By Cheryl Conway
Officials in Washington Township are considering whether to start a program in town to help control the feral cat population.
They have had discussions and are now pawing at the idea to determine if community support exists in terms of volunteers. Known as Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR), the program has been quite successful in other surrounding towns, especially in Mt. Olive, where a group of volunteers actively run the program and have reduced the number of feral cats drastically since 2009.
If anyone is interested in volunteering their time to help trap, transport, feed, foster stray cats or even sponsor fundraisers to support the program like bake sales or tricky trays, contact Donna Daly, coordinator of Senior Citizen Transportation, at 908-876-8623.
While there are no immediate plans to start a TNR program in town, there is a need to help control the population of nuisance cats within its borders.
“It’s desperately needed; we have a lot of farmland out here,” says one cat lover who wishes to remain anonymous. “The program [TNR] works. It’s better than euthanizing.”
Currently, in Long Valley, stray cats are brought to Common Sense For Animals in Stewartsville where they receive medical attention and then are put up for adoption, according to one volunteer.
“Farms are everywhere in Long Valley,” barns, horse farms, cow farms, “so the cats are like squirrels,” says the volunteer. “They are just reproducing; they are all over my property. If we just had them neutered then all this nonsense wouldn’t be going on.”
Another volunteer says, “There are so many cats in this town. They are working cats which can breed, but a lot are sick. They die; there’s a lot of inbreeding.”
One elderly woman spends her time “chasing coyotes away so they stop eating the kittens.”
TNR is a non-lethal control method used to trap feral cats, get them spayed, neutered and vaccinated for rabies and distemper by veterinarians, and ear clipped so when they are returned to their environment the colonies can be monitored. The friendly cats and kittens are adopted out.
“It’s a win win for everyone.”
Controlling the population of cats can be beneficial as it creates healthier, better behaved cats after they are neutered; and reduces the number of nuisance cats that can spray, fight and shriek.
Town officials started discussions last Oct. 2015 about the idea of TNR but no additional steps had been taken to get an organized program going. Like with any new program, funding and recruiting volunteers is always a challenge.
There have been less than a handful of volunteers who have been trying to minimize some cat colonies in town, but without any additional help from local volunteers their efforts may soon be exhausted.
One volunteer, who works full time, provides financial support for TNR.
“I bring food; I help pay for neutering,” says the volunteer. But since doing it alone is impossible, this volunteer recruited the help of another person who has been active with the TNR program in Mt. Olive.
“She came in and helped me; I needed support with traps and encouragement.”
The pair have been trying to control the feral cat population during the past six years, involving themselves with TNR, handling five different colonies of cats, with atleast eight cats in each one. They got the friendly cats placed into a home or had them put up for adoption.
Continuing to afford costs involved in feeding, paying for supplies, gas to transport the cats, veterinarian fees to neuter and vaccinate and then the time involved for post-operative care and to find foster homes is getting more difficult.
“I’m the only person doing this; it’s a lot,” says the volunteer who helps with the Mt. Olive TNR program. “I’m one person, it’s just me [in Long Valley]. “In Mt. Olive, it’s a group of us. Long valley doesn’t have a group; I am the group.”
In Mt. Olive, there are a group of volunteers that foster the cats, there are scheduled adoption days, three trappers. “There’s not that many [volunteers]; people come and go.” But there is help, a website, someone who handles the calls.
In Long Valley, “I’ve done so many already,” about 100 cats. “I need a group. I need volunteers. There are people out there who work part time or volunteer.”
This volunteer has been helping about two cats a month “in this colony and that colony. I do the best I can. It goes on and on. It’s not my job I have a job. It’s time consuming, sometimes I dread it; I got to do it.
“It’s an ongoing thing,” she continues, helping to get hundreds of cats neutered and spayed in Mt. Olive, about 25 in Netcong two years ago, and more recently about 60 in Hackettstown and Great Meadows.
“I do a lot of the driving myself; four hour drive in one day,” to take cats to a clinic one hour away in Pennsylvania, which offers a discount; or to Roxbury Animal Hospital which accepts a $50 certificate from St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center for rabies and temper shots, neuter and microchip.
“I feel as though this is where God is sending me right now. I’m going to give myself five more years then I’m retiring. Hopefully younger people will come on board. They have more energy.”
While more volunteers would be a great help, so would be the assistance from some local veterinarians.
Involved with three other agencies when living in another state, the Long Valley volunteer says “all the vets up there helped. All will help neuter cats free of charge. That was a big key, offering your services.”
The veterinarians would also place cages in front, inside their vet offices, with cats that were up for adoption. “It’s the perfect spot. I don’t see vet participation here,” the volunteer observes. “It was just wonderful and successful, and so easy to do. It’s got to be a full team effort.”
Volunteers are needed to coordinate fundraisers and trapping of cats, serve as trappers, provide post-op care, donate space for co-op care and drive cats to and from clinics.
“There are many cat lovers and animal lovers on board,” says Mt. Olive TNR volunteer. “Just give us your time- that is what we need.”
Call 908-876-8623 to volunteer.