It’s the cat’s meow!

Photo by Kathy DeRay

Photo by Kathy DeRay

KEARNY – 

Last year, this community was embroiled in a cat fight. The claws were out. The fur was flying. And various other feline-related metaphors.

The source of the controversy was the feeding of colonies of feral cats by members of Kearny’s colony of humans. Luckily, sanity — and governmental intervention — prevailed.

Under an ordinance adopted by the Town Council in November, Kearny established a Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) policy, which Mayor Alberto Santos envisioned as becoming “a model for the state.” Having recently been given a tour of various colonies, we think he might be right.

We didn’t know what to expect, having stupidly envisioned people just going out and dumping bags of kibble hither and thither. What we found was a wellplanned, carefully monitored and tightly administered program, one that reportedly has already — humanely — reduced Kearny’s feral cat population.

Our guides on the tour were the local TNR administrator Len Twist and his top assistant Kathy DeRay. Twist, who has a professional management background, said he organized and runs the volunteer project using a business model.

Under the TNR ordinance, colonies are registered, records (numbers, gender, spaying/ neutering, vaccinations, etc.) are kept, and regular reports are provided to the Kearny Health Department.

The volunteers have their specific assignments. “There are 23 regular caregivers, each with his or her own colony,” Twist said. (He and DeRay are in charge of several colonies each.) Their tasks include not only providing food and water, but also winter shelters.

“The caregivers ‘buddy up,’ so if someone is sick (or going out of town), there will still be someone to care for the colony,” Twist explained.

The largest colony, about 34 cats, is located in an industrial area off Schuyler Ave. Its “members” come and go from their beats in the meadowlands — so don’t imagine 34 cats just sitting around all day in one big pack waiting for food and water.

DeRay noted that the businesses in the area don’t mind the colony at all.

“No rats!” she said. No mice either, probably.

But TNR, of course, is about more than regular feeding. Humane traps are set up near the colonies, and are checked on a regular basis. When a cat is caught, the TNR people call Bergen County Animal Control (which is Kearny’s contracted animal-control service) and are given a number to ID the feline. Then Twist drives the cat to Twin Oaks veterinary hospital in Teaneck.

The cat’s health is checked — a few, alas, have had to be euthanized — it is spayed or neutered and vaccinated, and its ear is “tipped,” to indicate it has been fixed and treated, DeRay explained.

(All the expenses are already covered as part of the town’s contract with the Bergen County agency, which also trains the caregivers.)

Next stop is the “recovery center” in South Kearny — and that is a story in itself. A businesswoman named Wendy Neu, who owns a considerable amount of land out there, has graciously donated space in a warehouse for use by the Kearny caregivers.

TNR volunteer Linda Smigelski oversees the center, where the cats spend several days both recovering from their surgery and being evaluated.

Those that can be “socialized” are put up for adoption via various pet stores or organizations; the absolutely feral are returned to their colony (healthy but incapable of breeding.)

Some of the cats are already “socialized.” They obviously were housecats whose owners just dumped them on the streets or in the meadows. (Editor’s note: It’s not only cats that are “feral.”)

Smigelski is at the center daily, and DeRay and Twist visit at least once a day to help clean the cages and the litter boxes. These people define “dedication.”

Last year, between Jan. 1 and March 31, Kearnyites brought 69 strays to the Bergen County Animal Shelter, Twist reported. This year, the tally over the same time period was 28, a 40% reduction, he said. “That reduction is because of TNR,” he said.

Fewer feral kittens are being born and more cats are finding permanent homes and fewer are being euthanized.

DeRay summed it up nicely, noting that TNR “is the only way to humanely control the cat population.”

If you would like to support this noble humane effort, you can drop off cat food — dry or moist — at K-9 Corner, 169 Midland Ave., Kearny.

One more thing: As a tribute to Mayor Santos’ willingness to give TNR a chance, more than one colony cat now bears the name “Big Al.”

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent