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Tim Reeder is an Animal Control Officer for the City of Huntsville. He’s been leading an advanced program that retrieves nomadic “community cats,” has them spayed or neutered, then returned to the streets. It controls the cat population while avoiding euthanasia.

Huntsville’s Animal Services Department is at the forefront of this movement nationally and it has brought Reeder widespread attention. He was invited to Fort Lauderdale in May to participate in a panel discussion at a national convention of humane societies.

Reeder, a 30-year veteran with the department, is really good at his job.

But not perfect.

Which brings us to Mario the Cat.

Reeder was in Hazel Green, returning several homeless cats to an area from where he had retrieved them a few days earlier to be spayed and neutered. He then drove to New Hope on another mission, back to Animal Services, then home for the day.

The next morning, his wife Jana called.

“There’s a cat on our back porch,” she said.

When Reeder arrived home, he recognized the gray tabby with exquisite markings as one of those he dropped in Hazel Green. Somehow, the cat climbed underneath Reeder’s truck, rode around for three or four hours, traveling maybe 60 miles, before hopping down and instantly making himself at home with the Reeders and their 15-year-old beagle, Big John.

“We decided since he wanted to get there that bad, we’d let him stay,” Reeder says.

Reeder has successfully delivered thousands of cats since the TNR – Trap, Neuter, Return – program was implemented in 2014.

It’s so counterintuitive, some of the staff was muttering ‘Dr. Sheppard’s lost her mind’ when she championed TNR”

The SparkNotes on TNR: There is no shortage of “community cats,” the euphemism for strays. Fertile community cats produce even more community cats. For years, the only solution was to trap them and euthanize them. But Huntsville emphasizes its “no-kill” philosophy, so the plan was put in place to trap them, perform surgery to sterilize them and, if they are not deemed “adoptable,” return them to where they had been found, where they can actually benefit a neighborhood with snake and rodent control.

If you are skeptical of such a notion, well, so were many in Animal Services when it was broached. Dr. Karen Sheppard, the director of Animal Services, admits that “it’s so counterintuitive,” and that some of the staff was muttering “Dr. Sheppard’s lost her mind” when she championed TNR.

But Reeder told her, “If we’re going to prevent the euthanasia of the majority of cats that come in here, I’m on board.”

“This eliminated all the negative problems we had in the past,” Reeder says. “Some officers thought the public would get upset, that they’ve called us about a problem and our solution is to bring the cat back to them. But for the last three years, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had people say anything (negative) to me. Now we’re having people call and actually request it. It’s one of the best programs I’ve bene involved in.”

Huntsville’s success began to draw regional and national attention from pet advocacy groups. Hence his invitation to the Animal Care Expo 2017 in Florida.

Reeder’s leadership in TNR “has been kinda life-changing for him,” Sheppard says. “He’s like, ‘Wow, people care about what I think and what I’ve done.’ He took a step out there.”

Beyond the convention, Reeder has been contacted by other agencies interested in similar programs and has been profiled by Alley Cat Allies, a prominent national advocate.

“You won’t believe the number of lives he’ll save when this is shown to everyone,” Sheppard says.

Well, we already know of one life saved, from a cat so grateful he refused to say goodbye to Reeder.


Tim will be the featured speaker in an August 10 webinar on “Return to field” from an animal control officer’s perspective, sponsored by Million Cat Challenge