For Ulster town officials waiting for news about the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’s trap, neuter and release (TNR) program to tackle the issue of feral cats in the Sunrise Park and Fox Run neighborhoods, the process has been described as an exercise in frustration.
The town board authorized the trap program in April after a public hearing on a proposed law that would allow cats to be taken to shelters if complaints are received from property owners, and while they unanimously backed the motion, there was some skepticism among councilmen that the process would be successful, especially as a previous TNR effort in the neighborhood had failed.
After securing confirmation from area residents that they would not attempt to feed the cats during the process, the Ulster SPCA began the planned four-week trap, neuter and release program in mid-May, leaving traps on consecutive Tuesdays, with the fourth week pushed back because of severe weather conditions.
In an e-mail read at a town board meeting last month, UCSPCA Executive Director Adam Saunders suggested asking residents in the affected areas how they felt the TNR program had worked, adding that his own informal survey in the community had deemed the effort a success, save for a heavy concentration of feral cats at a Warren Street residence. At the time, town officials expressed frustration with the lack of detail in Saunders’ report.
By the time the Town Board met again on July 6, that frustration would only grow, as Town Clerk Suzanne Reavy read aloud a letter from Saunders received by the town earlier that evening. The letter broke down each week’s figures based on the number of traps laid, the number of cats caught, where the cats were caught, and whether they were retained or released. In summary, the SPCA laid 11 traps each week, trapping a total of 18 cats, retaining six and re-releasing 12.
Beyond that, town officials said, they were unclear on what the SPCA had done with the cats they trapped, where and how they were re-released, and other details.
“I don’t have too much confidence in this project that’s going on right now,” said Councilman Eric Kitchen.
Saunders this week explained that of the 18 cats that were caught during the four weeks of the TNR project, 17 were spayed or neutered depending upon their gender. The 18th cat had already had the procedure done, as indicated from an ear clip.
“It’s standard procedure among TNR facilities,” Saunders said. “With a male cat you can tell with a quick external exam whether they’ve been neutered or not. With females you have to look for a scar. The ear clip is just an easy way without going any further.”
Saunders added that the six cats that were kept by the SPCA were put up for adoption; the other 12 were not deemed viable adoption candidates and were re-released to the same locations within 48 hours of their trapping.
“It’s just their reaction to humans,” he said. “If they are friendly and handleable, then it’s more likely they were strays as opposed to genuine ferals. Feral cats can’t be safely handled and we can’t put them in people’s houses.”
The reason cats are returned to areas where they were trapped, Saunders explained, is to discourage other feral cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered from moving in. Cats are territorial by nature, he said.
Saunders said a 19th cat was trapped outside of the four week-program supported by the town because a neighbor mentioned having seen cats.
While some town officials have expressed their disappointment with the results of the SPCA’s TNR program, Saunders said judging the merits of the efforts depends upon a variety of factors.
“It’s a tricky question,” he said. “In the lead-up to this we had residents telling us we had from five to 50 cats in the neighborhood. The individuals that were more inclined to be against any sort of re-release program were the ones saying it was closer to 50. The people that were not quite as angry about the presence of the cats were the ones that tended to have a lower estimate.”
Saunders said his pre-TNR field observations indicated a number somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.
“Catching 19 of 25 is a pretty good success story,” he said. “I never saw anything close to 50 [cats.]”
This week, Quigley confessed to having had to divert his attention to other municipal matters.
“I’m dealing with the [reduced assessment at the Hudson Valley] Mall, I’m dealing with police [contract] negotiations,” Quigley said on Monday, July 17. “I wish the cats would go away.”
Quigley added that dealing with the Ulster County SPCA was a big part of the problem.
“The SPCA, they’re clearly a non-profit organization because they don’t act in a professional businesslike manner,” he said. “I don’t have a report from Adam Saunders that I could release, because there’s too many holes in it. I’m waiting to see if the thing goes away, because there’s nothing else I can do. They’re in there trapping, they trap, they capture, they neuter them, they release some of them, they keep some of them. I don’t have accurate counts, I don’t have any confidence in the information that they’ve given me, because there’s too many questions. One week they tell you how many they captured and how many they released, the next week they just tell you how many they captured. And they don’t tell you what they did with them.”
Saunders this week said he was not aware of Quigley’s dissatisfaction with the TNR process. “He hadn’t reached out to me for any clarifications,” Saunders said.
The TNR effort was considered a compromise following hotly debated public hearings earlier this year on proposed legislation that would target cat owners or anyone “harboring any cat” by feeding strays and feral colonies to prohibit them 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 euthanized.
In April, 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.”
The next meeting of the Ulster Town Board is scheduled for Thursday, July 20. At present, the feral cat issue is not listed on the agenda for discussion.