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2010-05-19 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

And now a feline Public Service Announcement… Animal advocates (and people with common sense) need to unite so the Brookhaven Town Board does NOT pass a proposed feeding ban of feral cats on Town property. Besides being unethical, unenforceable and probably illegal, feeding bans do not work. Bottom line: The cats will stay while Brookhaven wastes manpower prosecuting the same people who were trying to improve the cats’ quality of life and keep their population down.

Brookhaven’s feral cats need your support at the Brookhaven Town Board public hearing on Tuesday, June 1 at 6:30 pm at 1 Independence Plaza in Farmingville. You need not be a Town resident; just a caring person. Many humane organizations like the Animal Alliance of LI and Last Hope, plan to be there. Presently there is an online petition (Google “Care 2 petition site-Brookhaven cats”) with 1,740 signatures to stop this cruel ban.

Two years ago the Long Island cat welfare community showed up en mass at another Town Board meeting when Brookhaven was waging a war against the feral colony at Cedar Beach in Miller Place. At that time Brookhaven wanted to pay a professional trapper (exterminator?) $10,000 to remove the cats because of a pair of piping plovers that had made an appearance several years before. Instead, because of the uproar, a rescue stepped in to help the Town implement a kinder resolution. We saw how callous and misinformed certain officials were about successful feral cat TNR (Trap/Neuter Return) management, even concerning methods in tricky cases when endangered species are involved. The latest proposal shows that their attitudes have not progressed. Presently the Cedar Beach situation is under control, so it is not the impetus for the feeding ban vote.

The Brookhaven proposal #2010-209, moved by Council member Jane Bonner, would expand the present Town Code prohibiting feeding pigeons and water fowl to include not feeding all wildlife and domesticated animals within Town of Brookhaven parks, nature preserves and designated open space. Punishment for breaking the law could result in a fine as much as $250 and ten days in jail for each offense.

Whether you love, hate or are indifferent to cats, everyone has the common goal to reduce the number of cats living outdoors. To the uninformed, a feeding ban seems like the simple solution. Neighborhood Cats of NYC, the authority on the successful TNR management explains in their handbook: “Take away the food, and the cats will not go away. Not unless there is another food source nearby. Feral cats are territorial and will not wander in search of food. Rather than leaving, they come closer, taking more risks in encroaching on human habitations as they grow increasingly desperate to find something to eat.” Cats will even eat insects. Trying to starve out cats results only in hungry, unhealthy animals vulnerable to disease and parasites that can still reproduce. Many more of cats and their kittens will suffer and die.

Furthermore, by hook or by crook, nothing is harder than stopping determined folks from putting out food once they know there are cats in need. People will risk their jobs, leases, and even personal safety to prevent animals from starving. Ban feeding, and the caretaking will go undercover. Proper feeding stations will become pig pens. Conflict will increase. Successful TNR works when everyone is on the same page- that is, when the landowners are cooperative and when the feeders have an organized system, are monitoring colonies and most important- are spay/ neutering all of the cats. Besides their emotional ties, caretakers have tons of money invested in the veterinary care of each colony.

As for the legality of a feeding ban, rules governing feral cats are vague. Our anti-cruelty laws are spelled out in Article 26 of the NYS Agriculture and Markets laws. Under Section 350-Definitions, all cats and dogs are considered “companion animals.” No distinction is made between pet and feral cats. (Actually it takes only one generation for a tame cat’s offspring to become feral.) Then within the laundry list of cruelties outlined in Section 353, it states that a person “whether the animal belongs to himself or another” can be charged with a misdemeanor if he “deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, food or drink.” Hence, wouldn’t a feeding ban be considered cruelty by NYS law?

Another LI Town, with a more compassionate mindset, is setting up a model colony at a Town park on Great South Bay with a plan inspired by Project Bay Cat in Foster City, CA. Years ago this LI park had constant “cat fights” between feeders, government and residents. Presently this Town’s shelter director has set up a dialogue between the caregivers and officials. With the help of a local rescue and the Town-subsidized vouchers, 27 cats have been spay/ neutered, vaccinated, ear tipped and returned over the last year. Thearea has been cleaned up. Thedirector built longhouse shelters and a raised feeding station. A Girl Scout Troop assembled smaller shelters and painted them in a Caribbean cabana scheme. All are placed out of view. Thecolony is posted as a Town feral colony asking outsiders not to feed (and make a mess) because the cats are already being maintained on a schedule. This plan is light years ahead of Brookhaven’s legislated starvation.

If you care about cats, you can help the Brookhaven ferals by attending the Town Board meeting on June 1 and possibly signing up to speak. If that is impossible, please add your signature to the online petition and call/ write Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko (631-454- 9100) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (631-451-6964) to remind them of the words of Francis of Assisi: “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Sheba” a sweet stray Husky in Cage 30 came into the shelter wearing a tag and a license but her phone has been disconnected, whereas “Blanca” is an adorable older Bichon who needed to be shaved down immediately because her mats were so uncomfortable.

Male: chocolate Lab puppy caught in a humane trap Cage 1; “Tigger” brindle Mr. Congeniality Cage 18; American Bulldog Cage 14; “Montana” Golden Retriever mix Cage 4.

Female: “Bella” huggable Pit Cage 27; “Jinni” carries her bowl Cage 48; gray kitten and her tabby sisterboth left behind in an apartment.

u Big Pet Weekend: Thefirst ever NYC Pet Show (www.NYCPetShow.com) is at the Metropolitan Pavilion on May 22-23 with the “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan making a guest appearance; and a LI cluster of three dog shows begin Fri./ Sat at Planting Fields in Oyster Bay and finish on Sunday at Old Bethpage Restoration (www.infodog.com).

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