What a difference a year makes.
Last year, the South Orange Board of Health was dead set against creating a trap/neuter/vaccinate/release program to control the town’s feral cat colonies.
However, over the course of the last year, that Board of Health reversed its position and now the Board of Trustees — acting as the new Board of Health — is open to adopting an ordinance, once it is drafted by South Orange Health Officer John Festa.
Festa gave Trustees an overview of the draft ordinance on Monday, April 25.
A South Orange TNVR program would be run by a sponsor (the township is proposing using People for Animals which runs a nearby clinic in Hillside) that works with caregivers to trap, spay or neuter, vaccinate and return cats to their colonies. Caregivers must register with the sponsor but not with the town; the idea is that this will keep the location of the colonies from being public so that people do not start dumping cats at colony locations, harassing caregivers or targeting cats.
Festa explained, “Basically now, Animal Control is trapping animals and bringing them to a facility. So with TNVR, once a caregiver is approved by the sponsor, [the cats] would live out their lives in that setting with the caregiver.”
Festa added, “There would be education and a tight relationship between caregiver, sponsor and the health department.”
Village President Sheena Collum questioned why the ordinance did not call for neighborhood notification.
Jane Guillaume of PFA responded that a resident representative in South Orange who lives next to a colony said that she polled her neighbors and “they were all in agreement that they already know the cats are there and they are all affected so they would only say, ‘Yay, the town is going to do something about it.'”
Conversely, Guillaume said, notification could prompt neighbors to block TNVR. “Notification is almost asking permission. Giving every single person veto power will undermine the program…. We will educate people. Let them know we are going around trapping. But most times people in a neighborhood with large cat colonies are happy to know something is being done.”
Caregivers would have 45 days to respond to a complaint.
“We’ll know if it works if complaints reduce,” said Festa.
Collum noted that Monday’s discussion was “just a presentation” and that, with authorization from the Trustees, Festa will now draft an ordinance for a first reading, to be followed by a second reading and a hearing. “This is kicking off the formal steps of creating a TNVR policy,” said Collum.
Guillaume spoke further about why it works better to return cats rather than relocate them: “Cats exist in the community…. Rather than having them languish in a shelter, [TNVR] gets them spayed, neutered, microchipped and then returned to where they were found…. This program does not create colonies [but is] only asking to stop the cycle of unchecked reproduction.”
“If we can get them early, get them fixed, there will be fewer complaints,” said Guillaume, who noted that most of the behavior prompting complaints was prompted by the behavior of mating — including yowling, fighting over mates, and the pungent odor of marking territory.
“It’s a humane method to end the reproductive cycle,” said Guillaume. “The feeder is worked with to keep it from being an attraction for wildlife…. The sponsor helps them, provides ongoing support for feeders and other neighbors.”
“We will work with the complainant to make their yard less attractive for the cats. Let’s get the fences fixed. And there are deterrent markers you can put around the yard to keep them away. You’re training the cats: ‘You’re welcome in this yard but not in this yard.'”
Festa said that the cost of a service level agreement with PFA would be $2,975 for a year.
“We have volunteers who help with trapping,” said Guillaume. “We have an outreach coordinator who monitors all the information, a dispatcher who takes calls, goes out and investigates and proposes the plan of attack, then gets volunteers together.” PFA will spay, neuter, vaccinate, ear tip and microchip the cats at its Hillside location, using its fleet of five vans to transport cats.
A number of local residents praised the proposed ordinance as well as Guillaume and PFA during public comments.
Elizbeth Dempkin of Maplewood said she would advocate that PFA be considered for the lease of the former Jersey Animal Coalition building at 298 Walton Road in South Orange. “Their facility in Hillside is clean and well maintained,” said Dempkin.
Collum agreed, “PFA would be a great addition to the community.” However, she noted that the town would be issuing an RFP for the long-term use of site to which anyone could respond, including the current short-term lease holder Run Jump Lift.
“The more options that I can give the governing body, the better,” said Collum.
Still, Collum was bullish on the ordinance.
“We’ve seen a very big paradigm shift,” said the Village President. “Even though the future of 298 Walton is not known, we’ve moved the needle forward.”