South Orange Bd. of Health Presents Plan to Manage Stray Cats

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In a reversal of its initial position, the South Orange Board of Health has presented the Board of Trustees with recommendations for a Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Release (TNVR) plan, as well as a Managed Cat Colony (MCC) plan, to deal with its feral cat population.

“This is a significant position shift for our board,” said president Dr. David Pitman, as he explained the plan to trustees on Monday. The BOH had been staunchly opposed to a TNVR or managed cat colony plan for the Village. However, last fall Village President Sheena Collum asked the board to reconsider and form an ad hoc committee to hash out a plan.

The committee was comprised of BOH members, South Orange’s Health Officer and Animal Control Officer, Executive Director Jane Guillaume of People for Animals, which would manage the program, and community members.

Pitman said the BOH attempted to balance its goals — to ensure residents’ health, safety, and quality of life, protect the environment and manage the town’s feral cat population — with the goals of TNVR’s advocates. The BOH is concerned about, among other things, the health risks of rabies, allergies and toxoplasmosis.

“There was a significant difference of opinion” among committee members on issues including whether to include a “neighbor notification” provision, the maximum size of each colony, and the scope of the problem itself.

“Currently the town deals with 3-5 cat complaints per month,” said Pitman. “If those advocating for a TNVR/MCC are correct that there are 1,000 stray/feral cats in our town, we could be establishing twenty cat colonies of approximately fifty cats [each].”

The BOH eventually passed a resolution recommending the town pilot a one-year program with the following restrictions:

  1. There will be neighbor notification of the presence of a managed cat colony
  2. The size of the colonies will be limited to the number of cats present when the colony is established and excess cats can be relocated to other colonies with fewer than their initial allocation of cats
  3. Cat nuisance complaints must be remediated within thirty days
  4. A record of the Managed Cat Colonies, including their locations, should be kept with the South Orange Department of Health.

The board wants the TNVR cats to be neutered, vaccinated and micro-chipped.

The BOH believes that funding for the trapping, neutering, vaccinating and microchipping could come from the town’s Health Dept., with the cost of managing the cat colonies borne by individual caretakers.

Pitman said the board had spoken with officials of other towns who use TNVR, including Livingston, Montclair and Maplewood — the latter of which has struggled with the caretaker portion of their pilot program. Indeed, at the last Maplewood Township Committee meeting, Board of Health Officer Robert Roe said that while Furry Hearts, the organization managing the program, had done “a tremendous amount of neutering and spaying,” getting people to do the actual hands-on work had been a challenge and he was unsure the group would be able to continue managing the program.

Noting that Collum is disbanding the Board of Health at the end of the year, Pitman requested that the governing body use the outgoing board’s recommendations as a starting point. (South Orange’s Board of Health is currently a separate governing body consisting of nine members appointed by the Village President. By contrast, in Maplewood the Township Committee also serves as the Board of Health.)

Trustee Walter Clarke questioned whether a one-year pilot was too short. Pitman said he believed strongly there should be a sunset clause because “once a plan is in place, it is hard to back away.”

He also stressed that specific guidelines be put in place to measure the program’s success, which should include a 50% rate of feral cats neutered and microchipped. He said Maplewood had been wrestling with the question of how to determine whether its program is working. “You need parameters.”

The next step would be for the Board of Trustees to discuss the recommendations and draft a plan. “There are a lot of issues to sort out first,” said Township Administrator Barry Lewis in a phone interview, including drafting an agreement with PFA. Lewis said a plan might begin sometime in the first quarter of 2016.


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