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In Parsippany, don't feed the cats could become law


in the paper, there's also a picture with the article of a kitten getting a flea bath and it really cute.
"Assistant animal control officer Joanne Mancuso gives a feral cat a flea bath at the shelter in Parsippany after it was captured earlier in the day."
awwww. so cute.

By Chris Gosier, Daily Record

PARSIPPANY -- Some of the cats crave human contact. They poke their paws through the bars of the cage, swatting playfully at people passing by in the small room at the township animal shelter.

But others can't forget the mean streets where they were born. They hiss, hunch their backs and draw back their ears at the first hint of human touch, as if still prowling the wild and watching for predators.

These are the feral cats of Parsippany, the wild animals that have provoked strong opinions at recent council meetings because of a proposed ordinance that would prohibit feeding them.

Township officials say the proposed law is aimed at people who casually feed the strays without taking responsibility for them, thereby boosting the number of cats that run wild and cause mischief -- defecating on lawns and gardens, biting and scratching, spreading fleas or spreading disease to other cats.

"We all love animals + but I think we have to do what's best for the health and quality of life of the residents of Parsippany," council vice president James Vigilante said.

But the proposal has drawn criticism from animal rights activists around New Jersey, who have converged on the council meetings to argue in favor of a different solution -- neutering the cats and releasing them.

The cats would stay wild, but would be neutered and vaccinated for rabies and fed in a fixed location by volunteer caregivers. They would cause less mischief because their two reasons for roaming -- feeding and breeding -- would be eliminated, said Rebecca Hess, program coordinator with the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance.

"If caregivers are allowed to practice (trap-neuter-release), then the cats really cause no problems to neighbors, because they're not a nuisance anymore," she said.

The township's animal control officers are skeptical. Officer Chris Dikovics said it would be difficult to locate these cat colonies away from people, and that cats still could spread serious diseases such as feline AIDS or infections. He said the colonies only would stabilize the cat population, not reduce it, although activists speak of the "vacuum effect" of other cats replacing any that are removed from the wild.

"The only way to effectively manage the feral cat population is through (trap-neuter-release)," Hess said.

Another animal control officer, Joanne Mancuso, said cats will lose their survival instincts if people are allowed to feed them. Dikovics also argued that "you can't trap a fed cat."

"We can't trap cats that have full bellies," he said.

Still, some council members are open to trying the trap-neuter-release approach. Council members Michael dePierro and Rosemarie Agostini have called for pilot programs.

"I don't believe the ordinance + is the whole answer. I don't think trap-neuter-and-release is the total answer," said dePierro, who supports the ordinance. "I think we need a combination of things in order to address the problem."

Vigilante also called the ordinance "one piece of the puzzle," and not a "cure-all."

The problem seems to have grown worse, dePierro said.

"We've had some residents complain and complain about them for years, but it seems like the complaints have gone way up," he said.

The council introduced the ordinance July 20 and will hold the final vote at its Aug. 24 meeting. The proposal also bars feeding bears, coyotes, geese, deer and other wild animals.

Of the 480 cats that the township shelter took in last year, 182 were euthanized, 182 were adopted, 16 were dead on arrival, 10 were sent to another shelter, about two dozen died of natural causes and 16 remained until this year, Mancuso said.

The most common diseases are distemper and upper respiratory infections, Dikovics said.

The animal control officers try to socialize the wild cats to be less hostile toward humans, although it's difficult if the cats are more than 12 weeks old, Dikovics said.

"On a rainy day, I'll assign somebody to come back here and play with the cats," he said.

The cats ultimately are euthanized if they can't become more people-friendly. They worked on one cat for six months, Dikovics said. Cats also are euthanized for extreme sickness or old age, or if they're badly injured, he said.

Some cats are friendly and eager for contact; others are withdrawn, glowering out from the backs of the cages.

"This particular cat, it just sits there, and if I put my hand in there I would be bit," Dikovics said.

One black cat was dubbed Satan for his behavior. The cats' actions are rooted in their wild upbringing, Dikovics said.

"The feral mothers don't allow their kittens to play, because this attracts attention from major predators" like foxes, dogs and raccoons, he said.

"It brings out a different mentality in a kitten. It's not as carefree," he said. "You get to understand the body language. The body language doesn't lie."


Andrew Like-Slettuce

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