The outgoing City Council members failed at their June 23 meeting to vote on a proposed ordinance that could have provided alternatives to euthanizing feral cats captured around Bayonne. They decided not to second a measure that would have allowed a new group called the Feral Cat Foundation to monitor, feed, and control feral cat populations.
Instead, animal control officers called to pick up wild cats can euthanize them after seven days if they are not adopted. The animal activists behind the plan say it would have allowed people across the city to neuter and re-release the animals, with the city’s help.
“Their idea is to trap and kill feral cats.” – Kathleen Henderson
Kathleen Henderson, a founding member of the Feral Cat Foundation, said the experts represented hunting groups and did nothing to offer protection to animals.
“Their idea is to trap and kill feral cats,” she said.
City unlikely to support it
While the new City Council could consider reviving the ordinance after it reorganizes on July 14, Henderson said she sees almost no allies for her cause.
The ordinance had been proposed by outgoing 3rd Ward Councilman Gary La Pelusa, who had hoped to get a second at the last council meeting in order to get a vote.
Instead of euthanizing cats that aren’t claimed in seven days, the ordinance would have required approved caregivers and/or shelters in the city to capture, neuter, vaccinate, and return the cats to the streets where they would be monitored for future health problems.
“These cats have a right to live,” Henderson said. “That is their home, but we need to control them.”
Because feral cats are unlikely to be tamed once they become adults, they are not likely to be claimed when at a shelter for the legal seven days.
Dee Rusnak, a volunteer with the Bayonne Feral Cat Foundation, said she will protest if the council fails to approve the ordinance.
“They are basically saying that all feral cats should be killed,” she said, promising to do whatever it takes to save animals.
La Pelusa said he knew that the old City Council was likely to let the measure lapse, but he had hoped to put each council member on record with a vote.
Some residents opposed
While Henderson and other supporters of the ordinance have been vocal at public meetings, La Pelusa said that council members have been deluged with behind-the-scenes lobbying by homeowners and other residents adamantly opposed to feeding feral cats.
“I know every councilperson has had someone coming to them about this,” La Pelusa said.
Henderson had hoped to work out a compromise with the city through the Health Department that will allow for the city to provide for the animals.
“We were supposed to meet with Richard Censullo [the city’s health officer] this week, but he was too busy,” Henderson said.
Smith said two state groups, the Fish and Game Council and the Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee, both oppose the program Henderson proposes.
“There is a developing body of information and research indicating that free-roaming cats pose a significant threat to wildlife through predations and disease transmission,” said Jeannette A. Vreeland, acting chair of the Fish and Game Council, in a letter to Mayor Smith. “Its future suggests that Trap-Neuter-Return programs have not been shown to be an effective means of controlling feline populations or predator behaviors. In addition, these programs do not prevent the spread of disease within the free-roaming population of feral cats.”
While the Fish and Game Council and the Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee have issued a joint resolution opposing programs such as TNR, they admit they had no solution other than the current program to euthanize feral cats.
Vreeland said meetings with various groups will be held over the next few months throughout the state to review concerns and discuss solutions.
Rusnak disputes claims
“Trap-Neuter-Return has been proven to be effective in controlling the population of feral cats,” Rusnak said last week. “Feral cats cannot transmit any disease to a human, so therefore there is no health hazard to be concerned about. If a TNR program was put in place, the feral cats would not only be spayed or neutered, but they would also be up to date with their shots.”
She added, “Anyone who currently feeds them will continue to do so. No ordinance or law will stop anyone from feeding these cats.”
Henderson said she has tried to set up a meeting with Mayor Smith, but has not been able to do so yet. She said that over the last year, her foundation has brought in experts of its own, but that the mayor and city attorney were not available to meet or listen to counter arguments.
“Yes, these cats do sometimes kill birds,” she said, “but more birds are killed by overdevelopment, and the use of pesticides. The main reason rare birds are endangered is because of development being allowed in sensitive areas.”