given lifelong care. Or, better yet and in every instance possible, adopted out to forever homes.

Sanctuary sign copyBegun by a group of buddies back in the 1980’s, the 3,700 acre sanctuary’s name is a propos for both the founders and the beneficiaries of Best Friends Animal Society. It started with a few homeless dogs and cats and now, enlarged by another 17,000 acres of leased land, it includes horses, mules, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, rabbits, birds, and even injured and orphaned wildlife in need of care so that they can once again roam or fly free. These days, the average animal population is around 1,700 – and you are welcome to visit them, volunteer to work with them, maybe even take one (or two?) home. (Note: you do not have Panthegoatto personally visit the Best Friends sanctuary in order to adopt one of the animals in their care.)

Free tours are offered every day at the sanctuary, and volunteers are asked to sign up ahead of time. Care is taken to match volunteers with appropriate animals according to their interests, ages, and physical abilities. If you have the opportunity to volunteer, do! If you’ve never been truly “in touch” with animals, this can be a life-changing experience. And if you already know and care for animals, you’ll likely find new experiences. Cat on leash copyIt was at Best Friends that I first walked a cat on a leash, fed a potbellied pig, and spent an entire afternoon scooping rabbit poop! You can do something as down, dirty and necessary as picking up poop, as soothing as sitting with a cat in your lap, giving him or her personal attention and petting, or as adventurous as taking a companion animal on an excursion off premises.

cottage view copyStaying on the sanctuary grounds enhances the experience. There are a limited number of cabins and cottages available to visitors. They are comfortable, and the scenery is awesome: the red rock mountains as background to horses playing in the pasture, the sun setting over another day of kindness. sleepoverYou can even enjoy a sleepover with an animal and offer your impressions of his or her personality and temperament to Best Friends staff. That helps when making adoptive matches. When I was there, a potbellied pig ambassador was eligible for sleepovers and was quite the coveted guest! If you’re staying in an RV or other accommodation, no problem. You’re welcome to share your space and affections with eligible candidates there, as well.

I was so besotted with the sanctuary that I passed on the sightseeing during my visit, but you can make this as much of a varied vacation as you want. The nearest town is Kanab, five miles away. Several lodgings – hotels, motels, private residences – are available and many offer pet friendly space with a Best Friends discount. You can visit numerous state and national parks and wilderness areas; go golfing, biking, swimming, kayaking, ATVing; explore the “Old West” areas where movies and TV shows were filmed; enjoy art galleries; attend the local theater…

But first and foremost, I hope you’ll experience the animals and soak up the elevated air of compassion and dignity for all who exist here. Introducing a child to this marvelous assortment of sentient creatures and the humans who care for them may inform that child’s sensibilities for a lifetime. Getting hands on with the animals as an adult could alter your own view – and even expand your household, should you decide to take a new best friend home.adoptionpromo

With wishes that you’ll get to be a part of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary someday – and for safe, happy summer travels,

Cathy

 

 

Just a Whisker Away

Can you feel it, just a whisker away?

The promise of breezes lifting the curtains, naps in the afternoon sun, playtimes spent wrestling, climbing a tree, batting a ball around? Ah, summer. kitty hammockMemorial weekend approaches, the unofficial start of the exalted season – and of another, less well known. It’s the height of kitten season. Thousands of kittens born and nurtured in the spring are now mature enough to find homes.

Can you imagine it? Kittens inhaling the fresh air through the window, nestling in the sun’s rays, playing with the zest of a youngster discovering new games each day? Might your home have room for more love and an extra dash of joy? As the French writer Jean Cocteau said, “I love cats because I enjoy my home, and little by little, they become its visible soul.” If you’ve never lived with a cat or kitten, this may mystify you. Many people still think of cats as elusive, independent creatures who turn up their noses at even their closest humans except for when it suits them – like meal time. But as Cocteau knew, cats can gladly offer their lively spirits and ready adopt-a-shelter-cat-monthaffection if we are open to them – and little by little, we come to realize that home is where the cat is. But far too many cats are left wondering where the home is.

An estimated four million cats wind up in shelters across our country each year. They extend their paws through their cages at the workers and visitors passing by: notice me! Notice me! They rub against the wires and purr: pet me! Pet me! They live as fully as possible within their confines: Catincage1play with the toys, lap up the food and water, use the litter box, snuggle with their cage mates. I hope they don’t know what lies around the corner or down the hall if they cannot entice an adopter: the euthanasia room. 70 percent of shelter cats are carried there.

So June is Adopt a Cat Month, also known as Adopt a Shelter Cat month, because this is when shelters are most crowded with kittens and when you catincagehandsbwhave a marvelous opportunity to add to your family and save a life or more. I always recommend at least two cats, for multiple reasons. They will be happier when no humans are at home, because they have each other. You will be more entertained, watching the cats play together. And you’ll get more attention!

The extra care and expense of an additional cat are minimal. Although this is considered sacrilege in some corners, I find that one litter box can do nicely, if it’s cleaned often. (My three cats have a choice of two litter boxes, one indoors and one on the catio. They steadfastly ignore the catio box and happily share the indoor one.) More food is required, but cats are not gargantuan consumers. You’ll also need to provide entertainment, which doesn’t have to mean Fred in a boxexpensive toys. Cats are happy to chase the proverbial yarn, and they love boxes, tissue and wrapping paper, and any number of natural playthings already in your home. Among those playthings should be surfaces they are allowed to scratch: wood, carpet, cardboard. These can all be purchased or you can make your own cat scratchers cheaply and easily. And you’ll want to write an annual veterinary visit into your budget – but that comes later. Shelter animals are spayed, neutered, vaccinated, and often microchipped before they are released. At most shelters, adoption fees are kept as minimal as possible.

And it’s not just kittens who are on borrowed time at shelters, waiting for homes. There are cats of all ages available, from high-energy adolescents to stately elders looking for a warm hearth and snuggly lap. Not sure who is right for you? Ask your shelter’s staff. They’ll help you find the match to suit your time, temperament, and environment.

May 22 Blog Pic Cathy copy2So go ahead: spice up your summer if you can. Adopt a Cat. Then, when the too-brief season slips away and the chill creeps in, you’ll have your friends to keep you warm.

 

 

 

“Be the Way Home”

It’s a simple sentence, an imperative – and in the not-so-simple county of Hillsborough, Florida, it’s now the officially sanctioned plea to citizens: be the way home for shelter animals.

In a nation that is increasingly concerned about its abandoned companion animals, where the terms babyboy“no kill” and “save 90” have become part of the animal welfare lexicon, Hillsborough lags in finding homes for the creatures who wind up at its county shelter. Fewer than 37 percent make it out alive. Dogs are the most fortunate: 56.6% had a “live outcome” in fiscal year 2012, while only 18.9% of cats did. And yet when Be the Way Home was introduced as an effort to up the percentages, a virtual catfight ensued. Why? The old tired topic of TNR.

I use the phrase “old tired topic” advisedly – and personally. I’m tired of arguing about and having to cathytnr advocate for Trap Neuter Return. As a longtime practitioner of TNR, I’ve watched it work, believe that it’s the best practice for free-roaming community cats and the humans with whom they co-exist, and just want the freedom for all TNR’ers to get on with the business of doing it. This freedom exists in hundreds of communities across America, where leadership recognizes that TNR is the most effective, economic, and humane way of controlling and managing free-roaming cat populations. But in too many other communities, hard-working big-hearted caregivers to community cats are driven underground by ordinances against and opposition to their efforts. One common ordinance bans the outdoor feeding of “public nuisance” animals. Opposition says the cats are not indigenous species, claims they are too great a danger to other wildlife through their hunting behaviors, and a threat to humans primarily through carrying disease.

Hence when the director of Hillsborough County Animal Services included a pilot program to trap, neuter and release up to 2,000 community cats per year in his overall Be the Way Home plan to increase live outcomes, the claws came out. A small clutch of veterinarians were the most vociferous opponents of releasing healthy, neutered, microchipped and vaccinated cats back into the community (but away from “sensitive areas” such as parks, playgrounds, schools and conservation lands), seconded by wildlife proponents. The vets invoked the welfare of children to try and whip up Catcornerfear of crazed cats pursuing the populace, while the wildlife advocates focused on allegedly besieged birds. Pro-TNR groups including Animal Coalition of Tampa, Cat Crusaders and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay rallied the local troops on behalf of their successful Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return endeavors and to point out that available science does not support the anti-TNR allegations. National groups like the Humane Society of the United States, Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends Animal Society stood with us.

As I commented during the discussion, community cat advocates are not the natural enemies of catsroosterswildlife conservationists. Most of us are in favor of all animals being allowed to experience their full, natural lives within an ecosystem that does include predatory behavior – including by birds that eat small mammals (such as cats) and even other birds. We argue that the evidence does not support claims that cats are the wildly prolific killers that TNR opponents make them out to be. We know from experience that TNR with feeding reduces feline hunting behavior. I will concede here however, that – as with almost any issue – you can bandy both the empirical and anecdotal evidence about like balls of yarn. The most beautifully simplistic, indisputable statement made in the entire exercise is this: the cats are already here. Are any of these dire scenarios (diseased cats on the rampage, birds falling by the flock) occurring now? Fortunately for the animals of Hillsborough County, the answer (no) and common sense prevailed as commissioners overwhelmingly approved Be the Way Home – a comprehensive plan of which TNR is just one component. Now comes the implementation on behalf of all affected animals. And as in any locale, Animal Services can’t do it alone.

No matter where you live, you can help the animals in a myriad of ways:

–volunteer with a shelter or rescue group
–donate funds, food, or equipment needed
–offer your expertise in communications, marketing or technology to help educate
–adopt or foster animals waiting for homes
–be a responsible pet owner; spay, neuter and promote it to others
–practice TNR and caregiving to community cats
–participate in pet expos and adopt-a-thons
–lobby your lawmakers to support animal welfare legislation
–write letters, send e-mails, post on social media on behalf of animals.

Saving the animals starts with us, the grass roots citizens. It is not the job of governments alone. Reputable shelter and rescue groups are limited by the time, space, and money they have to work with. There’s an ever-growing public aversion to massive euthanasia rates and an expanding energy around education and adoption, along with an increasing willingness to help.

Be the Way Home. It’s a simple sentence – an imperative. It deserves the upper case letters. Let’s bethewayhomefamilyhope it’s the start of a beautiful story in Hillsborough County, Florida – and an inspiration to compassionate, conscientious communities everywhere.

To read the “Be the Way Home” plan click on the image.

DEMOCRACY, ADVOCACY – AND YOU?

Warning:  I am about to use a word that often carries negative connotations.  A word that makes some people cringe.  Ready?  Here it is:  lobby.  Not as in the room where you wait, but as in the activity that you do.  As in lobby your legislators.  As in be a lobbyist.  These words can conjure up images of back rooms, money sacks, quiet handoffs, handshakes and secret deals – and evoke aversion, even derision.  But I would like you to know that I am a lobbyist.  I lobby.  And furthermore, I hope that you do too – or will.

Lobbying is part of our precious democratic process.  Lobbying can be wholly above board, Gathering en massehonorable, out in the open…“in the sunshine,” as we say here in Florida about our government and the way we’re supposed to run it.  It can be a personal phone call, letter or e-mail to your legislator; it can be a petition; it can be an appearance en masse with others on your Capitol steps or at your legislator’s door.  It can be on any issue that you care about – you won’t be surprised that I am going to address the issue of animal welfare.

Humane Lobby Days are conducted around the country under the auspices of the Humane Society Animals don't have a voiceof the United States. It’s a time for those who care about animals to converge on their statehouses and give voice to the voiceless.  The other animals don’t get a vote.  It’s up to us humans to find votes for them.

In Tallahassee, where I participated in Humane Lobby Day, there is a great chance that an animal cruelty bill will pass both chambers this year.  The bill would crack down in several ways on variousAnimal Cruelty Bill acts of animal cruelty and organized crime at staged animal fights. A measure that would require animal shelters to put their numbers out in the sunshine – how many animals taken in, how many adopted out, how many euthanized – is destined for the governor’s desk.  Humane lobbyists have several goals in my state:  ending greyhound racing, endorsing Trap Neuter Return, protecting both dogs and consumers from puppy mill sales. And we have reason to hope.  We are the people who collected enough signatures to put gestation crates for pregnant pigs to referendum – and abolished them. We showed that when you bring animal cruelty to light, a majority of the citizenry may choose to end it.

But you need not go out and gather signatures, travel to the seat of government, or even leave your seat to help animals.  Click here to learn about pending legislation in your state and here  for bills at the federal level, where many of the issues with the most impact on animals – along with consumers and taxpayers – are considered. And then there’s your own backyard, with issues like exotic animals as outdoor pets, dog tethering, free-roaming cats and TNR, backyard chickens:  many ordinances affecting animals and you are enacted at the local level, in municipal and county governments.

Wondering whether your voice matters?  It does. Lawmakers know that citizens who care enough to contact them are likely citizens who vote – so they listen. To learn who your representatives are, visit www.votesmart.org. You can also get on the e-mail lists of animal welfare groups who will alert you to Democracy is a privilegelegislation and ask you to contact your representatives. These alerts often make it easy with summaries of the issue at hand and suggested verbiage when you write your lawmaker.  Your chance to be an advocate is just a few clicks away! As a spokesperson for Grey2K USA – a greyhound advocacy group – reminded us in Tallahassee, “We have the power to do tremendous, amazing things.”  We just have to unleash that power.

Democracy is a privilege. Employing its processes is a choice. Using our system for the betterment billboardredo1of others is what the founding fathers intended.  Defining “others” as all sentient creatures means embracing a lifestyle of conscious compassion. That lifestyle has my vote.