Cat Feeding Bans Enforced in New Jersey

A newly-enforced ban cites feral cat feeders with a $2,000 fine and possible jail time.

From erroneous quasi-scientific reports blasting people who care for community cats to the Loews hotel fiasco in Florida, where a successful TNR program was trashed overnight, 2011 has been a tough year for cats who live outdoors.

Cat Feeding Ban Citations
Phillipsburg, N.J., is a beautiful place, set along the Delaware River. The city’s website maintains it’s the “best of all worlds,” an urban setting with a rural backdrop near the Pocono Mountains. In this idyllic setting, police there have begun issuing citations for feeding wild animals. Guilty persons face a $2,000 fine and, potentially, 90 days in jail.

Listed among those wild animals are cats.The good news is that residents who already have a contract with the town to feed community cats and participate in TNR are excluded, or at least they are supposed to be.

The larger issue is whether or not feral cats are really wild animals.

Are Feral Cats The Same as Wild Animals?
Just because a cat isn’t owned doesn’t change its species. Feral or not, domestic cats are domestic cats — not mountain lions, not wild cats. Clearly, this law (and similar laws elsewhere) means to target people who feed cats.

If the local police catch me feeding a cat in Phillipsburg, are they supposed to conduct some sort of temperament test on the cat I’m feeding to determine whether it’s wild?
Of course, we wouldn’t have this problem in the first place if people kept their cats indoors. That way, trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs would get an even better shot at success.

By all accounts, Phillipsburg has successful TNR programs. The Mayor has even been quoted saying that the cats help control rodents. Increasingly, city mayors have become cats’ best friends; unlike city abatement programs, which cost money for personnel and rat poison, the cats work for free.

Cat Complaints
I suspect this new law is complaint-driven because cats are so common in Phillipsburg they’re considered a nuisance. Let’s say Philipsburg residents complain about the cats. A no-feeding policy is often suggested, which hampers those who care for colonies. What might happen next, based on what’s occurred in other cities, orders could come to trap and kill cats found outdoors.

This response has been tried for hundreds of years. One reason it doesn’t work is that even the best cat hunters can’t catch all cats in a colony. When cats are removed, reproduction increases among remaining cats to help fill the void.

Phillipsburg law specifies these captured cats must be held at animal control for seven days before euthanizing. A pawful may be deemed friendly and adopted or the owners may turn up to redeem a few. Meanwhile, space for more adoptable cats isn’t available, the facility can become overcrowded, and disease transmission may be rampant. Not to mention that going this route is costly to taxpayers.

When this all gets into newspapers and the blogosphere, the same public who complained about the cats in the first place will likely create an uproar and angrily ask “Why are we killing cats?” Now, that is a good question.

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