When we changed our mission from "do it all for you" TNR to a model where we train and support people to TNR their colonies, we assumed that things would level out as we reached the end of the list of people willing to become caretakers and TNR their own colonies.
After over a year of our 50 Feral Fix program, where residents in need qualify to have 24/7 trapping and financial support from us, our program has not slowed down, even when donations have ground to a halt. We are busier than ever and being stretched farther financially and emotionally than we ever anticipated.
It's revealing a pay-to-play model of veterinary care where cats and the members of underserved communities repeatedly suffer the consequences.
Most people in the communities we serve are not able to afford even low cost vet care in New Jersey. Even discounted $80 TNR surgery is not something that low-income or financially insecure families can afford, especially with already large colonies. We are still shocked to be one of the few nonprofits that focuses strictly on underserved communities. As long as participants follow the rules of our program, we support them 24/7. There is no magic in how we fundraise - it is simply long hours, mailings, calls, and running our online store to pay for these surgeries. To add insult to injury, we often get requests from other rescue groups for vouchers under the guise of "teamwork" or "uniting," but we will not see any proceeds from the fundraisers held by those groups after using our vouchers. We are rarely offered reciprocal help or spots from the same groups when our voucher recipients find friendly cats when doing TNR. How are we supposed to bridge this gap if few other rescues are even doing their own fundraising to offer free TNR to those most in need?
Towns are still not offering any models that can effectively serve the people to whom we are issuing vouchers. Towns that claim or appear to have "TNR Programs" vary but all consistently fail to meet the needs of their residents.
There are nowhere near enough appointments to avoid being outbred.
Most do not have holding facilities and require people to bring the cats to a nonprofit or town location.
Rules and enrollment are kept under lock and key and usually cannot be even be confirmed without an OPRA request or research.
In underserved towns, the policies range from feeding bans to colony registration, none of which are practicable for the communities. Even in municipalities where people are willing to take responsibility for getting their colonies under control, they are abruptly halted by health departments that refuse to allocate any manpower or funding to make spay/neuter more accessible to residents without funds or transportation. The towns sign bargain basement contracts with contractors that have cleverly exempted themselves from even having a shelter!
Even worse, in some of the most vulnerable communities, residents are emotionally blackmailed by town employees who offer no help to individuals attempting to get help with surrender or impoundment when they cannot afford veterinary care or keep their cats. In the midst of being unable to afford even cat food, these residents hit a dead end where their choices are starve them, abandon them, or let them suffer and breed.
We are attempting to bridge this gap by educating people on cruelty laws, municipal codes, and even making calls to health departments to obtain information that towns do not want to share with residents. It's especially exhausting because more people are vulnerable for many reasons and simply do not feel like they can report or hold their towns accountable.
The nationwide veterinary shortage exists... but there are plenty of luxury vet experiences out there.
When corporations like Banfield, Petwell, VCA and others purchase private practices, new price lists are issued and any TNR or feral cat services are promptly shut down. Our two prior vets offered discounted prices of $382 and $1800 for TNR packages and neither would more than one or two appointments. This effectively shuttered any TNR we could previously offer to those unable to trap.
Given the long lines at PFA every day, it's clear that low cost high volume clinics need more vets, but they cannot attract any additional veterinarians or vet techs. Why? Emergency and corporately owned vets are attracting new graduates with enticing offers of compensation and experience. Who wouldn't want to work in the gorgeous open concept facilities of VEG? Who wouldn't want to work in a place with plenty of support staff and wealthy pet owners like Bond? Who doesn't want competitive pay?
We certainly can't blame DVMs for wanting to be fairly compensated. But their employers? That's another story.
These companies are catering to owned and purchased pets, and offer absolutely nothing that a typical resident can afford for outdoor cats. With all of the luxury experiences posted online of happy pet owners slumbering with their pets at the ER on couches, exotic pets having obscure surgeries, and humorous happy endings for dogs who swallow fine jewelry, there are no posts dedicated to the many animals suffering because these booming clinics are offering nothing beyond 10% or 20% discounts to nonprofits. Some of them have charitable goals, but they are limited to owned pets and rescues, not outdoor cats or colony emergencies, and are completely out of reach for any municipal TNR program.
It is clear that veterinary care has become a luxury in our state and if you can't afford it, your outdoor cats suffer and breed.
We know that our approach of supporting residents in need while they become proficient trappers and caretakers is not glamorous. We don't have the fun pictures and videos of drop traps slamming or cars full of cats, and we no longer get to declare how many cats we caught while freezing in our cars. But if we don't at least attempt to bridge the gaps, who will?
The bridge we're building....
Veterinary service for all, not just people who can pay or don't want to.
Towns who are there for the residents who simply cannot afford to be compliant but want to end the suffering.
Help for people who want to reform and hold their towns responsible.
Help for all of the people who are OUTSIDE the doors of the clinics, animal hospitals, and shelters, unable to do the right thing because they're just too low on the list.
How you can help.....
Helping those most in need has been more work than we have ever done. We do not attract "thank you "donations and annual donors from our voucher recipients. Most live paycheck to paycheck. We do not attract donations from their neighbors as most are in similar living situations.
Many people will never be in the areas we serve to see what is happening firsthand. We do not get sweet thank you letters as many of our voucher recipients are English language learners who are muddling through google translate with us to get the help they desperately need.
When planning your donations to nonprofits, consider helping those in the greatest need whom you will never meet, likely can't speak to, and who are doing everything in their power to not have to watch another generation of cats born to suffer and die.