BRICK – There isn’t a community in America that doesn’t have some sort of community cat population, which has resulted from humans abandoning or dumping their cats over the years. These feral cats weren’t meant to fend for themselves since they are domesticated animals.
The township recently reconvened its Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) Committee via Zoom meeting. The committee hasn’t had any formal meetings for some time, said retired Brick Police officer John Talty Jr., who was tapped to volunteer as chair of the committee by Township Business Administrator Joanne Bergin.
TNR is designed to help homeless and free-roaming cats by humanely trapping feral cats, spaying/neutering them, vaccinating and surgically ear-tipping them before releasing the cats back to the same location where they were originally trapped.
Bergin invited guest speakers Ross Licitra, Executive Director of the Monmouth County SPCA and their Associate Director Barbara Lovell to discuss the success of their TNR program to the Brick TNR committee.
By spaying and neutering just one male and one female cat, more than 2,000 unwanted births can be prevented in four years, and more than two million in eight years, Lovell said.
University studies done on TNR showed that over a five or six year period, a feral cat colony can be reduced by 60 to 70 percent.
Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) is a township program that is misunderstood by a lot of municipal officials and residents, Licitra said.
He said TNR is not a silver bullet, nor does it end the feral cat situation, which has been a problem for many decades.
Licitra, a former police officer in West Long Branch, said he remembers being on patrol in the early 80s, and seeing stray or wild dogs frequently.
“When was the last time we’ve ever come across a wild dog?” he asked. “It doesn’t happen anymore because our veterinary community and our animal welfare community have done a really great job of promoting responsible pet ownership by the spaying or neutering of our dogs.”
Unfortunately, cats, who don’t appear to be a threat to the public, have gone unnoticed and no programs have ever really been addressed to stop the overpopulation of cats, he said.
“They’re small, they disappear, they run when there’s some humans, and most humans, for the most part, aren’t threatened by a feral cat or a stray cat,” Licitra said.
The colony doesn’t disappear, Licitra said, but it drastically reduces the number of cats in the colony, which is significant and improves the quality of life for the cats and for people who live among them.
Euthanizing a colony is inhumane, unethical, and studies show that it creates a vacuum that other cats would come and fill since there is a food source there, Licitra said.
“Those have always been our major issues: you’ve got the people who absolutely love the cats, and then you have the people who hate the cats,” he said. “Most of the public really doesn’t care either way – they really have no opinion about it.”
Complaints come in when one neighbor feeds the cats and they stray over to another neighbor’s house and become a nuisance, Licitra said.
“Everybody has to come to the middle,” he said. “The people that are doing the feeding are humane people. They really care about the animals; they’re good-hearted nature people. Sometimes they don’t realize, though, what they’re doing is adversely affecting the quality of life of the people that live around them.”
It’s also important to consider the quality of life for those who are offended by the cats, he said. As tax-paying citizens, they have the right to not have cats litter their property.
That’s true, said Talty. The committee wants to help the colony caretakers and not have them “hide in the shadows like they think they’re doing something wrong,” he said after the meeting.
In Brick, colony caregivers must file an application that is approved by the SPCA and the municipality, and they must work hand-in-hand with the animal control officer.
The township TNR committee can help to facilitate the capture of the cats, provide funds for their medical care, and assist with an injured or problem cat.
The game plan for 2021 is to prevent the feral cats from reproducing exponentially so that in seven years the size of the colony is the smallest number it can possibly be, Talty said.
Neutered cats can’t reproduce, so the most challenging goal for the TNR committee is to have a colony in which 70 to 92 percent of the cats can’t reproduce.
“The program can be a positive thing for the community,” Talty said. “I think the cats are the beneficiary of [TNR], and that’s a nice, humane way they’re running their program in Monmouth County.”
Doreen Gefflein of Lake Riviera said that in 2020, 883 cats were spayed and neutered in Brick. 473 of these were a combination of pets and cats/kittens taken in from rescues, and 410 were community strays.
Since 2012, Gefflein has trapped 657 cats, including 443 in Brick. She said her organization, Animal Birth Control, tries to find homes for the friendly cats and for the kittens, but acknowledged that they can’t all be saved.
Gefflein said there are at least 20 colony caregivers in Brick who each care for anywhere between three and 30 cats.
Animal control officer Marcus Perry from the township’s contracted A-Academy attended the zoom meeting. He would be the liaison and the person in charge of colony caregivers. He said there have been few complaints about feral cats in town. Most animal nuisance complaints have been about raccoons, he said.
TNR is partly funded in the coming year by a $20,000 rider account from monies set aside from the licensing of peoples’ pets in the township, said Township Business Administrator Joanne Bergin, who also attended the Zoom meeting. Costs would also offset through donations and fundraising, she said.
The Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) Committee is formed in accordance with a township ordinance that outlines the definition of feral cat colonies; sponsorship of colony TNR programs; sponsor duties, feral cat caregiver responsibilities; colony cat requirements; disposition of colony cats; enforcement; and nuisance complaint investigation.
For more information, call John Talty at 732 262-1081.