On Forefront of Feral Cat Care in Arlington

On Forefront of Feral Cat Care in Arlington

Work of helping cats began in an alleyway.

Becky Robinson of Arlington is president and founder of Alley Cat Allies.

Becky Robinson of Arlington is president and founder of Alley Cat Allies. Alley Cat Allies Photo

“Alley Cat Allies has been on the cusp of change and has led the way for the entire animal sheltering field.” —Becky Robinson, founder and president, Alley Cat Allies

“Overall, the trajectory for outdoor cats is definitely improving. Not just in the United States, but around the world,” pointed out Arlington resident Becky Robinson. She is founder and president of the international cat advocacy group Alley Cat Allies, based in Bethesda, Md.

“Unfortunately, we continually come up against cases in which outdated practices and attitudes have ruled the day,” she added. “This means that lots of cats suffer needlessly. And that cannot be allowed to happen.”

Robinson started her organization in 1990 while living in Arlington. She and a friend wanted to help cats seen frequently in an Adams-Morgan alleyway in Washington.

They knew that if they took the cats to the local shelter, they would be killed because they would be judged too wild to be adopted out as pets. So, they sought a non-lethal solution.

“We ultimately had all the cats spayed or neutered and vaccinated and then returned to their outdoor home while also socializing and finding homes for the small kittens,” said Robinson.

Later, she took her newfound knowledge about what is now known worldwide as Trap-Neuter-Return to the rest of the nation. Pioneered in England, TNR was a practice long eschewed by major national humane organizations. Cats who are TNR’d also receive a rabies vaccine, other medical basics while on the operating table and an ear tip, which is the trimming of the corner of the left ear as a signal that the cat has already been sterilized.

These days, however, TNR is considered mainstream by most animal protection groups. It was Robinson’s efforts these last 28 years that effected such change.

“Alley Cat Allies has been on the cusp of change and has led the way for the entire animal sheltering field. Many people did not agree with TNR because it meant allowing feral cats — also known as community cats — outside, but nowadays almost every humane society and SPCA supports it,” she said.

Despite this change of how to approach the issue of feral cats, occasional aberrations surface. For example, there are two 2018 cases on which Alley Cat Allies has been focused recently.

In Iowa, one town’s police department had been encouraging people to trap and then shoot cats.

“That was some uneducated person’s solution to outdoor cats,” Robinson said. “This shows that shelters need more oversight, regulation and training for employees and volunteers.”

Meanwhile, the director of an animal control facility in Indiana was telling employees to put cats into a freezer to kill them, rather than perform humane euthanasia. A whistleblower and then other staffers went public this summer with their stories about what they were ordered to do.

Alley Cat Allies will attempt to bring justice to harmed cats in these cases and teach these communities about appropriate, progressive solutions to outdoor cats via TNR, according to Robinson.

Robinson has worked with organizations throughout Virginia and from coast to coast. The reach of Alley Cat Allies and willingness to opt for TNR has now traveled to dozens of countries. Inquiries from all over the globe regularly come into the Bethesda office.

“It’s still hard for me to believe what I started in an alley all those years ago pioneered so much for so many cats,” said Robinson while reflecting on 28 years in business. “It is enormously gratifying.”

She says her organization is now supported by thousands of individuals and receives no government funding. Programs range from organizing grassroots responses for cat concerns to lobbying for cat-friendly legislation to ensuring justice is sought for feline cruelty victims.

“Alley Cat Allies always has a zillion items on our plate demanding response,” Robinson said. “But our main goal for the future is for all animal shelters to have non-lethal control programs for cats and kittens — which is what the public wants. TNR should be the law of the land in all the states.”