Bayonne ordinance fine tunes its feral cat program

The council allocated $25,000 for the program to animal control contractor New Jersey Humane Society

Bayonne is continuing to set up its trap, neuter, and return program to deal with feral cat colonies in the city.

While stray cats and pet cats are socialized to humans, feral cats are not. They often live in communities known as colonies with other feral cats. To cope with an abundance of feral cats, the City Council adopted an ordinance at its September meeting amending and supplementing the revised general ordinances of the city of Bayonne, Chapter 5, Animal Control, to add a section for the TNR program.

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The TNR program is an effort to reduce the population of feral cats to benefit public health and improve the quality of life for residents, all while ensuring their humane treatment. The city’s third-party Animal Control Officer, Geoffrey Santini of the New Jersey Humane Society (NJHS) of West New York, along with the city’s Health Department, will administer and implement the program.

This ordinance comes after the passage of a resolution in May establishing the TNR program by increasing the animal control contract with NJHS by $25,000. Prior to that in April, the City Council approved the renewal of the contract with NJHS for animal control and rescue services from their no-kill shelter at 6412 Dewey Avenue.

Since last year, the city had been eyeing a TNR program operated by Santini and the NJHS. However, there were issues with the location to operate the program out of and the need to get all the feral cat rescues in Bayonne on board. Now it seems those issues have been remedied.

While the city was previously thinking of using the old boathouse at end of the parking lot at 16th Street Park, which was used for cat-related efforts in the past, the building does not have heat or water. However, Law Director Jay Coffey told the Bayonne Community News that is no longer an issue because the cats will be brought to the aforementioned shelter in West New York as part of the arrangement.

Taking care of feral cat colonies

Prior to the public hearing on the ordinance outlining the TNR program, City Council President Gary La Pelusa explained how things are going to work. He said that there will be feral cat “colony caretakers” that must register every cat in their colony with the Health Department, which will issue a voucher for each animal.

When a colony caretaker wants to have a cat neutered, rescue groups generally trap the feral cats, La Pelusa said. Then the Health Department will coordinate with the NJHS directly regarding the pickup of a maximum of five feral cats from a registered colony before 5 p.m. on Thursdays.

Pickup will be at the location of the registered cat colony or a designated location in the city of Bayonne, according to La Pelusa. The NJHS will then transport the animals to its West New York facility.

The NJHS will house the cats from the pickup on Thursday until they are transported to the Twin Oaks Veterinarian Hospital in Teaneck or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in New York, or another agreed upon facility for treatment, depending on availability the following Friday. La Pelusa said that during this time, the NJHS will feed the cats, and keep the traps clean.

According to La Pelusa, after the treatment is performed, the cats will be transported back to NJHS’s West New York facility for quarantine. Males will be kept for 24 hours and females will be kept for 48 to 72 hours.

After the said quarantine period, the cats will be transported back to the registered colony. La Pelusa said that treatment includes spaying or neutering, rabies shots, pain medication, and ear tipping. Costs for all that is $150 per feral cat, with flea medication being an additional $10.

The voucher issued to the colony caretaker for the cat when registered must be signed by the veterinarian and returned to the caretaker at the time of drop off of the cat, La Pelusa said. The caretaker will have to submit the voucher to the Health Department to enter the data into the system, which will include information about every registered feral cat.

It will take resident volunteers to succeed

Former city employee and outspoken resident Gail Godesky asked what happens if feral cat colonies have no caretakers. La Pelusa responded that the issue can only be helped if residents volunteer to become colony caretakers.

“This is a pilot program that has to have the public involved as well,” La Pelusa said. “I spoke to Mr Santini, if he had to trap the cats, the cost goes up almost three times a year.”

According to La Pelusa, $25,000 has already been allocated for the program in the 2021 budget via a resolution the council passed last year. Godesky asked if the feral cats could be relocated instead of returned, to which Santini explained that was not possible.

“You can’t relocate a feral cat with a different colony,” Santini said. “We use a funny term in West New York, it’s like mixing the Bloods with the Crips. Unfortunately, the reality is you cannot move a cat from let’s say 2nd Street and put it in with the 7th Street colony… They’re going to fight. It’s going to be dangerous.”

Godesky also asked if the feral cats could be put up for adoption, to which Santini said that only certain ones. Kittens could be, but not adult feral cats, he said.

“A grown cat cannot be adopted,” Santini said. “It stays in the street, it kills the mice, and some people really like the feral cats… I know plenty of places in this town where people have feral cats in their backyard, 18 to 19 cats. They feed them, they clean them, they take care of the cats better outside in their backyard then in their own home… Kittens can still be adopted. Feral kittens from six to twelve weeks can be domesticated, as long as they’re healthy and they get their shots and we get to spay and neuter them and they’re four months old… So we will hold the kittens and domesticate them.”

Santini added that the feral cat problem would not be solved over night after the establishment of this program.

“We want to stop the population,” Santini said. “Starting this program, it’s not going to stop next week, not next month. The problem is not going to stop right away. This has been going on for a long time. But if you don’t start, how do you stop it? So it has to start somewhere. We’re going to start today and get it going.”

Godesky praised Santini for getting the program getting off the ground, concluding: “I know you’ve been trying to get this done for several years, so I’m glad it’s finally getting started at last.”

Residents applaud launch of new program, but is $25,000 enough?

Alex Alton, a Jersey City resident who helps run a TNR program in Bergen-Lafayette and parts of Greenville, said that the program is the only solution to reduce the feral cat population, which she said are more akin to “community cats.”

“It’s the single only solution to what’s going on,” Alton said. “Cats get spayed or neutered, they get vaccinated for distemper, along with a host of other things like rabies, then they are returned to their colony.

Alton called for more funding for the program, but highlighted that now was a great time to start the TNR as the “peak kitten season” is over. She also recommended an educational partner for the program, “Neighborhood Cats” which runs a $10 workshop virtually to teach people how to safely trap a feral cat and how to care for cat colonies.

“$25,000 is the start, it’s a drop in the bucket,” Alton said. “That’s what my partner and I spend every year ourselves. Then we have a whole other team out and working in different neighborhoods. But it needs to start somewhere and this is the solution…. For $25,000 it would be my recommendation that you do high intensity trapping or targeted trapping versus picking off colonies here and there. We’re getting inundated with calls from Bayonne with feral colony caretakers and residents desperate for help. So however you go about it, it needs to happen.”

Dania Garcia, a resident of Bayonne for 15 years since moving from Jersey City, said that many are interested in the program. She also echoed calls for more funding for the TNR program.

“There’s a ton of people that couldn’t make it tonight part of a Facebook group, they told me to please speak on their behalf and say people are willing to volunteer,” Garcia said. “I own 5 traps of my own. I do it on my own. I spend thousands. Anything that we can do to help put more money on the $25,000… we have to start something and not be negative… There’s a lot of new blood in Bayonne that wants to be part of this program. I’m in construction, lets hit the developers… We can start with that and then do fundraisers and get more money after the $25,000. Once people see the results of TNR, they’re going to be very happy to be part of that.”

La Pelusa defended the $25,000 allocation for the pilot program as the start of the TNR program: “This council cares about the cats. That’s why we have this on our agenda. It’s a start, $25,000. You may call it a drop in the bucket, but because there’s this group of unfriendlies that don’t care about the animals… We don’t feel that way, we want to take care of these animals humanely. And this is the best way to do it. Starting this program with Mr. Santini is the way to go.”

Santini hoped the success of the program could lead to additional funding by the city. He added: “If the pilot program works, I hope the council reconsiders next year or in six months, that more money is allocated in the new budget to increase the TNR.”

Concerns over anonymity and volunteer veterinarians

Kathleen Henderson, of the Bayonne Feral Cat Foundation, asked for assurance that cats would not be taken away from colony caretakers. She said many people who like to participate, but don’t want to be reprimanded over the number of cats they care for.

“One concern I have is that you have to register the colony with the Health Department,” Henderson. “I personally am not opposed to that, but there are many people who don’t trust the city. There are cats they don’t want you to know they’re feeding them. They may have many cats. If you could, maybe put something out there to encourage the people that you’re not trying to take their cats, you’re not trying to hurt them, or you’re not trying to fine them, because otherwise that might be difficult in getting that done.”

La Pelusa said that the city is trying to work with residents, not against them.

“I would hope that the public could see that we’re allocating $25,000 and if that’s not a show of good faith, I don’t know what is,” La Pelusa said. “We’re trying to make rules that are good for the people helping, the public and for the Health Department to keep track of what’s going on.”

Santini added: “If anybody registers a cat colony, it’s like anonymity. We’re not going to do cat hunting and knock on doors and say, ‘Hey, you’re cat hoarding and there’s animal cruelty charges coming.’ New Jersey Humane will not be involved in that.”

Santini also encouraged residents to pressure veterinarians to help the program at the NJHS facility in West New York.

“In our facility, we are developing a vet room,” Santini said. “We are looking for veterinarians who will volunteer once a week or twice a week… Let’s try to focus on the veterinarians. I’ll provide the room, give me the vets. We’ll schedule the volunteers seven days a week. Maybe the veterinarians will hear the story and think, ‘I’ve been making money all these years and I’m not really volunteering and giving back.’”

La Pelusa thought that could be done by recruiting multiple veterinarians to volunteer.

“I think what you have to do is get a group of vets that can donate their time,” La Pelusa said. “If they can donate some time, that’s still better than what we had.”

“That’d be ideal,” Santini said. “When a vet volunteers at the shelter, they’re not going to charge the city. That way we could bring 20 cats on a Monday, 20 cats on a Wednesday with different vets.”

Preventing animal abuse against feral cats?

Carol Ryan, a Bayonne resident who said she feeds 15 cats per day, is alarmed by the frequency that cats go missing. She also said she has seen many that are injured too.

“I’ve seen cats with babies and the next day I don’t find the babies, which means somebody killed them or took them away,” Ryan said. “I’ve seen cats with bad, bad issues. One of them, their eyes was like so big that I felt so bad. Many times, when people were seeing me feeding cats, some people were really gentle and some people weren’t. I had a lot of trouble regarding that, but that actually didn’t stop me.”

Chris Marty echoed concerns over abuse of the feral cats.

“Someone poisoned one the local cats and she died violently on our deck, Marty said. “This [program] is a step in the right direction and it’s something that has clearly needed to be done for a very long time. What needs to be said is that it’s not just keeping the numbers down and doing what’s necessary for the common good, but also people who are doing really really bad things out there. We need to do what we can to stop that, because no one should have to see what we saw at three in the morning.”

Santini recommended that anyone suspicious that an animal is being abused should call the Bayonne Police Department.

“They have officers that will come out and they’ll take the body,” Santini said. “And if it calls for it, there will be a necropsy.”

Others spoke in favor of the program, and against the abuse and dumping of feral cats in Bayonne, with another educational program being recommended to the council entitled: “People for Animals.”

In response to the various residents’ concerns and other comments on the new TNR program, La Pelusa responded that this is a pilot program.

“We’re going to explore how this works this year,” La Pelusa said.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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