NJ Feral Cat Colonies Safe, for now
CAPE MAY - One of the country's oldest and most established feral cat colonies will not be abolished, said Cape May, N.J. officials. The animals narrowly escaped removal by the city pending an injunction by state and federal wildlife agencies.
“Though we believe the City Council's intentions are good, we will be working with them and monitoring the situation to ensure the cats are kept safe,” said Alley Cat Allies President Becky Robinson, who runs the Maryland based group that works for the benefit of feral cats.
The news was handed down by Deputy Mayor Niels Favre, who along with the City Council worked to ensure the future of the city, an endangered bird species, and the longstanding Trap-Neuter-Return program.
According to Councilwoman Linda Steenrod, nobody every discussed sacrificing the cats for the well being of the piping plover – an indigenous species that nests near the cats' colonies.
The issue arose recently when the city, which was one of the first U.S. cities to institutionalize a feral cat program, was pressured by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state's Department of Environmental Protection to abolish a 12 year-old Trap-Neuter-Return program that currently protects about 80 cats - down from more than 450 at the outset.
Concerned for the safety of the piping plover, the state and federal agencies gave the city an ultimatum - Cape May was to either rid itself of the felines or risk losing federal and state funding for a beach management program.
The city's beaches are an integral part of the community's livelihood, attracting visitors each year who come to soak up the sun and waves. Ironically, the beach funding pays for sand, which provides habitats for both the birds and the felines.
The conditions placed by the wildlife agencies put the city in a pinch – preserve its economic well-being or the lives of fewer than 100 stray cats.
For many, the choice to sacrifice the cats for the greater good was clear. After all, not everyone is a fan of fuzzy felines.
But many residents wanted to protect them, as did ACA, which touts the Cape May program as one of its most successful examples of how Trap-Neuter-Return can work.
“Im happy,” said resident Melissa Holroyd of the decision to keep the cats. “I think (the city council) made everyone feel at peace that none of the existing colonies will be put down.”
The cats' continued existence in the city is thanks in part to Robinson and volunteers who on a daily basis care for the colonies, who lead a movement in defense of the animals following an announcement earlier this month that the program could be swept away. With the help of 40 protesters, she and ACA staff fought for the animals in true American-rally fashion – a peaceful protest held at Cape May's City Hall.
“Feral cats won't go away, revise the plan and let them stay,” they chanted.
Through their efforts, which included providing educational advice on just how successful the program has been and the work of dedicated city leaders, and compromise between the wildlife agencies, the cats will be allowed to remain.
Of course, a few caveats have been added to the already stringent rules governing the colonies.
To protect the piping plover, colonies within 1,000 feet of the birds' geographically small nesting area. Cats that are removed will either be adapted into other colonies, brought to no-kill shelters or a local restaurant (editor's note: that has requested a colony for pest control).
In some situations, feral colonies can be relocated to businesses to patrol for rodents. The LAPD recently employed three such colonies to keep watch of their parking structures.
“Reproduction has been stopped,” said Robinson. “They aren't reproducing in Cape May, so they wouldn't become an issue for the birds.”
To date, no record has been made of a feral cat attacking a piping plover in Cape May - a situation that should persist given the updated regulations.
But a situation that could have ended badly has once again proven positive. Not only has the city's cat and bird population been salvaged, but so has it's reputation as a progressive, thoughtful community.
The state and federal agencies have agreed to the terms, but maintain the right to revisit the issue should the birds become threatened.
Created in 1995, the city began its Trap-Neuter-Return program to manage stray and feral cats that were, at the time, becoming a nuisance. Its effectiveness has been heralded across the country and internationally as proof that with patience and communication, feral cats can live among humans and other wildlife.
“Cape May city serves as an important example for spay and neuter as the most effective and humane course of action for outdoor cats,” Robinson said. “The overwhelming support we have seen in Cape May and nationally for Trap-Neuter-Return is verification that people don't support the cruelty of 'catch and kill'.”
With help from ACA, the nation's first pro-feral cat group, and using the Trap-Neuter-Return program, the population has been reduced from more than 450 felines to fewer than 100 today.
How it's done: trap, neuter, vaccinate, return – and let the cats do the rest.
To learn more about Alley Cat Allies, visit their Web site at alleycat.org.
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