There are differences of opinion when it comes to the issue of feral cats. To address resident complaints in the township of Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, Council members there are considering imposing a feeding ban on feral and stray cats.
Is this a smart idea? Animal advocates in Mt. Laurel are coming together to tell their local government officials “NO” and countering with a TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) ordinance proposal. In the meantime, Lynn Mangano has started a Care2 petition asking Council members to vote “no” on starving feral and stray cats and dogs.
How Feral Cats Came to Be
Cats are a domesticated species and should not be found living outside. The problem stems from irresponsible cat owners abandoning their cats into an unsuspecting community to live the remainder of their lives in the wild. Lost or run-away cats can become part of a feral colony as well.
It’s safe to say the vast majority of abandoned cats were never spayed or neutered, so when left to mother nature, they will reproduce. Some cat owners allow their cats—who are also often not spayed or neutered—to roam at will. This adds to the reproductive cycle.
Merely one unsterilized male and female cat can produce 42,000 kittens within seven years. HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) estimates the feral cat population at 50 million.
Female cats can get pregnant at as early as five months of age, and with an average litter of three to five kittens per pregnancy it isn’t difficult to see why the feral population can explode.
The Problem of Feral Cats
Whether urban, suburban or rural the effect of feral cats on a neighborhood can be fraught with genuine issues of concern. Abandoned cats are at great risk of contracting rabies from wildlife because chances are they have never received vaccinations. The disease can then be spread to humans through bites or scratches. Rabies is a painful and almost always fatal disease if not caught in time for treatment.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports “Once a person begins to exhibit signs of the disease, survival is rare. To date less than 10 documented cases of human survival from clinical rabies have been reported and only two have not had a history of pre- or postexposure prophylaxis.”
Cats are territorial by nature. Feral cats will form colonies with other feral cats, often near a restaurant dumpster or other sources of readily available food. They seek shelter from weather in abandoned buildings, under porches, automobiles, etc. This means they also leave their urine and excrement in people’s gardens, lawns and other areas humans desire to be free from animal waste.
That, combined with the loud sounds feral cats can make in crowded neighborhoods, makes for complaints to local municipalities.
Methods for Dealing with Feral Cats
There are three widely known approaches for dealing with the feral cat overpopulation:
A feeding ban – The assumption with feeding bans is the cats will seek food elsewhere and move to another community. This is a false assumption and has no impact on the feral cat population. Feral cats can survive for more than a week without food and are so territorial they will stay in their claimed area still seeking nourishment.
Trap and kill – Killing feral cats comes with a giant price tag for communities that often have little or no monies budgeted for animal control. Feral cats are not socialized to humans and cannot be adopted out. When removed from their territory other feral cats move in and join the colony. The problem being, trapping and killing is near impossible when the goal is to keep up with population expansion from cats who are intact.
TNR – By trapping, spaying and neutering, vaccinating and then returning feral cats to where they were found, the population dies out naturally. In time, the population will decrease to none if other cats do not join a colony. During surgery feral cats are “tipped” in order to identify them when returned. Tipping is a small surgical removal of the tip of the cats’ left ear.
It’s important to note that after being returned, the colonies of feral cats need to be fed by the compassionate volunteers who look after them. This helps to prevent the cats from getting into garbage and killing wildlife for food.
Speaking of Wildlife
Cats are natural predators. Feral cats will attack birds, squirrels, rabbits, snakes, mice and other small prey animals. Because so many birds are lost to feral cats, (1 – 4 billion per year) there are those who oppose TNR. Not wanting to see animal suffering and maintaining a healthy ecosystem balance is certainly at the root of both camps’ views. If the feral cat population can be significantly reduced and people do not allow their pet cats to roam free, birds would be a lot safer in the wild.
One creative way to stop pet cats from killing birds while on their daily treks was developed by a native Vermonter who didn’t want her outdoor cat to kill so many birds but didn’t want to keep him inside 24/7. She created a clown collar for her cat, George, to wear consisting of brightly colored fabric wrapped round a break-away collar (for his safety) with a reflective edging that also keeps George safe from cars at night time.
She has patented her creation and calls it BirdBeSafe. So, that may be one option to help the estimated one million birds per year that lose their lives to cat predation.
Back in Mt. Laurel
Mt. Laurel’s Council government does not have a very good history of caring about the community’s animals or listening to the concerns of their animal-friendly citizens. This I know from personal experience.
In 2010 word got out that the Mt Laurel Council had contracted with USDA to kill resident Canada geese at a local park in the community. A group of dedicated animal lovers raised public awareness about the impending gassing of geese and goslings and many people turned out to speak at the monthly public council meetings. Both HSUS and IDA (In Defense of Animals) got involved.
Council member Jim Keenan, then in the role of mayor, said the Council had only authorized nest counting and egg addling and that “euthanasia” was not being planned. Yet, one month later Mt. Laurel had USDA collect 133 geese and goslings from Laurel Acres Park where they were gassed to death.
Irritated by so many people coming to speak out for the voiceless geese, Keenan and almost every other Council member were rude, verbally abusive, tossed insults at the citizens and showed an attitude of general dismissiveness toward the animal advocates, myself included. So much for a government entity attuned to the needs and concerns of their constituents,
Fast forward to 2015 and the proposed feeding ban. Many of the same animal advocates are again organizing to request Mt. Laurel Council members consider approving a TNR ordinance rather than a feeding ban. At Monday’s meeting Debbie Reindl, among others, spoke to the Council.
Debbie told Care2 she has reached out to the organizations Alley Cat Allies, the New Jersey Chapter of HSUS and Best Friends Animal Society to assist with finding a resolution to the proposed Mt Laurel feeding ban. “These national orgs are now waiting to see if the council decides to continue down the path with the ban or to consider a TNR ordinance instead,” Debbie reports.
She and others in this dedicated group have requested OPRA (Open Public Records Act) records from Mt. Laurel township as to the amount of money being spent on stray animals so they can be prepared to respond to the expected excuses from the Council.
Debbie has many years of experience providing TNR to Mt. Laurel and other local communities. She is espousing a common sense position. “Why would [Mt. Laurel] Council elect a feeding ban which will cost the township money to enforce [and] take away needed police from actual serious issues in town when volunteers are already addressing the feral cat population for free?”
She also told Care2 that she is looking into getting grant monies to set up a TNR program in Mt. Laurel that would cost the township nothing and certainly be a much more humane way of addressing these thrown-away cats who are only trying to survive.
Debbie promises “It ain’t over until the Cat Lady sings…”
How You Can Help
If you haven’t already, please sign the Care2 petition asking Mt. Laurel not to starve feral cats.
Please find the time to call and/or email Mt. Laurel Council members asking them to pass a TNR ordinance and not consider a feeding ban of feral cats. The phone number is 856-234-0001 for local residents to call, and below are the email addresses (please remember to be polite):
Mayor Irwin Edelson: email@example.com
Deputy Mayor Dennis Riley: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Keenan: email@example.com
Rich Van Noord: firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda Bobo: email@example.com