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Feral Cat Epidemic Discussed by Maplewood Board of Health

Maria Elena Bentey

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 • 4:06pm

MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The Township Committee Meeting held on Tuesday had a “jam-packed agenda,” according to Mayor Victor DeLuca. One of the most pressing issues for the residents of Maplewood was discussed during the Board of Health portion of the meeting. Several residents of Maplewood expressed their concerns for the feral cats that are an increasing nuisance to Maplewood residents.

“We need to do something to at least stem the population,” said Committeewoman India Larrier. The goal of many in attendance is to institute a trap, neuter and release program to deal with the feral cats. A feral cat is one that is born in the wild or a domestic cat that has returned and acclimated to the wild. This is different than a stray cat that has wandered away from its home, and should be taken off the streets and sent to a shelter.

Maplewood Health Officer Robert Roe said, “Not a day goes by at the Health Department where we don’t get a complaint about stray cats.” Roe suggested that the residents of Maplewood mirror what New York City has done to fix their city’s problem with feral cats. Some of the suggestions that Roe included in his comments are taken from the NYC example, and include cat training classes and having the lead in the effort taken by a not-for profit organization. “We must have an organized non-intrusive effort… if we put our heads together we can come up with a more comprehensive plan,” said Roe.

Resident Laura Himmelein said, “We are already organizing,” noting that the group she is helping to create includes a veterinarian who would perform the neutering.  “Our plan to trap, neuter, vaccinate and return will minimize and eventually eliminate the feral cat problem.”  She noted that her group is applying for 501-3C status, which would allow the group to raise funds to support the program.

The feral cat colonies not only roam the streets and backyards of Maplewood, but they also ruin residents’ bushes and decks. Resident Deborah Jacoby spoke about how cats have sought shelter under her deck and house, and have sprayed the area to mark the territory, creating “a smell that is unbearable in my home.”

Jessica Gotthold, the founder of The National Foundation for Animal Rescue, based in Saddle River, offered support for the trap, neuter and return proposal and offered her assistance to “anyone here who wants to participate in this community effort.” She applauded the Township of Maplewood for their active involvement and community effort in solving the feral cat problem.

Gotthold said this method will reduce the problem and can eliminate it.  She outlined proven methods of creating feed and trap stations and the tipping of neutered cats’ left ears as markers.  She noted that in the 14 colonies she is working to eliminate, she can “count on one hand” the number of non-neutered cats spotted at the feeding stations in the last four years.  She described the feral cat as “the wild life of the 20th century” and warned the Board that if this problem is not dealt with the number of the feral cats can increase exponentially and overrun the community.

The Board voted unanimously to have Rowe speak with the group that is organizing and to come back with a plan of action.

- The reporter of this story is writing for The Alternative Press as part of the journalism program at Kean University.

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