Maplewood Passes Feral Cat Feeding Pilot Program

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The Maplewood Township Committee voted 4-1 Wednedsay to approve an ordinance to create a trap/neuter/return pilot program for feral cats for a period of three years. The TC will review the program annually.

The Committee also voted 4-1 to designate Furry Hearts Rescue as the sponsoring organization which will oversee the program. Committeeman Marlon K. Brownlee was the dissenter in both votes.

The program will allow registered and trained volunteers to feed feral cats if they follow certain guidelines. The idea is to trap as many cats as possible in order to neuter/spay and vaccinate them.

The entire ordinance can be found on the township website.

Brownlee had some scathing words for what he said was a lack of concrete information from Furry Hearts on how and to what degree the program will reduce the town’s feral cat population.

“If anything I’m even more concerned now, given that…there has been no effort to address [my] concerns,” said Brownlee. “By how much will it reduce the number of stray cats? Who knows? [Furry Hearts]…is unable or unwilling to say…By how much will it lower our animal control costs? Again [Furry Hearts] is unable or unwilling to say.”

Brownlee said after studying similar programs in other towns, he worried it would encourage irresponsible cat owners to abandon cats in the colonies. “I don’t see how enacting a program that ensures that dumped and left-behind cats will be well-fed will deter this kind of behavior,” he said.

Whether the program will be better than “doing nothing” is debatable, said Brownlee, who noted the research is “mixed at best” with some studies showing similar programs reduced the feral cat population by an insignificant number, while in other towns the program had been a “disaster.”

He continued, “I’m just asking that the quantifiable goals…should be stated for the record beforehand so we all know what we’re voting on, because mark my words, if we pass [this ordinance]…barring a catastrophic disaster, [it] will continue indefinitely.”

Committeeman Jerry Ryan agreed the program’s goals were somewhat vague and hard to quantify. However, after speaking to people who run a Newark trap/neuter/return program, he was convinced the program’s fundamental goal was to stop cats from reproducing.

“They’re platitudes, not goals,” Brownlee retorted. “I haven’t gotten any [answers]; it’s just made me more skeptical.”

Committeewoman India Larrier said that if after a year, the program showed no reduction in the feral cat population but also showed no increase, she would consider it a success. Ryan agreed.

Brownlee called that politician “doublespeak.”

Mayor Vic DeLuca said he agreed that Brownlee had not received answers to questions he had consistently asked throughout the program’s review. However, he said, the reduction in the feral cat population was not the only reason to run the program.

“There’s more than just the number,” he said. “This is a management plan we’re voting on.” He said when the TC members first heard about the program 18 months ago, they said, “No way.” But after considering what the town was currently doing, it seemed like “a better avenue to take.”

He said the committee would continue to review and tweak the program over its three-year period.

When the ordinance passed, the Furry Hearts members in the audience applauded and cheered.

After the vote, Laura Himmelein of Furry Hearts told the committee a similar program in Edison has resulted in a 50% drop in cat intake at shelters and a decrease in shelter costs. She said it wasn’t possible to project specific numbers until the group determined how many feral cats are in town. Finally, she said volunteer caretakers would have to follow strict rules to participate in the program.






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