Saturday, February 20, 2010

An Interview with an Animal Advocate

Interview with Amelia

In the Fall of 2009, my dog got a terrible stomach virus. She was very sick and I found myself spending much of my time at the vet clinic in my neighborhood. While there, I got to talking with the receptionist, Amelia. Somehow our conversation turned to her work outside of the vet’s office and I discovered that she’s been living her own version of What You Can Do by doing something called, TNR or Trap, Neuter, Return.

Amelia took some time out of her very busy schedule and met with me for a conversation about her experience with cat TNR. Below is the edited interview.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and the organization you volunteer with?
I’m Amelia and I’ve been involved in TNR for just about 2 years.

What does TNR stand for?
Trap, Neuter, Return or Release… And essentially the TNR goal is to maintain the feral cat population in NY… to get them fixed if they’re feral and release them again. Fixing them eliminates the kittens, it’s also better for their health and it’s better for everyone else.

And by Return, you mean return to their (the cat’s) home and not to a shelter?
Return is to release the feral cat to their colony where you took them. To relocate a feral cat – if you were to trap it and go, ‘okay, I don’t want it here. I’m going to trap it and get it fixed, and I know this great empty lot, I’m going to put it there’ – that can be a death sentence for a cat. They’re not familiar with that territory, so they don’t know how to find their… that’s not their home – it’s a complete foreign area.

What made you want to do TNR?
I was laid off so I started fostering. And the girl I fostered for did this. And I had a cat out in my backyard – a few of them – that I was feeding, and so she talked to me about it…You know, I trap a cat in my backyard and she ended up being friendly, which, unfortunately, most of the cats that are on the streets are friendly because they’ve been abandoned or let go, or they got out and never found their owners.

What’s involved in the certification for TNR?
The certification is very easy. You can take an online course through the ASPCA or you can take a class. And it’s a small amount, I think it might be like $25.00, a minimal fee and it’s a 2 or 3 hour class and they go through how to trap, how to care for your colony, how to manage the ferals, access to the van.… I prefer, you know, recommending people to actually take the classroom class, because you get people who have been doing if for awhile and you have people who haven’t been. So you have a lot of questions, but you also meet a lot of people. There’s a yahoo online group that you’re able to have access to after you take the class. You can post questions there and they’re very helpful. You learn a lot of resources through this class and then you’re certified to be able to, you know to take you cats to the van.

And by the van, you mean the spay and neuter van?
The ASPCA van. Yeah.

Do you get assigned a colony or does somebody know of a colony that you are told about?
No this is all what we’ve found on our own.

What makes something a colony?
Any more than one cat... A colony is our term for it being their territory, it’s their family, their network.

So how many are you working with now?
Right now I have one block, which I have two different stations of about 20 cats.

All of these cats live on the street.
Correct.… Our goal is to have what we call a managed colony. A managed colony ideally is where everyone in the colony has been spayed or neutered.

Can you trap a feral cat on your own?
Oh yeah.

Have you been bitten ever?
Oh yeah. That comes with the territory, to get scratched.

Do you go in with any sort of protective anything?

It’s just you with a…
Trap. The ferals usually – it’s funny cause the ferals are quiet. They’ll hunch back in the corner and they’ll hiss. We generally know a friendlier cat once we get it in a trap because they’re louder. A good test if they’re friendly or not? Stick your hand in [the trap].

A lot of the times we’ll know a feral when we see it. You know, the friendlies and the ferals, they tend to have a different look. I wouldn’t recommend just anyone on the street going, ‘oh your friendly, I’m going to take you and trap you and bring you home’ because you don’t know. I don’t recommend anyone just picking up a cat and bringing it home and introduce it to their other cats. Take it to the vet, get it tested for leukemia and FIV before you introduce it to your other cats.

You mentioned that a lot of the cats you find are friendly because they’ve been abandoned or lost so, do you find that they’ve already been spayed or neutered?

The food that you buy for your colony is…
All funded by me.

I feed about 30 cats on a daily basis.

So is your goal in terms of the colonies, to only leave the feral cats out on the street?

So you’re hoping to get the friendlys into a home.
Exactly. Our hope is to not find the friendlys and it’s a lot easier just to trap and release, but we always find some level of friendlys. But the goal is to eventually have a complete managed colony.

Have you always been a cat lover? Or an animal lover?
I have. I grew up in the country so we always had cats, dogs, horses and they’ve always just been a part of my life. I just never knew this was a part of me but apparently – I think like, some of us, this is just who we are. Everyone’s like, ‘I don’t know how you can do this. I couldn’t do it’, my response is, I can’t not. I can’t not. I always have cat food on me. If I see a cat, I’m going to have food for the cat.

Is this the sort of work you want to keep doing?
I can’t stop. You know we definitely get frustrated and exhausted, burnt out but, they’re always in need.

Do you feel that there are misconceptions about what you do?
Yes. There are a lot of misconceptions because there are misconceptions about cats. Dogs are definitely seen as a lot more friendly, you know, cats are like, you know, if you have more than one and you’re single ‘you’re a cat lady,’ you know, ‘you’re not going to get a husband’, kind of thing. But, it’s really not that way, you know, we have well kept homes. A lot of them, they have families, they have children, and, you know, they have everyday normal lives. Yes, this does take up a lot of time but this is what we do in our spare time. But we have completely functioning lives.

I like to say, you know, I like to speak for those that can’t speak for themselves

**If you would like more information on TNR, cat fostering or donation information, Amelia recommends you visit the ASPCA’s website, The Urban Cat League or the Toby Project.

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