Feral cats continue to be a problem for Byram residents

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:48

    BYRAM-A yearlong program aimed at reducing the number of cat colonies in the township has come under criticism from some residents of Byram who feel they are the ones being trapped. Local residents voiced their concerns at a township council meeting this week about the adverse impact feral cats in the community have had on their quality of life. One resident said feral cats in the neighborhood had become a nuisance and health hazard, especially to some who are reluctant to go outside of their homes because they are struggling with heart disease, cancer, and other ailments. The feral cats are said to be living in rock walls and under backyard porches, hiding in the frames and wheels of parked cars, and leaving behind an unbearable stench. "I'm kind of fed-up with this problem," said councilman Louis Esposito Jr. "Let's get rid of the population or control it. If this were wild dogs, we wouldn't stand for this behavior." Township manager Greg Poff said the feral cat issue continues to be addressed, but admitted at a slower pace than had been anticipated. He said the problem was exacerbated when an animal control officer recently resigned for personal reasons. Poff said the township is seeking to contract another employee with the proper credentials to locate, trap and remove the animals. The township council and board of health had first taken action to control the increasing cat population after residents came forward complaining of wild cats, urinating, howling and fighting in their yards. Since November, when Byram contracted an animal control officer to trap feral cats wandering in the area, at least 10 cats had been caught and transported to Golub Animal Hospital in Ledgewood, where they were housed for a required seven days, a township official said. If the cats are determined to be feral, they are then euthanized, a hospital official said. The remaining cats are then placed up for adoption. Councilwoman Donna Griff said some improved form of licensing needs to be put in place. She said she spent two weeks attempting to catch a mother cat that had given birth to a colony of feral cats under her porch. "It's not pleasant," said Griff, who is a proponent of microprocessing, a procedure that involves using a needle to implant a chip about the size of a grain of rice between the animal's shoulders. When the shoulder is scanned across specifically tailored equipment -- usually available at any shelter or hospital -- an animal can be identified by name, address, owner, veterinarian, and medical records. Mayor Eskil "Skip" Danielson said the township could limit the number of cats a resident can own. "We've been sold on this problem that it would get better and it hasn't," said councilman Earl Riley. "Somehow we have to look at an ordinance and some prohibition against feeding." Stray cats are companion animals that have been abandoned or lost, said Rebecca Hess, a feral cats coordinator with the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance. She said feral cats have had minimal human contact during their lives and are extremely wary of humans. "They're very fearful of humans," said Hess. "You rarely see feral cats, but we don't want them around because of the problems they cause in the public eye." Unaltered feral cats, Hess said, will spray, fight, yowl and birth many litters of unwanted kittens. She said most of these issues disappear once a cat has been spayed or neutered. Programs that involve spaying or neutering feral cats, vaccinating them against rabies, and then returning the cats to their habitat are effective, humane ways of controlling populations, said Hess. The feral cats that cannot be successfully socialized are returned to their original colonies, where caregivers who provide food, water and long-term medical care manage them, she said. Hess said trap, neuter and return programs have been successful internationally and are quickly proving their effectiveness in the United States through natural attrition, which stabilizes and decreases the number of cats over time. "We all have the same goals in mind," said Hess, who added that the cost to spay, neuter and vaccinate is around $40 per cat. "We all want to reduce the number of feral cats." The township council plans to put the matter on its next scheduled meeting, 8 p.m., May 16, in the municipal building.