Though separated by two weeks, the second half of the Ulster Town Board’s public hearing on proposed legislation to address the issue of feral cats was every bit as emotional as the first. But while the law is still being discussed, the Town Board authorized the Ulster County SPCA to engage in a trap, neuter and release (TNR) program in two local neighborhoods.
The public hearing was originally opened on Thursday, April 6, but was held open until the meeting on Thursday, April 20 because only three of the five-member council were in attendance. The time away did little to quell the emotion several of the speakers had when the hearing picked up again, whether they were in favor of a TNR program or not.
Adam Saunders, executive director of the Ulster County SPCA, said that while he isn’t opposed to laws focused on feral cats, he hoped the town would give TNR the time to work in the Sunrise Park and Fox Run neighborhoods, the areas most affected by colonies of feral cats.
“I’ve seen cats, among many other species, in virtually every imaginable environment, in every imaginable state of health,” Saunders said, adding that TNR is not only more humane than trap-and-kill programs, it’s also more effective. “Trap and kill fails to prevent new cats, of which there will always be a supply due to human presence, from entering a given area. TNR does not eliminate a population, but rather it holds it steady at manageable numbers … Trap and kill may empty a neighborhood of cats, but six months later the problem may reoccur.”
Jean Jacobs, a former Kingston Republican committeewoman and cat advisory task force chair in the city, also favored TNR, questioning the humanity of trap-and-kill.
“TNR is the humane and effective approach for an abandoned, stray and feral cat,” she said. “TNR is successfully practiced in hundreds of communities. TNR stops the breeding cycle of cats. It is hard to believe that animal control agencies continue to kill cats, even though that practice has shown no results. It is time to stop catch-and-kill.”
Town Supervisor James Quigley III said previous TNR initiatives in the affected neighborhoods hadn’t been as successful as in other parts of the town.
“The town has done TNR projects in other parts of the town successfully,” he said. “We attempted to do a TNR in Sunrise Park. It failed, because the five feeders didn’t stop feeding during the course of the trapping. You cannot have a successful TNR project when the ‘T’ doesn’t work. Which is why the town has had to take this step [of proposed legislation] to get people’s attention.”
Cat harborers, take note
In the proposed legislation, cat owners or anyone “harboring any cat” by feeding strays and feral colonies would be prohibited from allowing felines to spray or defecate on private property, cause damage or behave violently. Cats not vaccinated against rabies would be forbidden. Violations would come with fines of $50 for the first offense, $150 for the second, and $250 for each subsequent violation. The proposed law would also authorize the municipal animal control officer to seize stray cats and hold them for five days, whether identified or not, after which point the cat could be sold or destroyed. Some opponents of the proposed legislation bristled at a scenario that could result in a cat slipping away from its owner, being caught by the town and subsequently euthanized.
Quigley said some speakers may have misinterpreted the proposal to indicate that the town was planning a trap-and-kill program. An online petition with over 1,500 signatures entitled Stop Project Kill the Cats: Town of Ulster Local Cat Control Law, organized by a group called Concerned Citizens and Animal Advocates, also pointed to the potential for the destruction of cats.
“This law as proposed does not say ‘euthanize,’” he said. “That is not a word that’s used in there. ‘Trap-and-kill’ is not mentioned in there.”
But while the public comment period on the proposed law will remain open through May 20, town officials and the Ulster SPCA are hoping a TNR program will yield results. According to Saunders, the SPCA will set 25 traps throughout Sunrise Park and Fox Run, with the town paying $40 for each cat caught during the trapping period.
“This is a clear neighborhood problem,” Quigley said. “We’ve already tried this two or three times in this neighborhood and had it fail. The SPCA is asking us for the opportunity to undertake the process, and they believe, based upon our conversations that they have a relationship with the people that have laid out the food and have fed these [cats]. And if they can convince the feeders to stop feeding for a period of time, we will have a successful project. If we don’t, then there are alternatives that we have to consider.”
Saunders said the success of the TNR program will depend upon the cooperation of local residents who are currently feeding the feral colonies. He added that in addition to a mailer being prepared by town officials, the SPCA would also try and continue contacting people living in the affected neighborhoods.
“Prior to laying out traps we would need several weeks just to notify the neighborhood and ensure cooperation of those individuals that are feeding the cats,” Saunders said. “Our efforts would be wasted without that … I would expect they would see a reduced cat population overall. As stated, any that were friendly or pregnant would be retained by the SPCA and not re-released back into the area. The true ferals would be re-released [after neutering], but that would be done with the cooperation and monitoring of several colonies.”
But not everyone was convinced that the people feeding the feral colonies would stop.
“If they’re going to trap these cats, you’ve got to tell everybody to not lay out salmon, so they don’t go into the traps, which is what happened last time,” said Dawn DeLuca. “And just because these people are going to feed them, they need to keep them on their property. I do not want them on my property. And my property happens to be one of the runs where they’re going back and forth to the feeders.”