Managing feral cat overpopulation

File photo.

Managing feral cat overpopulation

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
10/1/2015


ISLIP TOWN—The issue of feral cats has brought forth a series of dilemmas for Long Island residents and townships, both from a financial and moral standpoint. The issue came to a head at the last Islip Town Board meeting on Sept. 22, when a group of residents and leaders of local animal advocacy groups asked the town board to follow the examples set by other townships by establishing more effective measures to deal with the growing population of feral cats.

One of the meeting’s speakers read aloud a letter written by Linda Sturrman, president of Last Hope Animal Rescue.

“The question is, why has Islip Town ignored the feral cat population within its borders unlike all surrounding Long Island townships?” wrote Sturrman. “Why do the personnel at the Islip Animal Shelter only offer euthanasia as a solution to the maintenance of cat overpopulation? Why is the Town of Islip 20 years behind all other towns on Long Island alleviating the suffering incurred by this critical community problem? It is time for the town to join us and all concerned residents to develop an appropriate TNR plan for its community of feral cats.”

After the meeting, Rita Schrecongost, treasurer of nonprofit Shelter Link—which offers low-cost feral cat TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) programs for Islip residents—said that they were contacted by Islip officials.

“After a group of us all spoke at Islip Town Hall board meeting…the town reached out to us,” said Schrecongost. “We have had one meeting with a town board member so far and they are working with us to find possible solutions to the growing feral cat population in the town. We believe that the town is open to working with us to come up with a plan.”

Meanwhile, Chris Elton, director of the Town of Babylon Animal Shelter, said that Babylon has had an established feral cat program for about eight years. It consists of providing local residents with vouchers entitling them to spay/neuter cats for $25 at participating veterinarians, with the town picking up any additional costs. Babylon also has a supply of 25-30 traps that they lend out on a regular basis (a cash deposit is given back upon each trap’s return), while offering residents unlimited advice on proper trapping practices. Elton and animal control officers also conduct site visits three-to-four times a day to observe particular hotspots.

Elton said that last year, Babylon conducted around 600 spays/neuters on feral cats, while hundreds of other cats and kittens came through its shelter, although their efforts have not yet led to a population decrease.

“We spend quite a bit of resources and we hope to see a population reduction at some point,” said Elton. “TNR is the only proven humane method of reducing cat populations. Trapping and killing really doesn’t work. Time and time again over the years, TNR has steadily reduced cat populations in many areas around the country. We haven’t seen a population reduction here yet, but it’s not for lack of trying.”

Elsewhere, Brookhaven Town Spokesperson Jack Krieger detailed the programs and services offered by their township.

“We have a budget of $10,000 every year for the spay and neuter of feral cats in the Town of Brookhaven,” said Krieger. “It is a certificate program that allows about 334 cats to be spayed/neutered for free every year. We also host ARF’s [Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons] spay/neuter mobile unit here at the shelter usually two-three times per month, which averages about 35-40 spays/neuters each visit. The ARF service is absolutely free for the people bringing in the feral cats.”

ARF spokesperson Michelle Forrester said that they expanded their services to Brookhaven after years of sustained success in their own region, which extends from Westhampton Beach to Montauk.

“We saw such tremendous success to the point where the need was not as great in our area,” said Forrester, who noted that ARF is all privately funded. “Our organization purchased a spay/neuter van last year, and we thought we could help our neighboring county of Brookhaven. We receive hundreds of calls per week from people there regarding feral cats, and when we reached out to their shelter they were very excited.”

The Town of Huntington has also teamed up with its own volunteer organization—the League for Animal Protection of Huntington (LAP), which offers adoption and TNR programs.

“LAP sponsors TNR as a component of the Spay Neuter Program by issuing vouchers to be redeemed at local veterinarians,” states LAP on its official website. “The advantages of TNR are that the size of the colony will stabilize, the remaining cats will be healthier, there is less noise from mating and fighting and there is a lower euthanasia rate at the municipal shelter.”

After hearing about ARF’s ongoing partnership with Brookhaven, Smithtown reached out to the privately funded organization and asked if they could also utilize some of their services. Recently, ARF brought its mobile unit there and spayed/neutered a total of 40 cats in one day.  

Smithtown Animal Shelter director Susan Hansen said that their township regularly lends out traps to residents for a returnable $40 cash deposit. She said that animal control officers go out into the field and personally instruct residents on how to use them.

“Feral cats are a major problem throughout Long Island,” said Hansen. “They’ve become like squirrels; many people out of the goodness of their hearts feel bad and try to feed them, but once they start doing that they need to commit to getting them fixed or else it will just get worse.”

Hansen said that while the law only requires municipalities to take in and care for stray dogs, they still have a duty to work proactively towards managing feral populations.

“Municipalities are always reluctant to get involved because they see it as another expense or job that needs to be done,” said Hansen. “But if they just close the door and say they’re not responsible, it only gets worse and worse. 

“There are opportunities to take advantage of where municipalities can partner with nonprofits at low cost or for free, and they should take the initiative,” added Hansen. “What it really comes down to is leadership and management—you just have to be proactive about it.”