I recently visited a friend in South Carolina who feeds and does trap-neuter-return with a feral cat colony near her house. In several years, this colony has gone from 30 cats to the current six. This is a success. But my friend is not independently wealthy. Every day, she must come up with the means to feed these cats as well as care for her own two indoor kitties on a fairly small income. How do average people carry out the very necessary work of feral-cat care? I asked three people who I know in the cat-rescue world, and who I admire greatly, for their ideas.
Christine Booras of Jacksonville, Florida, is a feral cat advocate and the author of Me, My Ferals, & I. She has years of caring for feral cats; here are some points she emphasizes:
Locate a low-cost clinic or vet in your area
Booras says, “A No. 1 priority is keeping the number of animals in your care down to a manageable number without reproducing, increasing the chances of them staying healthy and more adoptable.”
Booras’ Jacksonville clinic (First Coast No More Homeless Pets) not only does low cost spay/neuter, but also receives donations from (individuals and companies)and passes these savings on to the consumer. One of their programs is specifically designed for the TNR of feral cats where the costs are subsidized and the cat can be spayed/neutered and ear-tipped for a substantially lower fee and sometimes even for free.
These are creative options that could be implemented or discussed with your own vet. Booras recommends talking with vets to see if they have plans set up and negotiating discounts up front, especially if you will be bringing in large numbers of cats.
Cut costs on food and shelter
Obviously, keeping overall cat numbers down (which is the long-term effect of TNR) will keep long-term food and shelter costs down. But other creative options for cost saving in this area exist. Try reaching out to Meals on Wheels, which sometimes covers food for pets. “You just need to ask. If you qualify for Meals on Wheels, you may also qualify for pet food,” says Booras.
Approach grocery store managers and ask if they have any damaged pet food or if they can offer discounts. “Do this weekly, until you wear them down. I approached the Winn Dixie near me and they gave me a ton of coupons, which I distributed to some of my feral cat caregiver friends.”
Booras clips coupons out of the free papers and has written to Friskies, explaining her situation and asking for discounts. She received coupons from the company.
Approach home supply stores and see if they can help out. Lowe’s gave Booras some construction material that was being thrown away. She made two two feeding stations, a bench, and a shelter for “close to nothing.” Local office supply stores may be willing to donate damaged (or even new) supplies for rescue awareness efforts.
Lastly, storage containers make great litter boxes and are cheaper than buying regular litter boxes. These can be used to construct cat shelters, too, by cutting holes in the sides and filling them with straw.
Booras created a MeetUp group for feral cat rescuers. “We made up some brochures, business cards, etc., and could pass those out if we went to events. As an established group, you can always achieve more.”
She stresses that there should be a “solid message that people will understand enough to be willing to give you money (and not for rent). Overall, I say ask, ask, ask, with a honest and heartfelt smile, with the mission of helping others that are less fortunate (of the four-legged kind). If you fail the first time, don’t stop asking. Eventually, if you are reasonable, you will succeed.”
Christine Michaels, founder and president of Riverfront Cats, varies the approach to fundraising depending upon the purpose. If you’re raising funds to feed a cat colony, for example, Michaels suggests “basic grassroots” approaches, including educating neighbors about the epidemic of homeless pets and the effectiveness of TNRM (Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage).
Essentially, it’s knocking on doors or walking and talking to neighbors. Talk to people, but be armed with the facts. Presentation and first impressions are everything.”
If a person wants to help an injured cat and raise funds, Michaels suggests the use of social media and crowdfunding strategies. Social media is great for spreading the word, but be sure to include excellent photos. Name the cat and “create a telling story. It’s basic advertising. What sells? Photos and a storyline that pulls your heartstrings!”
Michaels recommends joining and following social media pet groups. Michaels has done so in Miami, where she lives.
She says, “We now have many public groups on Facebook, a tight-knit community of pet lovers/rescue experts that come together whenever a person posts a specific scenario of a cat that needs help. If it’s an elderly person who feeds a colony of cats and now is unable to continue, a neighbor will post this and ask for help.”
Michaels says that receipts from fundraising should be scanned and saved. They are critical for showing proof of fundraising results.
Another solution is for a person to approach a nonprofit and ask to “partner with a nonprofit,” says Michaels. She says this is not done enough. “It’s a missed opportunity where local residents and nonprofits with established social media/marketing venues can work together to save more cats!”
For example, if someone contacts Riverfront Cats about an injured cat and the nonprofit does not have shelter space, it could team up with the person. Once Riverfront verifies the cat story is legitimate, the individual agrees to pay all vet bills upfront, provides copies of all vet bills and care for the cat, and takes photos. Riverfront then shares the story on social media and conducts the fundraising, to help repay the volunteer.
“This must be carefully documented for IRS purposes, but it’s a great win-win for shelters that do not have space but have the marketing resources and for residents who have the space but not the resources.”
Do you have cost-saving or fundraising ideas of your own for the average person who wants to help cats? Share your thoughts in the comments!