Charity Spotlight: Alley Cat Allies


MainStreet is on a mission to find the charitable organizations most worthy of your donations. We focus on their effectiveness and the amount of money they budget for actual good deeds, as opposed to that which goes to overhead.

This week we're looking at Alley Cat Allies.

In a perfect world, no animal would be a stray and every cat would be safe and pampered in a warm, loving home. In reality, there are many feral cats that need someone to speak on their behalf. That’s where Alley Cat Allies comes in.

Who they are and what they do: Based in Bethesda, Md., Alley Cat Allies was founded in 1990 by two women who felt that stray and feral cats’ needs were not being met by the animal control pound and shelter system.

“We provide information, literature and videos to the millions of Americans caring for stray and feral cats,” says Elizabeth Parowski, communications manager for Alley Cat Allies. “We also advocate for government and public oversight of animal shelters and pounds, by pushing for mandatory record keeping and reporting of animal intake and disposition numbers.”

The group focuses on cats that would most likely be euthanized at a shelter. “Feral cats are members of the domestic cat species, but are not socialized to people, so are not candidates for adoption,” says Parowski. As an alternative, the organization has developed its trap-neuter-return program. Feral cats are humanely trapped by volunteers and taken to a veterinarian to be neutered, vaccinated and “ear-tipped” (their ears are clipped, which identifies them as part of an established colony). In addition to ending the breeding cycle, this process also eliminates negative behaviors such as howling and fighting, which are often exhibited by cats during mating season. After being neutered and vaccinated, the cats are then released into a managed colony, which usually involves some type of simple shelter and a regular feeding schedule.

One of the organization’s other recent initiatives is Campus Cats, a program for people helping cats who have made their home on or near college campuses.

How they spend your money: According to its 2008 financial statement, Alley Cat Allies spent more than $4.9 million during the most recent fiscal year. Of those total expenses, 78% went to programs and services, with only 5% used for administration and 17% spent on fundraising. Organization officials say those proportions have remained about the same for more than six years. The nonprofit has a four star rating from Charity Navigator, the country’s largest independent charity evaluator. This rating (the highest on Charity Navigator’s scale) means Alley Cat Allies exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its cause category.

“We are acutely aware that most of our money comes from individual donors, who are giving to protect the cats’ lives,” says Parowski. “To that end we feel an obligation to spend their money in a way that goes directly toward our mission. We keep an eye on our budget and make sure that we stay within its limits.”

Criticisms: Although few could find fault with Alley Cat Allies’ financial efficiency, its mission and methods have their share of critics. The group’s leaders and volunteers are often outspoken and demonstrative, and have publicly battled with municipal leaders, businesses and even some animal shelters and rescue organizations. Several of these battles involved legislation or policies the Allies considered misguided (although perhaps well-intentioned), such as a Virginia program demanding that all unlicensed cats found outdoors—even those being supervised by colony managers—be taken to a shelter, where they would likely be euthanized. Under heavy pressure from Allies supporters, the Virginia legislature soon amended the law.

Some critics also mistakenly believe the organization is in favor of allowing strays to run loose, breed and endanger (or simply annoy) the human population. In response, the Allies say they just want these cats to live out their natural lives in a healthy, responsibly managed way.

How to donate: If you’d like to make a donation, visit the Alley Cat Allies online.

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