From one colony to a national movement!
In the fall of 1999, three neighbors on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, including Bryan Kortis, Ruth Sharp and Shirley Belwood, each became aware of a vacant lot filled with feral cats and kittens. As they tried to figure out how to help the cats, they found one other and began working together. At first, they wanted to rescue all the cats, not really understanding what it meant to be feral, but they soon learned there was little help available - the shelters were full, the cats were too wild to be adopted right away and all the rescue groups were already overwhelmed. It wasn't until another neighborhood resident, Anitra Frazier, author of The Natural Cat, introduced them to the idea of Trap-Neuter-Return that a plan became clear.
Over the course of the next year, the neighbors trapped the cats, often one at a time, and brought them to veterinarians willing to offer discount spay/neuter services. They adopted out the young kittens - there were over twenty - and returned the dozen or so wild adults to the lot. Winter shelters constructed from sheets of styrofoam were placed behind a business on the block and feeding stations were set up. The results were dramatic - the number of cats in the colony had been reduced, the neutering eliminated the odor and noise, the cats' health improved and local residents became more tolerant of the felines' presence. Having witnessed how TNR could work in an urban area, Sharp, Belwood and Kortis decided to introduce the method throughout New York City, where at least tens of thousands of cats roamed the streets, and Neighborhood Cats was born.
Over the next few years, the TNR movement in New York City grew rapidly, led by Neighborhood Cats and the many volunteers who joined our effort. Training workshops were held on a regular basis, experienced trappers helped newcomers, local shelters and animal organizations offered more resources, and more and more feral cats were spay/neutered. Before long, Trap-Neuter-Return became an accepted practice and a strong system of feral cat services developed.
As TNR spread throughout the city, word of Neighborhood Cats' success spread. Requests for assistance and advice poured in from around the country. In order to expedite the growth of TNR everywhere, we wrote books, produced videos, expanded our website and held national conferences. We lobbied national organizations to make their feral cat programs more progressive, then collaborated with them to create and distribute more materials. We reached out to wildlife groups, animal control agencies and public health officials in order to overcome stagnant policies which had in the past failed to address feral cat overpopulation. We provided support and funding to other groups so they could establish their own community TNR programs.
Today, we see a much different landscape for feral cats in the United States than when we started out in 1999. While it is true the problem still exists of too many cats living out on their own, Trap-Neuter-Return is no longer the radical poor cousin of the animal welfare movement that it was for so many years. Instead, it is increasingly embraced as an essential component of any effort aimed at reducing cat overpopulation. Funding from foundations and municipalities is growing, feral cat nonprofits are springing up everywhere and can now gain the support they need to thrive and sustain their efforts. The largest animal groups in the country, including The Humane Society of the United States and ASPCA, are firmly in favor of TNR. The introduction of TNR into the mainstream has been among Neighborhood Cats' proudest achievements - that and finally, after five years of trying, trapping Grandma, the matriarch of our original colony!