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Hope For The Wild Ones: Adopting Feral Cats in New Jersey

More towns adopt humane practices for controlling feral cats.

Posted November 27, 2012 by Kristen Fischer

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Feral Cats
Photo by Laura Moss.

Most cats lead a cozy life, curling up in warm laps and slurping yummy food. But for New Jersey’s thousands of feral cats, life can be a daily struggle for survival against a hostile environment.

Unlike strays, feral cats have never been domesticated. They live outdoors, scavenging food, fending off predators and falling prey to—and potentially spreading—disease. Ferals tend to run in packs and gravitate toward populated areas where they can find dumpsters and other sources of food, including occasional handouts from people. In the United States there are an estimated 50 million feral cats, according to the Humane Society.

Many view feral cats as a noisy, smelly nuisance and a health threat, potentially spreading rabies and other diseases to pets and people. Wildlife advocates say the cats threaten birds, which they kill for food—and sport. Others are more sympathetic and seek to improve the lives and health of ferals, even caring for them in colonies, which in some cases are registered with local municipalities.

For most in the latter camp, the humane solution is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), a program of immunizing and sterilizing (or fixing) free-roaming cats and then setting them free. The alternative for most captured ferals is euthanasia.

More New Jersey towns are using TNR as residents recognize the value in controlling the population of feral cats. Some favor TNR because they consider it more humane, but many towns turn to the practice because it can be more cost-effective than trapping and killing.

“Residents are happier, and cats are safer and healthier,” says Michelle Lerner, an attorney and policy specialist for Project TNR, an Animal League of New Jersey program (

In New Jersey, where towns are responsible for local animal control, more than 150 municipalities practice some form of an officially sanctioned program; more than 35 have passed ordinances creating TNR programs. In some towns, TNR is the responsibility of animal-control officers; in other municipalities, the programs are run by nonprofit clinics, some in partnership with local governments. In such cases, the municipalities typically provide a shelter for the cats while volunteers manage everyday tasks such as bringing in strays and ferals.

After the cats are vaccinated and spayed or neutered, new homes can be found for the strays. Adoption is not in the cards for most ferals, which are descended from other free-roaming cats (strays and ferals), and typically display an aversion to human contact. (Some experts say feral cats were introduced centuries ago in North America from Africa and the Middle East.)

Not everyone thinks TNR is the answer. In addition to trapping and killing, certain municipalities have imposed feeding bans, on the theory that depriving ferals of sustenance will thin the population. Yet the cats still reproduce, and more emerge to replace those that don’t survive.

“Where are [the cats] going to go?” asks Lerner, who sees feeding bans as ineffective, unless there are exemptions for TNR cats. “They don’t just disappear or starve to death…. They still reproduce.”

With an estimated 147,000 feral cats in New Jersey, Lerner says destroying ferals and strays is not only cruel, but costly. For example, in 2008 in Mt. Olive, 81 cats were impounded and 141 killed, costing taxpayers more than $20,000, plus labor to trap and transport. The town implemented TNR in 2009 and is saving $15,000 annually in impoundment and euthanasia costs, Lerner says.

Despite the efforts of cat lovers and the potential savings of TNR, euthanasia is still widely practiced. According to a state Department of Health and Senior Services report, more than 28,000 cats were killed in New Jersey shelters in 2009.

“It’s really a tug and pull because there are so many people who want to kill them,” says Rose Reina Rosenbaum, president of the NJ Coalition for Animals, who assists in forming TNR groups.

Linda Cherkassky, a Voorhees resident and outspoken opponent of TNR, believes that feral cats should be trapped, fixed and adopted into loving homes if possible. If not, they should be put to sleep.

“If the cats cannot be socialized and given a home, I truly believe that euthanasia is a better outcome than sending them back outside to live and die in colonies,” she says. “To me, TNR is equivalent to re-abandonment.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Cherkassky’s view is shared by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a leading animal rights group that opposes TNR. “Horrific fates await most homeless cats—they do not die of old age,” states the PETA website in explaining its position. On the other hand, the Humane Society endorses the practice.

Christie Rogero, a TNR proponent who runs the TNR program at Camden County’s Animal Welfare Association in Voorhees, educates people on how to safely trap, care for and release feral cats—typically in towns where there is no TNR.

For $35, the Animal Welfare Association fixes feral cats and administers a rabies vaccine. The animals are ear-tipped, which involves clipping off 3/8 of an inch of the cat’s upper right ear under anesthesia to identify the cat as feral. As of September, 1,050 feral cats had gone through the Camden County program this year.
Rogero also works with towns to pass ordinances that make it legal to care for ferals that are part of groups or registered colonies. Volunteer caretakers feed and vaccinate the animals in the colonies and work with TNR groups to trap, neuter and return additional animals. Little by little, they aim to make sure each feline in the colony cannot reproduce.

Patti Ascolese, cofounder of Point Paws, Point Pleasant’s TNR program, cares for a registered colony of cats along the Manasquan Inlet in Point Pleasant Beach. She says the community has been supportive of her efforts to care for the cats because they keep rodents away. Ascolese pays for food for the colony out of her own pocket but gets financial support for medical care through Point Paws. She believes the most important thing a colony caretaker can do is make sure newcomers to the group are trapped and fixed before they can add to the population.

Studies indicate that colonies of neutered ferals become smaller over time. One study found a 66 percent decrease in a managed population over 11 years. Another showed colony size declined up to 32 percent over a 10-year span. Because female cats can have as many as three litters per year, consisting typically of three to five kittens, fixing can prevent population explosions.

In addition to receiving a rabies vaccine, the treatment cats receive under TNR boosts their overall health and helps them fend off conditions such as toxoplasmosis, ringworm and cat scratch disease, all of which are communicable to pets and humans.

The cost of TNR can vary. At People for Animals, a not-for-profit clinic in Hillside where more than 6,000 stray and feral cats have been spayed or neutered since 2010, it can cost up to $55 to fix and vaccinate a free-roaming cat—often much cheaper than a vet’s office.

According to Lerner, municipalities can spend up to $150 per animal to trap and kill, along with the fees for animal control’s seven-day hold policy, which gives owners an opportunity to find and reclaim lost pets. Due to the expense, most towns only trap and kill in response to complaints, so other cats are left to reproduce and quickly replace those that have been removed.

The city of Bayonne recently obtained a $16,000 grant from PetSmart Charities to pilot a TNR program. Kathleen Henderson, founder of the Bayonne Feral Cat Foundation, hopes the city will adopt an ordinance making it legal to feed feral cats in registered colonies once the effectiveness of TNR has been demonstrated.

In Point Pleasant, Point Paws uses a municipal building that doubles as an adoption center. “Towns are more than happy to cooperate because volunteers are doing this service for them,” says Ascolese. In addition to volunteering their time, Ascolese says local residents donate funds to support TNR and promote the service.

In Mt. Olive, the TNR program that launched in 2009 has lowered the number of cats in 14 town-registered colonies by 60 percent. Lerner, who helped start the Mt. Olive program, says Englewood and Morristown TNR efforts have reduced the free-roaming feline populations in those municipalities by more than 70 percent in less than five years.

And in Atlantic City, where ferals were notorious for prowling under the Boardwalk, Alley Cat Allies, which began in 2000, has reduced the population from almost 300 cats to about 125, says program manager Amanda Casazza.

“It’s such a necessary service,” says Ascolese. “All these other towns wouldn’t be coming on board if it wasn’t.”

Kristen Fischer is a copywriter and author living in Point Pleasant. She is a volunteer for Point Pleasant’s Point Paws program.

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Euthanasia is NOT the answer/Taming

Euthanasia is NOT the answer

Have your heard of the vacuum effect. Catch and kill may temporarily reduce the number of feral cats in a given area but two things happen: intact survivors continue to breed and other cats move in to the now available territory. This is known as the vacuum effect , and is documented worldwide. Our town impounded 600 cats over a four year period and were probably euthanized. Now they are talking about another 500. Trap & kill did not solve the problem but there are many towns now that have used TNR and are controlling the kittens born. If you are seriously trying to stabilize a cat population TNR is the only humane and effective solution.
I commend you for your service of many years but there are more & more that are volunteering and many vets are accommodating those that do this work by low coast spay/neuter.
Let me also say, cats are not the problem, people are. They let out cats that have not be altered or just dump them when they are sick or just don’t want them anymore. I have had to put some down because they were ill. A male cat can smell a female in heat from a quite a distance. Humans have created the problem What we need is responsible owners of pets, that would be another solution to the problem.
Taming feral cats is possible. I have accomplished this with two. They now live a comfortable life in my home. I hope to work with another shortly. It takes time and patients. Getting them as kittens would be a perfect situation but people dumped their cats usually at an older age.

Posted by: Judith Stier, West Orange, NJ | Oct 10, 2014 01:30:52 AM |

Who decides what is or is not a quality of life?

It is beyond my comprehension how PEOPLE somehow think that they can make decisions about life and death and the degree of suffering a life can endure in this world... we should have compassion and euthanize them out of their misery..and the misery that lies ahead. I do not want to seem like I am fighting but I feel strongly about this point of view and I wanted to share it with you. A person in this community has a different definition of suffering than that of the thousands in North Korean concentration camps...or those of my own relatives in Ukraine. I know that many see their lives as so terrible and hopeless...well...thank God we can not euthanize them...b/c even though we think their lives suck...they find reason to matter how matter how little it seems to us...
I will leave you with this thought b/c the idea of PETA a group I had believed in to have an understanding about the value of life no matter how small...really has no idea at all...
I never had much of an affinity for cats as I grew up with dogs...b/c I only knew dogs ...but when I met my first kitten...born under my deck...I realized I had been so ignorant and prejudice that I was ashamed...especially after I got to know them...they are pretty amazing living things..with personality and character and each has it’s own soul in many ways...
I worry about my small cat colony everyday...the ones I had were deferalized long ago.and are sleeping in front of the tv right now...but my ferals outside....b/c it is so cold and for a few of the little ones it has been their first winter...
I expected to see them huddled away struggling to find warmth and food and water that was not frozen...but instead..they were chasing each other and sliding down a tarp placed for the impending after the other...when they saw me they all ran over...and said hello to me. Every person I know thought ...poor cats they are suffering terribly..and perhaps they are having trouble in this weather but they are OK with a life of some struggle because that is the only life they have! YOU say it is not worth it to let them suffer...let’s kill them and spare them from that misery...but YOU have no idea...if they love the life that they have or are judging suffering based on a human concept that I am certain is different for I know it is different in almost every other country in the world...Yes life expectancy maybe 45 in some countries...but damn ...they are gonna live those 45 years the best they can...a feral may live 2-5 years or more (I have seen 13 year old ferals) but at least they were given the chance to live. Humans see life so differently...we are the only species that commits suicide...these small differences alone make it impossible to decide whether it is better that they live or die. I hate to see suffering BUT believe me what most think is suffering is NOT suffering to me and my family...SO that is how I KNOW ...what you see as suffering for these feral cats...CAN’T BE ...what they see...b/c some of my ferals are happy ...way happier than most cats (subjected to declawing and a life of solitude home alone all day without being able to walk outside even in their own yard)...heck..I can’t imagine having to endure a life indoors...vets are saying the life expectancy of indoor cats is decreasing yearly and now 10 years is considered acceptable...and they don’t know ferals live just as long and they are much happier...PETA is playing GOD and being extraordinarily unfair regarding their stance on feral cats....
I do understand the bird thing but a colony fed properly doesn’t need to hunt for food...a colony can only be managed if they don’t increase exponentially yearly...
Just consider that perhaps your perspective is not the same as that of others and certainly not the same as an animal...who I have seen fight to the death for their life...suffering a lost limb or tail...but surviving and living afterwards....
To Theresa depends on the cat but my cat was over 2 years old when I tamed first she went out a lot...less and less every year..she is now 10 years old...and well..she prefers hanging out on the heater in the winter and will ocassionally go outside but not for long....but she survived some of the worst winters outside and little and skinny...winter of 93 etc..I think she is happy to be alive...

Posted by: The Value of Life, Moorestown NJ | Jan 29, 2015 22:38:55 PM |

Life or Euthanize

to Dee Ann Ipp of Teaneck...
Euthanasia was NOT acceptable until the others ditched you and you had to fund it all yourself and bear the burden yourself....
If you had all the money in the world...and thus all the time and resources at hand..would you have helped the same cats in the future?
Euthanasia became OK and humane only after people were not what you expected them to be....
The cats were the same cats before when you were all trying to care for the cats that you were left to care for alone...
Euthanasia is not humane is EASIER!!!!
There is a huge difference.
Although your work I am sure those cats appreciated it!
Is a living thing worth bothering for? Well not if you also happen to live in a similar tent city (looks like my feral colony except at least my houses are insulated)....but if you have something to makes a difference to each life...and that has to mean something for one to continue...if it doesn’t then don’t do it anymore...but please don’t go to the dark side and decide it is now humane...

Posted by: Quality fo Life, Moorestown NJ | Jan 29, 2015 22:49:53 PM |

Adopting Feral Cats in New Jersey

There are certain inaccuracies in this article. TNR is NOT cheaper than Euthanasia. It costs a fortune to feed and care for cats in a Managed TNR feral cat colony. I have had 3 colonies over the past 20 years. Life span of a colony is life span of a cat, approx. 15 years. All the colonies that I have cared for were started with good intentions by other rescue people, but ultimately abandoned because few people can keep up the commitment. I took over 3 colonies for the full life span, and it practically ruined me financially. Euthanasia is a one shot deal, costing about $50. The problem with the trend toward " No-Kill Shelters", and TNR program, is that the " No-Kill" advocates have convinced Veterinarians not to euthanize a healthy cat, even if it is feral and in a trap. They have taken the option of euthanasia off the table of choices. My choice is Trap and Euthanasia, but it has become almost totally impossible to find a Vet willing to do this, under pressure from N0-Kill Activists. I agree with the position of PETA. I have over 20 years working with feral cats, and can say that. Another very big challenge is getting permission of the landowner to have TNR feral cats on their land. NO ONE wants the cats back on their property ! ! Also, many rescue groups, and TNR Veterinarian, are careless and neglect to test cats for contagious disease before releasing them/ and or not taking the opportunity to humanely treat the cats for injury or disease, claiming it is too expensive to do that. The cats can therefore, if not properly managed, fed and cared for, and they are forced to eat wildlife, rodents, birds, and become vectors for disease to wildlife and other peoples domestic pets.This is a public health threat and an unconscionable and irresponsible. If TNR activists cannot afford to medically treat a feral, or test for disease ---how will they afford to feed and manage a feral TNR colony for a 15 year lifespan?
TNR is popular because it is very very hard for the public and also rescue volunteers to accept Euthanasia. It sound good to hear about it. Understandable. But Euthanasia is humane. A TNR feral colony that doesn’t have a 15 year commitment from a dedicated and registered volunteer, is animal cruelty and animal abandonment. The State Board of Health needs to retain at least one veterinarian in every County, who will offer the option of low cost Euthanasia for feral cats that are brought in, in a humane trap. The choice of TNR or Euthanasia should be up to the volunteer citizen who cares enough to be bothered to take the time to trap a feral cat. It gets down to Choice. Let me remind the public that before Euthanasia technique was developed in the early 20th C., unwanted dogs and cats were shot, drowned, and poisoned. It is not a good idea to take away the option/choice Euthanasia. Not everyone wants to feed 10-100 feral cats every night, 365 days a year. If your choice is TNR, you MUST take care of those released animal; and not simply abandon/dump them, and walk away.

Posted by: Dee Ann Ipp, Teaneck | Dec 24, 2013 05:43:33 AM |


I understand all sides of the argument. What I really would like to know is if anyone has ever really tried putting the time and energy into taming the feral cats?
I personally believe that if tamed properly these cats could find homes. I also feel that more education into the necessity and preference for indoor cats would cut back a lot of problems, since pets would not be outside and mistaken for strays. A little social pressure goes along away.
As for the argument I know some will use as to too many cats and not enough adoptions so why tame a feral cat. My answer is if your going to have a colony to feed anyway, set up a large enclosure and work on domestication. This way if they are never domesticated then they are at least cared for and no longer roaming free to cause problems. Yes it may take donations and definitely a dedicated person or persons, but I feel it would be in the best interests of every organism involved.

Posted by: Theresa Quelch, Millville | Jan 15, 2014 03:15:31 AM |

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