I started out living in urban areas but have spent 25 years in rural areas. I am fascinated with how daily life plays out in a so-called rural area. Knowing that the word “rural” can mean many different things (Vermont, northern Minnesota, and Alaska are all “rural” places, for example, but are very different), I was curious about the challenges cat rescuers might face in such places. When goods and services are not as conveniently located, it can affect how you carry out your life or make your plans. The process of trap-neuter-return seems to be pretty labor intensive as it is, and I wondered what specific challenges TNR rescuers face in rural areas.
I had my own ideas — driving distances and expense, for example, or possibly fewer places for cats to hide — but I spoke with several people who have done TNR in rural areas. Here are some of their insights.
Cheri Lincoln, a North Carolina cat blogger who runs a sanctuary for feral cats with special needs, recalls the challenges she faced in a rural area when she began doing TNR 15 years ago. Her biggest challenge? She had no support from the local animal shelter. That shelter simply wanted to trap feral cats and euthanize them.
“I got all my information from the Alley Cat Allies group in Washington, D.C., via email and phone,” Lincoln says.
She was fortunate to find a local vet willing to lower his rate for spay/neuter on the feral cats.
“Today there is more awareness of TNR overall and more groups that support it,” she says.
Lincoln was able to change the local shelter’s view on feral cats so that it accepted the trap-neuter-return practice. Nonetheless, she says she knows of no local feral cat projects in her area.
Jeanne Kudich, cat blogger at Random Felines and a volunteer with Colony Cats in Columbus, Ohio, agrees that travel expense and time are definite challenges in doing TNR in a rural area. But Kudich adds that “there can be a mindset that cats living in rural areas are ‘doing okay by themselves.'”
I’ve run into this myself, particularly when people learn that my cats don’t ever go outside. People have suggested that cats can fend for themselves just fine in the outdoors.
Kudich says, “It can be an uphill battle sometimes to get people to allow us to set traps and return the cats to the only homes they have ever known. Fortunately, there are also good people out there. Once you explain you are just trying to help and aren’t asking for money, they are grateful someone is stepping up to assist.”
Kudich points out that the best approach to TNR, rural or otherwise, involves patience and education.
Bernadette E. Kazmarski, Pittsburgh-based animal advocate, artist, and cat blogger at the Creative Cat, says most people don’t realize how rural most of Pennsylvania is.
“There’s farmland within two miles of downtown Pittsburgh,” she says, “and many counties midstate have no shelters at all, let alone TNR programs.”
All cat welfare advocates have horror stories, and Kazmarski recalls a farm north of Pittsburgh that had a bunch of cats living near its gate. Someone might have dropped them off there; someone else was feeding them. The farmer contacted the rescue group that Kazmarski works with, The Homeless Cat Management Team, to take the cats.
The homeless cat group, she says, “mentioned TNR, even the free clinics, but he wasn’t interested. In that county you can call police for animal control, and in this place it was the state police. The officer obligingly shot all the cats.”
Two years ago, residents of a rural trailer park contacted the Homeless Cat Management Team for help with about 100 cats who’d been dumped there or born there, with little veterinary assistance anywhere near.
“The best way to help them was to do the clinic onsite with our mobile unit,” she says. “That mobile [unit] has now become Frankie’s Friends Mobile Clinic and holds clinics as far as two counties away.”
Bonnie Geisler is president of Felines & Friends Foundation, which implements TNR in northern Vermont and surrounding areas. In our ongoing communications she has cited few distinctions between urban and rural trap-neuter-return efforts. Open-mindedness and compassion are key to public education when it comes to TNR or animal welfare, she says, in a rural area or not. People might mean well but may not have the resources to properly care for — or spay/neuter — cats. People (in rural or urban areas) might simply lack the understanding of the huge impact of cat overpopulation, and how quickly cats can reproduce. People may not realize how effective TNR can be. This is where we can all make a difference in educating and spreading the word.
Do you conduct trap-neuter-return in a rural area? What are the challenges you’ve faced?
More by Catherine Holm:
About Catherine Holm: Cat Holm is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, and a contributor to Rescued: The Stories of 12 Cats, Through Their Eyes. She’s also a yoga instructor. Cat love living in nature and being outside every day, even in winter. She is mom to six adorable cats, all of them rescues.