Baltimore, Maryland, Legally Embraces TNR for feral cats

Prior to 2007 dedicated feral cat lovers, caretakers and trappers in Baltimore, Maryland, were at their wits' end emotionally. They were literally between a rock and a hard place running from animal control for fear of being cited under city health regulations and terrified their community cat (feral and stray feline) colonies were going to be picked up and euthanized.

City Officials Provide Critical Support for TNR

Then Donna Bernstein, a Baltimore attorney, stepped up to the plate and instigated the initial push to get the laws changed. With the assistance of Peg Nemoff, an experienced trap/neuter/return (TNR) advocate, Bernstein made presentations to the Maryland SPCA and TNR groups during the first quarter of 2007 and "convinced them that getting the laws changed was the way to go," she recalls. "We did a lot of research on TNR, and I even made a presentation to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), whose executive director, Jennifer Mead-Brause, was very knowledgeable about TNR."

Armed with this backing, a presentation was made to Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein (then health commissioner for Baltimore) who heartily endorsed the TNR health benefits of vaccinating community cats. He swung his full support behind it, proposed the legislation, the health department drafted it, and TNR became Baltimore law as of November, 2007.

"It's just so nice not to have to hide anymore and simply be able to feed feral cats out in the open," Nemoff says. "I was in Chile walking around one day and came upon a woman feeding feral cats, and it dawned on me that people everywhere think they"re the only ones doing it. So, I"m trying to tell everyone that they are not alone."

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In 2009 Community Cats Maryland Was Born

Bernstein and Nemoff continued to work with BARCS to draft regulations and support this legislation. And, they took their activism one giant step further in 2009 with the creation of Community Cats Maryland, Inc. (CCMD), whose mission statement reads "Dedicated to helping individuals, neighborhoods and government implement trap/neuter/return programs." Both women are the organization's co-directors.

CCMD is a non-rescue organization that deals only with feral cats and serves as an excellent template for other cities and towns across the country. It has no membership, just volunteers overseen by a board of directors. The three women who handle the group's programs and comprise its core are: Bernstein, Nemoff and Erin Harty.

"Donna Bernstein really took this issue to the next level by saying this law has to be changed," says Shelly Kotter, specialist for Best Friends' Focus on Felines campaign.

"This approach made a significant impact, which enabled the Baltimore city government to support this effort . . . very impressive. Bernstein did everything smart.

"Focus on Felines supports this template as a "how-to" model and guide, hopefully encouraging other cities and areas to learn from this and build their own."

Community Cat Caretakers Encouraged to Register With CCMD

Baltimore City strongly encourages community cat caretakers register with CCMD to be in compliance with the new law regarding feral cat care and TNR. (This information is not shared with animal control but used for statistical data.) To register, an online form is submitted and the caretaker can attend a free educational workshop or must otherwise demonstrate knowledge of TNR and good feral cat management. A registration certificate then is issued, which can be produced for animal control if needed.

Free Educational TNR Workshops Provided

The CCMD free TNR workshop is held the third Thursday of every month at BARCS, and is taught by Harty. (Alley Cat Allies provides some of the informational materials at no cost.)

"The biggest reward in being involved with CCMD is helping a caretaker who has become overwhelmed with the cycle of breeding and never-ending kittens," Harty explains. "They"re so appreciative when we send some of our ace trapping teams out to nab their cats, and the cats come back fixed and vaccinated. I hear from caretakers all the time how fat and healthy their cats look after TNR and how glad they are to have no more kittens!"

According to Bernstein, CCMD encourages people to come to its classes even if they are not caretakers, "because it not only teaches the law, but you become eligible to come to our clinic."

CCMD Offers Monthly Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Clinics

Nemoff runs CCMD's once-a-month clinics, which are also held at BARCS. The low cost of $20 per cat includes an exam by a vet, spay/neuter surgery, rabies and distemper vaccinations, flea treatment, ear cleaning, mite treatment and ear-tip plus treatment of any minor medical issues.

CCMD is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization. Donations are certainly welcome as one of its next goals is to create a food bank for caretakers. Currently, CCMD is looking for trappers, transporters and other volunteers.

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Photos by Best Friends staff