Q&A with Sandra Obi, director of APLNJ’s community cat advocacy program
Q – What drew you to this position with APLNJ?
SO – I’ve loved cats my whole life and have always been a bit of a cat whisperer! I am a trained educator. I was raised vegetarian and since a young age held respect for all living creatures. When the opportunity arose to combine education with cats and to top it off included being a pursuer of animal rights, I was thrilled to be able to join the team.
Q – Can you give us an idea of a typical day?
SO – A typical day for me usually involves 20-30 emails plus around 10 phone calls. I urge people to call back or email me if I don’t answer right away because I do not often have the time to go through my phone messages and return calls, although I do try to!
The most common request of people contacting me is who can come and take cats away unfortunately – because the answer to that is “nobody.” Fortunately most of the time I am able to explain how TNR is the only solution that actually works and can go on from there to help them find all of the resources they need to get the population successfully managed.
Other things I am contacted about:
*Where to find particular resources for TNR and applications for Sponsor Our Spays, APLNJ’s subsidy program
*Threats to cats’ health and well being or to feeders from neighbors, animal control or health department
*What to do with friendly cats who are living outside or with kittens from newborn to 3 months
*Health concerns for outside cats
*What to do with “lovely gorgeous pretty cats and kittens who run right up when I put food out but don’t really let me pet them”
Q – Wow, that’s a lot. Sounds like you’re kept busy.
Yes, I am! There are other things I do, but not on a daily basis – grant writing and reporting, fundraising event organizing, researching / networking / connecting with others and connecting people to each other.
Q – Have attitudes toward community cats in NJ changed since you started in 2009?
SO – I have seen some changes since I started in 2009.
More and more townships and animal control entities seem to be recognizing TNR as the best management strategy, which is great.
What is still lacking however is the rights of these cats to be managed right where they are and the understanding that removal of cats interferes with the success of a TNR strategy. This has unfortunately resulted in more cats being relocated than before. Adding TNR into town management strategies is fabulous but when it includes a provision for being able to remove cats if anyone complains, we are taking steps backwards in trying to provide an effective management strategy.
Q – What are the biggest obstacles you face?
SO – People understandably do not always want to take responsibility for community cats – why should they? They are not “their” cats.
At the same time, their tax dollars do not include a solution with their animal control services, so paying for vetting is always an issue.
TNR is hard work and people are hoping for an easy solution. They just want the cats to be able to live in cat paradise where they can be safe and live happily ever after.
So my biggest obstacles are two-fold – trying to encourage people to accept that responsibility with me helping them as much as I can and trying to eliminate this idea that there are alternatives to TNR that might work.
Q – It all sounds challenging. What are your greatest rewards?
SO – I love being able to provide a solution to problems that works. I love that in TNR’d colonies there are no new kittens being born into this situation. I love when people actually listen and understand why TNR works. I love when people are relieved there is a solution that doesn’t hurt the cats! I love hearing about dwindling cat colonies thanks to TNR. My own personal TNR story began with the TNR of 75 cats and 10 years later is at the point where the last remaining cat outside has decided he wants to be friendly and is inching closer and closer to coming inside my house.
Q – What do you see as the future for community cats in New Jersey?
SO – I see more towns and individuals recognizing that TNR works and is the best management strategy for community cats. My vision is that eventually it will be part and parcel of each town’s animal control services, free of charge to residents. Once it is being used on this scale, as long as at least 75% of the population is sterilized, we will continue to see the numbers of community cats dwindle over time until eventually it is no longer a concern. Along with this we need free spay/neuter for all indoor cats as well, provided by each town’s sheltering facility just like they offer free rabies clinics!
Q – How many cats would you say you have TNR’d?
SO – I have done many projects in my neighborhood. The largest I did was 125 cats. I have been trapping for about 14 years now. I thought I had encountered everything by now but recently I found a bee colony in my outdoor cat shelter. That was a new one! I’m working on a solution. I highly recommend keeping colony tracking records on all projects you do. If I counted all of mine up I’d definitely be over 500 cats myself and have assisted in hundreds of other projects.
Q – How can supporters best help APLNJ’s Community Cat Program right now?
SO – Whenever you can, educate people about TNR and direct them to our website or to contact me for how to take action.
If you can, help us eliminate the financial barrier by making donations to cover vetting for these cats when feeders cannot afford to. It costs about $85, all inclusive, to TNR one cat. Some employees offer doubling bonuses for donations to non-profits. Support our fundraising events whenever and however you can either by attending or volunteering at them! And thank you so much for asking!
Sandra can be reached by email (preferred) or by calling 978-228-5239.