Catnip Nation's January Report - Fighting For TNR Ordinances In Rockland County, NY | Lola The Rescued Cat
Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Catnip Nation's January Report - Fighting For TNR Ordinances In Rockland County, NY

In October I brought you the fourth installment of a series of posts by Tina Traster, Producer and Director of the documentary film Catnip Nation. This month Tina discusses the importance of TNR ordinances to address the feral cat issue. I could not agree more! This summer I toured Alley Cat Allies' Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project, which is proof that TNR works!  One of my goals for my blog this year is to write more about TNR to educate the public on this very important topic.Tell me your thoughts in the comments below. Thank you, Tina, for being a voice for feral cats, not only in Rockland County (my home town), but everywhere. It makes me proud and elated that the Village of Haverstraw, where I grew up, passed Rockland County’s first feral cat ordinance to support Trap Neuter Return (TNR). My niece went to high school with the mayor, Michael Kohut, and I went to school with his brother. (The Village of Haverstraw is small... everyone knows everyone else!) My dream is for this type of ordinance to be passed nationwide. Let's all help Tina and Catnip Nation spread the word by sharing this post. Are there TNR ordinances in your area? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

If you'd like to support the documentary film Catnip Nation, click here. You can also spread the word about the wonderful work they are doing to make a difference in the lives of feral cats. And don't forget to follow them on social media! 
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TNR Ordinances are Needed to Address Feral Cat Issue

The TNR movement spans decades. Some say it started in England in the 1970s. We know it has gained tremendous momentum in the U.S. and abroad, but mostly in enlightened communities where government officials are open-minded and curious enough to take the time to understand what it is, how it works, and to acknowledge that there are no other workable solutions for winnowing down feral cat populations. 

In the course of making our documentary, Catnip Nation, we have become intimately familiar with the politics of community cats and TNR. In fact, when I’m not directing or working with my editor on Catnip Nation, I wear a different hat: I’m a member of a recently-formed group called Community Cats Initiative. Made up of TNR veterans, and other cat advocates, we have set about to educate and advocate for cats, and specifically for TNR, in Rockland County, New York. 

For nearly a year, we’ve been working with government officials in Clarkstown, Rockland County’s largest town, to pass an ordinance. There’s been a lot of back and forth, generous input from both sides, a mass campaign at a council meeting. We are still waiting to see the ordinance come to a vote. 

In contrast, the tiny Village of Haverstraw made history in December when it passed Rockland County’s first feral cat ordinance to support Trap Neuter Return (TNR). Mayor Michael Kohut understood the imperative of taking a practical and humane step toward controlling the population of stray or “feral” cats. Interestingly, members of CCI had only met with him once, back in October. But he’s smart. He got it. And without fanfare, he moved forward decisively. 

Stray cats, and often colonies of stray/feral cats, live in everywhere – behind shopping centers, near office buildings, in apartment complexes, by the river, in parks. EVERYWHERE! Feral cats live close to humanity because they find sources of food and water. Most of mankind feels an instinct to help the strays they see, so they feed them. 

A comprehensive Trap, Neuter, Return program, which is what the Village of Haverstraw endorsed with its newly passed legislation, turns random feeding into a cohesive approach to both feed but winnow down the populations through sterilizing and vaccinating.  

TNR is a tried and tested method of population control being used throughout the country and the world. Here’s how it works: There is a caretaker in charge of a managed colony. That colony can be anywhere from five cats to 50. The feeder comes at regularly scheduled times, feeds the colony, and then removes the food source, so as not to attract other wildlife. The colony caretaker – working with TNR groups – aims to fix all the cats, male and female. The TNR groups work with lower-cost spay-neuter facilities. The overarching goal of TNR is to reduce populations through sterilization and to stop the cycle of kitten births. Fixing cats also reduces nuisance behavior such as fighting, yowling, and spraying. The colony caretaker is like a manager – when a new cat shows up, they make sure the intruder is also fixed.

So where does the municipal government fit in? 

The Village of Haverstraw passed Rockland County’s first feral cat ordinance to support Trap Neuter Return (TNR). 

TNR works best when colony caretakers, animal control officers, law enforcement, and the community work together. When a town blesses TNR, the program operates in daylight. It is legitimate and the different parties can come to the table together. Additionally, the municipality helps to disseminate information and educate its citizens. It helps fund the efforts.  

Everyone can agree no one wants community cats. This is not a problem that can be solved overnight – TNR requires patience and participation. But it’s impossible to gain momentum unless enlightened public officials like Mr. Kohut step up and show leadership. 

There are tens of thousands of community cats roaming the streets. Until now, mayors and supervisors have let this issue fester – largely because they have not even realized that it is an issue. Many have mistakenly believed this is something that can be taken care of by the lone animal control officer or the shelter. This was never really the case; but it is certainly not so now. Killing cats is just not acceptable. It’s also not affordable or practical. Shelters are unable to house scores of feral cats, and many have said they will no longer take ear-tipped cats (cats in colonies that have been fixed are ear-tipped). 

Some municipal leaders simply want to turn their back on this issue. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Or hope that somehow it will be magically solved by a different government entity or by the good people of Rockland County who do this thankless work under the cover of night. Those leaders are misguided. They should look to Mayor Kohut, and to the leaders in New York City, Peekskill, Atlantic City, Washington, D.C., and the entire state of Utah for direction and inspiration. 

Community cats are not going to go away. Not unless town officials step up and embrace TNR, and pass ordinances to support these programs.

Please weigh in. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Tina Traster is a socially-conscious, award-winning journalist, author, and filmmaker. Her 30-minute documentary, This House Matters, is an examination on historic preservation in the Hudson Valley. The film has screened at the YoFi Film Festival, the Kingston Film Festival, the Hoboken International Film Festival, and the Nyack Film Festival. Traster's work has appeared in scores of newspapers, magazines and literary journals including The New York Times, The New York Post, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, Redbook, Family Circle, Parade, Time Out New York, Audubon, Ski Magazine and many others. She is the author of the award-winning memoir Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother's Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder. Since 2006, Traster has written the "Burb  Appeal" column for The New York Post. 

Would you like to comment?

  1. I'm so glad there are humans like Tina, who work hard to bring awareness and aid to community cats. Paws up to her!

  2. TNR is so impawtant, thanks fur sharing such a great post!

    Together we can make a difference :)

    Bestest purrs

    Basil & Co xox

  3. We wish more communities would do more to encourage TNR and help those who do it educate others along the way.

  4. OH! I've helped introduce a TNR ordinance in my city, but the city council hasn't moved an inch on it yet. I need some help! Is there pamphlets or speaking points, and sample ordinances available somewhere?

  5. we have a program here wherein all three of the animal welfare coalitions work together; it's called operation cat; community cats are trapped, neutered/spayed,
    vaccinated, chipped and then returned to their neighborhood ♥♥♥

  6. A couple years ago, there was an article in the local paper about a municipality passing a policy for TNR in partnership with a local rescue. I was shocked to find out it was a first. For some reason, I thought TNR policies were the norm. Even more devastating were the comments from people who believed feral cats to be nuisances. We created this problem of homeless cats due to our irresponsibility and indifference - and we owe it to them to do the best we can to fix it.

  7. We so agree with this! We wish more communities would enact TNR ordinances.

  8. This is wonderful. I would like my community to do this. I'm thankful for people like Tina who works so hard to advocate for feral/homeless cats.

  9. TNR is so important and as you said if Mayors and city employers work with you the problem is solved in an easier way, thank you for all the great work you do

  10. TNR seems like a great way to help care for community cats. I hope it continues to gain support.

  11. TNR has been proven to be successful in so many areas - I know by us it still is an ongoing battle trying to get those in charge to comprehend the benefits. Instead they rather "do away" with the cats or move them elsewhere, neither which is an option in my opinion. So thankful there are people like Tina in the world who persevere even when the going gets tough!

  12. I am so glad some of the powers that be are actually progressive and enlightened to the benefits of TNR!! It truly IS the best solution for feral cat populations!

  13. I practice TNR wherever it's needed, regardless of law. I volunteer with the Pittsburgh region's freestanding TNR program, the Homeless Cat Management Team. All the shelters, and several veterinarians in the area, have TNR programs as well.

    The city of Pittsburgh offers five free spays or neuters to city residents because they found it was far less expensive to partner with shelters and pay them for surgeries than it was to run animal control around the city to pick up animals and then pay the shelters to manage them. The free surgeries cover strays and ferals too.

    We are miles ahead of where we were even a decade ago, mostly because we have simply continued with what we felt was right. Some communities have outlawed it, but we rescuers have gotten together before many councils to prove our point, especially the fact that the cats they want to trap and kill were abandoned by residents of their own communities and the only way to solve "the problem" was to enforce humane laws.

    TNR on its own may not show the benefits of reduced populations right away, but with returning only the truly unsocialized cats and adopting out the friendly ones and socialized kittens people see the benefits of reduced populations right away. While investigating situations, trapping and returning cats, you are in the community and have the opportunity for outreach, to let people know the importance of spay and neuter, opportunities for low cost surgeries, the benefits of keeping cats indoors, and more.

  14. This is a great article. Putting the information out there is crucial to getting people to truly understand what TNR really is and how it works.

  15. TNR is a wonderful program. My only wish is that if it wasn't a purebred cat and the owner didn't have a breeders license, all cats should be required to be spayed or neutered. Feral colonies come from people dumping their cats that are unaltered that lead to more kittens.

  16. This is such an informative article. I admit - I have no idea what my local area's laws are concerning community and feral cats. I know that until recently, our shelters were usually kill shelters. I need to research our local practices.

  17. Thank you for informing people on such an important cause. In my city, there is only 1 organization that is doing the TNR program so teaching people about the importance of it is crucial.

  18. TNR is such a great program. I'll have to see if my community has one. I think our local shelter has been doing this, but I'll have to check. Thanks for the post!

  19. I'm somewhat familiar with TNR as it's used widely in Chicago. Which surprises me that in a small community there is a feral cat problem, butI guess in the country it's possible. TNR is used in Chicago to control the rat population, but surprisingly there are so many against it. Hopefully with your program the number of cats will eventually decrease over time. Sandra and Dolly

  20. Great info here! I'm so glad there are people like Tina out there who are caring for and fighting for community cats. Also, looking forward to reading your TNR posts this year!

  21. Several of the rescues here do TNR but I'm not sure if the city has a program for it. I see a lot of cats on our walks but I'm not quite sure how many of them are homeless.


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