Resident Again Brings Up Feral Cat Problems

By ERIC ENGLUND | May 29, 2019

Harvey Cedars — Harvey Cedars resident William Bartholomew notes that the borough warns residents about various hazards, such as the importance of cleaning up after walking their dogs or swimming close to shore in case of rip currents.

But Bartholomew said the borough needs to do a better job educating people about feral cats, which are numerous in his Maiden Lane neighborhood.

Bartholomew, who first approached borough officials last fall, addressed them again at a recent meeting and said a major concern is how his property and others are littered with cat feces. He said cat feces contain toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that could cause physical and brain disorders.

“Does the town feel it would be prudent to alert residents and renters and visitors to the presence of feral cat populations and to provide them with information to prevent infection?” he asked. “They have flashing signs on trailers, websites, Facebook, Twitter, mailings and even reverse 911. I’d imagine many of these means of communication such as Facebook, websites and Twitter would cost very little to utilize. Does the town see any reason not to communicate about the presence of feral cat colonies, the dangers associated with toxoplasma and infection prevention?"

In May 2017, the borough adopted an ordinance that established a managed care system for feral cats through a trap-neuter-return program, referred to as TNR, under the sponsorship of and in conjunction with the Friends of the Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter. In the program, feral and stray cats are humanely trapped and taken to a veterinary clinic to be sterilized and vaccinated against rabies and other diseases. They are then returned to the area where they were captured, and are provided with long-term care by a caretaker in accordance with the ordinance.

“The Friends would be working closely with caretakers, which the ordinance defines as any person who regularly provides food and water to a feral cat colony,” said Borough Clerk Daina Dale.

Dale said that since the ordinance’s adoption, Bartholomew has been the first to complain of feral cats.

She said the borough had a major problem with feral cats in 2012, which led to the Associated Humane Societies bringing its mobile spay/neuter veterinarian van from Newark to Harvey Cedars. After 24 feral cats had their procedures done, community volunteers took them home for a recovery period before returning them to the areas where they were trapped. The cats were also micro-chipped, given rabies and distemper shots, cleared of parasites and given other veterinarian treatments if needed.

Has the town identified and counted the population of feral cats, Bartholomew asked, so they can receive regular treatment or new animals can be identified for control? He said if the goal of TNR is population reduction through attrition, then having an accurate measure of the population and being able to quickly identify new animals is critical.

“At the town meeting, the TNR representatives spoke several times to how quickly a female can reproduce and cause a population explosion so it would seem obvious to have the population identified and counted frequently,” he said. “Additionally, if there is a new animal that is not sponsored for TNR it is euthanized at the town’s expense, so it seems like a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers as well, not to mention euthanizing a living thing, even a pest, is regrettable.”

He said that while the TNR program may reduce the cat population, it has not controlled the feces.

“Are they (caretakers) required to maintain a litter box or take any other measures to control animals and feces?” he questioned.

Referring to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said cats play an important role in the spread of toxoplasmosis. They become infected by eating infected rodents, birds or other small animals. The parasite is then passed in the cat’s feces in an oocyst form, which is microscopic. An infected cat can contaminate soil or water in the environment.

“With my children and other children here, we have a very serious health problem,” Bartholomew said.

Dorothy Reynolds, co-president of the shelter’s friends group, said cats are not the only animal whose feces contain the parasite, which she said also exists in dogs. In addition, she said toxoplasma is more commonly acquired by handling raw meat and eating unwashed fruits and vegetables.

“People should wash their hands with soap and water after exposure to soil and sand,” said Reynolds. “Direct contact with cats is not considered to be a risk factor for the toxoplasma gondii infection in people, particularly when cats are kept indoors and fed a commercial diet.”

She added, “All cats that we are aware of on Maiden Lane have been trapped in the TNR program. They are spayed/neutered, vaccinated for rabies and distemper, tested for FIV and FeLV, treated for fleas, microchipped and eartipped for identification. Unhealthy cats are removed and euthanized.”

Borough Commissioner Michael Garofalo said Dale will research how other towns handle feral cat problems.

“It’s a difficult issue and people are very passionate on both sides,” he said. “I sympathize with Bill (Bartholomew) for what he is going through. The TNR program has worked, but maybe more needs to be done.”

— Eric Englund





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