Ewing at crossroad on feral cat issue
Trenton Times, Wed., November 19, 2008
BY LISA CORYELL
EWING -- Impassioned cat lovers say adopting a trap, neuter and release program is the only humane and effective way to keep the township's feral population in check. But bird lovers and frustrated homeowners argue that the program will only perpetuate the stray cat nuisance, not quell it.
Meanwhile, seasoned animal control officers say killing wild cats in large numbers is the only way to eradicate the problem. What's a local governing body to do? The township council must soon decide.
After hearing hours of testimony on the merits and pitfalls of trap, neuter and release programs, the township council, acting as the local health board, must decide whether to recommend a pilot TNR program.
With passions running high on all sides, making a decision will not be easy, members say. But the feral cat issue cannot be ignored any longer, they say.
"For a lot of years we really haven't addressed the problem," said Bert Steinmann, council president and chairman of the board of health. "We always wind up throwing a little water on the fire but never really put the fire out. This is an excellent opportunity to take care of a problem that's been around for years."
Officials say they have no idea how many wild cats are living in Ewing Township.
"I wouldn't even hazard a guess," said Allen Lee, township health officer. "Most of the feral cats are living in about half a dozen surreptitious colonies around the township."
The colonies are managed by volunteers who, fearing repercussions from the township, try to keep the cats' whereabouts a secret. As long as the neighbors don't complain, the colonies are largely ignored by the township, Lee said.
But the discovery of a rabid feral kitten last summer forced Lee's department to take action. Responding to a panicked public, animal control officers rounded up dozens of cats and kittens. The euthanasia of nine of the cats prompted a public outcry of a different sort, this time from cat lovers who demanded a halt to the killings. Under pressure from both sides, the township agreed to put the trappings and killings on hold to consider other options.
Under the proposed TNR program, first-year funding in Ewing would be provided by a cat advocacy group that would oversee the pilot program.
Wild cats would be trapped, neutered, tested for disease and vaccinated against rabies. Their ears would be notched to identify them and they would be returned to the area from which they were taken. Colony caretakers would feed the cats and trap new arrivals for neutering and vet care. Wild cat populations, unable to expand through reproduction, would eventually die out, advocates said.
At a meeting on Thursday, health board members expressed concern over where the colonies would be established.
"You come back with a plan on how we're going to convince people that it's a good idea (to establish a colony near them)," board member Joe Murphy told the TNR enthusiasts.
Members also balked at a proposal to keep the colonies' whereabouts a secret, even to board members and township officials.
"They can't have carte blanche to do what they want without anyone knowing," Steinmann said.
Most of the 50 or so people who attended the public hearing were in favor of giving TNR a try.
Some say it's a more humane response to the township's policy of killing stray cats.
"We have to do what's right and what's ethical," said Miriam Hofing of Rockleigh Drive. "It's so easy to kill everything. Why are the animals the lowest priority? Who put the cats there? People who are negligent. Killing them, is that the answer? Where are ethical duties?"
Others said TNR works because it utilizes the help of the people who are already feeding and caring for the cats. Caretakers in other towns have thwarted attempts to trap animals for euthanasia by tripping the traps or leaving food outside the traps to keep cats from entering, they said.
"Whether you trap and kill or you trap, neuter and return, the success depends on capturing the entire colony," said Sandra Garrity, a township woman who cares for a colony of cats. "If you don't get every cat, all your work, all your time, all your money is wasted. You need the entire neighborhood to work with you."
Opponents of TNR say neutering and releasing cats may help keep the population down, but it will not reduce the nuisances they create in the areas where they live, such as scratching outdoor furniture, defecating in flower beds and getting into people's garbage. Adopting TNR would open up the town to bigger cat problems, they said.
"It will become a dumping ground for feral cats," said Dave Blumig, an animal control officer from Middlesex County. "
Blumig said animal control officers in his town, which he would not identify, kill about 300 cats a year. He said it's the only way to keep the numbers down.
Steinmann said the board of health members must mull over the information before deciding how to proceed. The answer, he said, may involve several programs, including TNR, cat licensing and euthanizing those particular cats that pose a nuisance in neighborhoods.
WCAS Forum Note
For the reasons TNR does NOT work, read the message
sent to this forum by Tim Steinbeiser, Director
Redbud Avian Rehabilitation Center, Inc.
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