By Cheryl Conway
The Mt. Olive Trap-Neuter-Return program has been “furtunate” for the past 14 years with the number of cats it has saved, the feral cat colonies it has reduced and the number of volunteers who have helped along the way.
But, the program is not “purrfect,” and is in need of more fosterers and volunteers to keep the program intact.
“Even as our intake has gone down so much, we’re having more difficulty finding foster homes for the tame cats we do get,” says Michelle Lerner, founder and co-coordinator of MOTNR since 2005. “Many of our fosterers have moved away; others adopted their foster cats and stopped fostering.”
COVID and low intake of cats discouraged volunteers too.
“Some people stopped fostering during the pandemic due to not wanting potential adopters entering their homes,” says Lerner. “Conversely, people who wanted to foster all the time, rather than sporadically, started fostering for other groups, because our fostering needs have become intermittent due to our low intake.”
While it is good that there are less cats who need homes, it has affected involvement.
“This means that when we do need a foster home, usually on a sudden and urgent basis, we often don’t have one,” says Lerner. “Other groups were helping us out for a while, but they’ve had less capacity to do so lately.”
History of MOTNR
MOTNR has been in existence since 2009.
“We came together as a group of residents to stop the large-scale killing of cats by the town,” explains Lerner. In 2008, Mt. Olive impounded 181 cats and euthanized 141 of them.
“At the time, the animal control officer said it was mostly feral cats, many from the apartment complexes, so we lobbied for a Trap-Neuter-Return ordinance for feral cats, and once we got it passed, we set up a program to do TNR for feral cats: Trap them, get them neutered and vaccinated, and support them and their caregivers long-term by providing warm shelters, ongoing veterinary care and food when needed.
“When we first started trapping, we got a lot of kittens and tame abandoned cats who could be adopted, so we set up a foster care network and adoption process for them,” she continues. “We also started taking impounded cats after their seven-day hold was up, and helping low-income residents get their own cats spayed and neutered. Eventually, in 2020, we got a no-kill ordinance passed protecting impounded dogs and cats from euthanasia in most cases.”
Lerner is pleased with the results.
“Due to the extensive trapping and spay/neuter we’ve done over the years, the numbers of cats on the street in Mt. Olive have dropped dramatically,” she says. “The feral cat colonies have largely gone extinct, with an average reduction of 89% and only about 20 TNR’d cats left in town, most of them elderly.
“Impoundments have also been reduced by 91%; in 2022, the town impounded a total of 17 cats and kittens and did not euthanize any of them. We went from taking in well over 100 tame cats and kittens per year in the beginning to about 20 or fewer per year now. Last year we took in 13.”
Since its inception, MOTNR has rescued more than 1,500 cats, reports Lerner.
“Most of these were in Mt. Olive, but in the early years we also did quite a bit of work in Netcong as they got their own program up and running,” she says. “They had more cats and fewer volunteers, so we provided a lot of backup for a while. In more recent years, we’ve worked only with Mt. Olive cats.”
While the cat population is currently stable, Lerner is trying to establish a solid base to keep operation running smoothly.
“The cat situation in Mt. Olive is very much under control,” she explains. “We have a very low, humanely controlled population, and MOTNR tends to respond quickly to any new need. As our intake has gone down, we’ve just gotten a lot smaller as an organization, so have fewer volunteers. Since we don’t always have a need for foster homes, fosterers who want to continuously foster have to work with other organizations as well, so become unavailable when we have a cat needing a placement. Our needs have changed due to the lower intake, so that we now need people willing and able to foster who are willing to only do so a few times per year, often on short notice. It’s a very specific need.”
Foster Homes & Volunteers Needed
MOTNR currently has three cats in need of fostering, but the number changes.
“We’re aware that we can get a call about additional cats at any time, and since we’re full, it’s nerve-wracking not to know in advance that they’ll have somewhere to go after we get them vetted,” says Lerner.
“The cats we need foster homes for are tame,” she adds. “Some are very friendly while others are skittish and need some time to adjust to being in a home again. Some are young, and some are elderly.”
Bullwinkle is one of those cats.
“He’s in a very temporary placement where he was able to decompress from living on the street and readjust to being a house cat,” describes Lerner. “He’s a gentle giant and still skittish, so he needs a quiet foster home where he can start out in a separate room and be given time to adjust, but once he gets to know you, he’s a cuddle bug.”
The other two cats are tame young cats someone abandoned with a relative who can’t keep them, she says.
As far as volunteers, MOTNR currently has 16 helping with different things.
“Some are only available sporadically. Only a few foster. Others trap, transport, do pre and post operative care, post flyers, manage websites, and do administrative work.
“It would be great to have about five more volunteers,” says Lerner.
“We’d be thrilled to welcome and train volunteers interested in trapping or transporting if people are interested in getting involved but do not have the capacity to foster.
“Something else volunteers do is feed some of the remaining feral cats whose caregivers have died or become incapacitated,” she says. “This is a daily task, and we can always use help with it. But our primary need is fosterers willing to hold a cat every now and then.
“What we need most is fosterers: People willing to take a tame cat into their home for a few days to a few months,” she stresses. “Our need is sporadic but when a cat needs help, we need a foster home within a few days. Fostering for MOTNR might mean having a cat for a few weeks at a time, a few times per year. Or it might mean holding an older cat or one with medical care for longer. Fosterers can decide how often they want to foster, and for how long, and the type of cat.”
MOTNR helps with the rest.
“MOTNR provides transportation, veterinary care, and, if needed, all food and supplies,” says Lerner. “We can provide everything. We remain responsible for the cat’s permanent placement and work on it from the moment the cat goes into the foster home.”
Donations are always welcome.
“We are always in need of donated cat food (wet and dry), litter, and financial donations toward vet care,” she says. “Veterinary costs have gone up dramatically in the past year due to rising prices, and many of the cats we care for at this point, the feral ones and ones we have in foster care, are elderly and in need of more extensive vet care.”
Lerner credits several organizations for their assistance over the years.
“We’ve received significant help from a few partner organizations that have taken cats from us, including the Hopatcong Pound Project, Pet Adoption League, and Randolph Regional Animal Shelter,” she says. “We’ve also received prescription food donations from St. Huberts, BARKS, and Denville Animal Shelter. Our vet, Black River Veterinary Hospital in Chester, significant assistance, and Animal Care Center in Flanders and Landing also helps our cats when needed. Mt. Olive Township also helps with a fixed amount of reimbursement for certain expenses related to keep the cat population under control.”
Requirements to Foster
The fosterer must have a room or bathroom where a cat can be kept either for acclimation or for the entire foster period. Some cats can be integrated into a household after a short amount of time, while others need to be kept separate for longer, and time and love to give to a cat in need.
“We do a vet reference check to make sure that the fosterer is a responsible caregiver,” says Lerner. “Certain cats have more specific needs; for instance, a very scared cat may need a home without children and a fosterer who is experienced working with scared cats. A cat with a medical problem may need a fosterer who can medicate. But in general, if someone has space and time, and is a responsible pet caregiver, that’s all we need. And the amount of time needed really varies; a young, friendly, healthy cat may just need food and litter box cleaning and some attention and not take any more time than a person’s own cat would.”
For more information, contact Mt. Olive TNR Project at email@example.com or (973) 804-6273.
“Fostering can be a really great experience,” concludes Lerner. “There’s nothing quite like helping an animal in need get from sad or scared or unhealthy to happy, healthy, and living in a forever home. Fosterers are an incredibly necessary part of this process.
“We also do foster-to-adopt, where someone interested in adopting a particular cat can foster the cat temporarily to make sure the cat will fit into the household before committing to adoption.”