An animal rescue organization is working with neighbors and other city residents to trap, neuter and release the stray felines living near Arnett Avenue.
By: Linda Seida
LAMBERTVILLE After attention was drawn to a colony of stray cats on Arnett Avenue by neighbors, other city residents and a national rescue organization, the city is considering an ordinance that would require the trapping and neutering of all stray cats before they would be returned to their habitat.
Mayor David Del Vecchio said Monday the City Council might consider adopting such an ordinance, but first officials would need more details.
"I’d have to see something first," he said. "Get us the information, and we’d be happy to take a look at it. "It’s a thing worth looking at. We’re certainly open to looking at it. We’d be happy to put it in the process."
That process could begin soon with officials looking at sample legislation provided by a local woman, Leslie Holzman.
Ms. Holzman, an artist who lives on Elm Street, advocates the practice of TNR, or trapping, neutering and releasing the animals to their original location. She has been involved in trapping and neutering stray cats in Lambertville for about a dozen years and continues the work even now as she grapples with the last months of a terminal illness.
"Having been diagnosed with a terminal illness, my intent is to go out doing as much as possible to help people help cats and basically getting people together to work in the community," Ms. Holzman said. "More and more townships are implementing it (TNR). "It’s more cost-effective than animal control."
Ms. Holzman has been talking to City Clerk Lori Buckelew about the possibility of starting a TNR program in Lambertville.
"We are definitely working on it, and we are working on addressing the issue, Ms. Buckelew said Monday.
After an article about the cat colony on Arnett Avenue was published last week in The Beacon, one of Ms. Holzman’s TNR colleagues was contacted by Alley Cat Allies, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that describes itself as "a national nonprofit clearinghouse for information on feral and stray cats."
The organization’s Web site says it was founded in 1990 to promote "humane non-lethal control programs for feral and stray cats through sterilization programs that effectively reduce their numbers over a period of time."
"People can make believe it’s not happening, but when it starts hitting the papers, it’s not a good thing," Ms. Holzman said. "Basically, Lambertville and many other townships turn a blind eye unless it gets attention in the paper. And animal control ends up feeling like it’s not doing its job. And that’s not it. This kind of thing needs more support."
The problem of stray and feral cat colonies will not be solved by taking away the cats’ food source, as proposed by a neighbor of the Arnett Avenue colony last week, according to Rich Pendrak of Doylestown. Mr. Pendrak works with Ms. Holzman in local TNR efforts and received the phone call last week by the founder of Alley Cat Allies, Becky Robinson, asking him to step in and help care for the animals.
"Just because you take away the food, they’re not going away," Mr. Pendrak said.
Instead the cats will spread out a bit more geographically, eat garbage and become less healthy as a result of the inferior diet.
Stacey Raker of Union Street became concerned about the cats on Arnett Avenue when one of her children came home bitten and scratched. When her children took her to the site where they’d found the animals, she said she discovered many were ill, and some were dead.
She abhorred the idea of animals suffering and said she could not tolerate it. She contacted city officials, including animal control, hoping to make homeowner Robert Bice stop his practice of feeding the strays.
She was concerned, she said, because the cats were in poor health. She estimated there were up to 20 cats on Mr. Bice’s property.
Animal Control Officer Mary Hoagland put the number closer to 10. Mr. Pendrak said a recent count led him to believe there were at most 35 in the colony.
"It’s certainly not Bob Bice’s fault," Mr. Pendrak said. "He’s just helping them stay a little healthier. I’m not sure people should be blaming him."
Just as withholding food is not the solution, neither is killing them, according to Mr. Pendrak.
"If you kill them all, you have a vacuum effect and an opportunity for other cats to come in," he said.
Alley Cat Allies, Mr. Pendrak and Ms. Holzman all advocate TNR. Mrs. Raker said she has begun aiding them in transporting the animals and offering brief shelter for some of the cats.
"The Arnett Avenue situation, I think it’s an opportunity to learn about this problem, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see a feeding ban started because the cats just get in more trouble," Mr. Pendrak said.
A "managed colony," as he and other TNR advocates call it, would be the best solution, they said. Spaying and neutering keep the population down.
"With a managed colony, natural attrition drops their numbers until eventually you have less and less and less of them," Mr. Pendrak said. "All claim a certain amount of territory. They’ll hold their turf, and there will be no new breeders coming along."
TNR has been used successfully in Cape May County, San Francisco and Bridgeport, Conn., according to Ms. Holzman, and she said she believes Lambertville could do the same.
People working together in a no-kill program fosters "a good image of the town," she said.
A grassroots attempt to implement TNR already has begun on Arnett Avenue. Ms. Holzman, Mr. Pendrak and others are shouldering the expense, but no cat from the site has undergone surgery yet because of illness.
The cats are suffering from a common respiratory ailment and first must regain their strength before going under anesthesia, Mr. Pendrak and Ms. Holzman said. They’ve asked Mr. Bice to stop feeding the cats so they will eat food laced with antibiotics until they are well enough to undergo surgery.
Mr. Bice did not return phone calls from The Beacon seeking comment, but everyone involved said he is cooperating with the TNR effort.
"I think he is a very private man," Ms. Holzman said.
She said she believes the cat colony in Mr. Bice’s neighborhood has been there for about 40 or 50 years. He began feeding the cats after his mother died about five years ago in an effort to honor her love of the strays, according to Ms. Hoagland. Mr. Bice’s mother had fed them for years, both women said.
"He’s doing a compassionate thing by feeding these poor creatures," Ms. Holzman said.
"Mr. Bice is fully cooperating with the folks doing the trapping," Ms. Raker said in an e-mail last week after the story in The Beacon was published. "He’s even keeping his car off his driveway so they have better access."
She added, "To all those who criticized me, thinking I went too far calling every authority there is, extreme times call for extreme measures, and these efforts yours as well as mine have brought practically instant relief. None are dying, kittens are being treated and placed in homes, and the first neuter has been scheduled and already trapped."
Mr. Pendrak said, "It’s not Mr. Bice’s fault they’re sick. I think it’s kind of a shame, the first article, the way it accused."
He explained cats can catch an upper respiratory infection just like people.
"It’s like certain colds that hit people," he said. "It’s going around, and they just need a little help."
Ms. Holzman said she has gone to the site on recent evenings with "a nice group of both girls and boys" helping to prepare the medicine-laced food dishes.
In the meantime, the city is "trying to work toward a solution," Ms. Hoagland said. With TNR, reproduction is "the only problem you are solving."
Who would be responsible for feeding, trapping and transporting the cats?
"Help would either have to come from Alley Cat Allies or out of the animal control fund," she said.
Mr. Pendrak worries some people might still complain about cats even if they’re fixed by complaining their waste smells bad. He shot down the argument.
"The dogs are in on it, too," he said.
While taking care of the cats on Arnett Avenue one recent evening, he said he noticed "three different people brought five different dogs."
He said, "None of them had pooper scoopers. The whole smell isn’t all the cats. It’s also the people who don’t want to scoop."