Donald Kennedy died of COVID-19 yesterday. Kennedy was the President of Stanford University when I started there as a law student oh so many years ago. He will be remembered by many people for many things. But I will remember him for being a TNR pioneer.

During his tenure, a population of roughly 1,000 cats lived on campus when University officials announced a plan to trap and remove the cats. That announcement was met with vigorous opposition by a group of faculty, staff, and students who dubbed themselves the Stanford Cat Network. They proposed sterilization and release instead.

As my son — who is currently a student there — writes in The Stanford Daily,

One day [in 1989], the cat of Donald Kennedy… wandered away from home. Shortly thereafter, Kennedy’s cat turned up at one of the Cat Network’s unofficial feeding stations. Recognizing the wayward feline from a missing cat poster on campus, a member of the Cat Network returned him to Kennedy. When asked how they had found his cat, the Cat Network volunteer told Kennedy about the Stanford Cat Network, the feeding stations and the concern for the fate of the cat population. The next day, Kennedy donated $50 to the group, and it was officially accepted by the University. Thus, the nation’s first university-sanctioned trap-neuter-release (TNR) program was born.

Thanks to Kennedy’s wayward feline and his appreciation for the importance of the Stanford Cat Network,

Today, universities from coast to coast, including Auburn, Central Florida University, Arizona State, Texas A&M, North Carolina State and many more have community cat programs modeled after the Stanford Cat Network. The story of the Stanford Cat Network is not only part of the University’s legacy of innovation, but one of the greatest leaps forward in the history of the animal protection movement. It not only humanely reduced the Stanford campus cat population from upwards of 1,000 to no more than a dozen, it helped ignite a revolution in lifesaving that has fundamentally changed homeless cat care in the United States. TNR programs, rather than round up and kill, are embraced across the country from universities, to towns to cities to entire states, protections for feeders of community animals have been enshrined into law and many shelters have embraced a philosophy of No Kill for all healthy and treatable animals that pass through their doors.

On a personal level, I became a No Kill advocate and eventually No Kill animal control director because of my work with the Stanford Cat Network.

Please join me in raising a glass for Donald Kennedy. Rest in peace, sir. And thank you.


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