July 25, 2011
Off Duty: Virginia Volunteer Thinks Globally, Acts Locally for Feral Cats
HSUS Editor Julie Falconer works on a cause near to her heart and miles from the office
by Julie Hauserman
As senior editor of The HSUS's All Animals magazine, Julie Falconer spends her workdays behind the scenes, telling inspiring stories about animal advocacy around the world.
On her off time, Falconer is front and center of an effort to combat cat overpopulation in her hometown in Central Virginia.
The issue is dear to Falconer’s heart. For the past 13 years, she has helped implement humane solutions for the region’s feral cats as a volunteer with Voices for Animals, a grassroots organization based in Charlottesville. The group works on such issues as factory farming, conscious consumerism, animals in entertainment, wildlife protection, and companion animal overpopulation.
In 1997, one of her fellow volunteers discovered that the owners of a large, low-income mobile home park were using a short-sighted strategy to manage a feral cat population.
“Every 12 to 18 months, maintenance crews rounded up 100 to 150 stray cats and took them to the shelter to be euthanized,” Falconer said. “It wasn’t fair to the cats or shelter staff—and it didn’t fix the problem.”
Voices’ members approached the mobile home park’s managers with a proposal: they would spay and neuter the cats. "We were naive, thinking this was going to be a month-long project.”
The first year, the group sterilized more than 170 cats, applying the principles of Trap-Neuter-Return, a humane method for stabilizing feral cat populations. To help forestall future generations of ferals, they also provided spay/neuter assistance to cats belonging to park residents.
Word got around, and before long the all-volunteer organization was inundated with requests to help with cats in other neighborhoods and in nearby counties.
“Through my volunteer work with Voices for Animals and my job at HSUS, I get to act locally and globally for animals every day.”
“At the time, there were no Trap-Neuter-Return programs in Central Virginia, and very limited low-cost spay/neuter options even for owned pets,” Falconer says. “People who were feeding stray cats were desperate for a solution that would allow the animals to live out their lives and stop the breeding cycle.” Eventually, the group teamed up with the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA to launch free high-volume spay/neuter clinics for feral cats. Through the clinics and a voucher program with participating veterinarians, Voices for Animals now sterilizes more than a thousand cats a year.
Lately, Falconer has been handling more administrative tasks for the group—which she can do from her home in Maryland.
“HSUS has the power and resources to effect big changes—changes like shutting down abusive breeding mills and pushing for public policies that directly affect the work of grassroots groups,” Falconer says. “Through my volunteer work with Voices for Animals and my job at HSUS, I get to act locally and globally for animals every day.”
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Sample current content from All Animals magazine »