Cat colony conundrum

By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 


Controversy over how to deal with a cat colony in the back of an E. Midland Ave. apartment complex came to a head at last Tuesday night’s mayor/Town Council meeting.

Half the assembly chambers were filled with advocates for the colony led by animal activists Leonard and Juliette Twist, a couple who live on the same block where the cats have congregated in a woodsy area along a set of abandoned railroad tracks.

Problem is, according to the town, the cats have spilled over into the parking lot of the apartment complex whose owner, last week, took steps to set traps for the strays, hire an off-duty cop to guard the traps, and send them to the Bergen County Animal Shelter.

There, Mayor Alberto Santos told the crowd, “if a cat is feral and not sociable, it is euthanized. If the cat is sociable, it is held at the shelter and can be held for as long as a year.”

Although the traps have since been removed, Santos said, “I’ve learned that wildlife [other than stray felines] have been trapped … and that two of those wildlife have been euthanized. That should not have happened.”

Juliette Twist said that the two wildlife reportedly removed to the shelter were raccoons.

Last Wednesday, it was disclosed by the local Health Department that a live bat was removed from “in the grassy area” at the colony site and was found to have no rabies. In any case, Twist and his supporters urged the town to consider adopting a policy of “TNR – trap, neuter and return” as a strategy for containing the colony’s growth. Twist said that he and his wife have at their own expense, with contributions from a few neighbors and with guidance from Bergen County’s animal control program, taken sick cats from the colony to a veterinarian for care and/or to be “put down,” while “healthy ones were spayed/neutered and given all their shots.”

Over the past 10 years, Twist said, “we managed to trim the colony [from more than 30] to eight to 10 cats.” He said homes were found for some. “We were never told we needed a license to give away a cat.”

Resident James Calautti said that “TNR is the most effective way to control a stray cat community. It is documented by the SPCA that TNR cats, while not producing litters, prevent other cats from entering the community. This reduces the population and stabilizes the cat population. Attempts to permanently remove cats from a colony always fail due to a ‘vacuum’ effect.”

Twist said that he and some neighbors have fed the cats at Midland and that “there are several colonies down the [Gunnell} Oval and across the tracks at the Industrial Complex [and] someone is feeding them as well.” But Kearny’s public health code says that, “It shall be unlawful to own, harbor or maintain a cat of more than six months of age, unless the owner thereof or the person harboring or maintaining same shall have a valid license for such cat.”

According to town Health Director Ken Pincus, “maintaining” or “harboring” means “providing food” so people cannot feed stray cats unless those cats are licensed, which means the owner must prove the cat has been properly vaccinated against rabies and then tagged as such for the protection of other animals and humans.

“When a person supplies outside food sources to stray cats, that has the potential to attract other feral cats and wildlife which could pose a danger,” Pincus said. “If a stray cat is bitten, it may run off,” he said, “and if it can’t be caught and checked for rabies, we can’t conduct a 10-day quarantine. Once they escape, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

Unless proper controls are in place, “I don’t think promotion of TNR is in the best interests of the town,” Santos said. “Cats do contract rabies if they’re not vaccinated so that has to be managed,” he added. Better to trap, neuter and adopt – not return.”

But the mayor said he wanted to “give further thought to provide a better outcome for the colonies. We need to study this further.”

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