Municipal governments across Long Island are being pressured to help tackle the problem of an exploding feral cat population.
Babylon Town is the latest municipality to put more resources toward the hundreds of feral cats that roam through backyards, parks and industrial areas. Last month the town signed a contract with the Syosset-based nonprofit Helping PAW to spend up to $25,000 for help with neutering the cats.
Similarly, in Islip Town last month, under pressure from residents, officials began finalizing plans for its first trap-neuter-return (TNR) program, which for now will operate using $60,000 in animal shelter donations.
A single cat can produce more than a hundred kittens in her lifetime, so experts point to neutering as the best way to manage feral cat populations. On Long Island, TNR programs are typically run by volunteers who buy or rent traps and pay out of pocket toward neutering, as well as food and additional care post-surgery.
Volunteers on Long Island say they often have garages full of cages and that managing feral cat colonies — which can consist of hundreds of cats — becomes a part-time job.
West Babylon resident Christine Giantsos last week spoke before the Babylon Town Board and pleaded for help with the problem. Giantsos, 68, said she has spent more than a thousand dollars and has started trapping on her lunch hour, as well as nights and weekends.
“I am a Babylon Town taxpayer,” she said. “I should not have to pay additional funds and take time away from my family to fix town problems. . . . This is an epidemic that has to be addressed.”
Babylon Town had more than 500 cats neutered last year under its TNR program, which has been in place for about seven years, said animal shelter director Chris Elton. The town’s program relies on volunteers, who trap the cats, then receive a voucher for one of two town-contracted veterinarians to perform the surgery, paying $25 per cat out of pocket.
But local rescue groups told Elton that the feral population continues to grow.
“I came to realize, yeah, we’re doing good and we’re doing a lot, but we’re still not doing enough,” Elton said. He said he hopes Helping PAW will enable the town to neuter an additional 250 to 300 cats through the end of 2017.
Joan Phillips, co-founder of Locust Valley-based Animal Lovers League, trained volunteers, raised funds and enlisted local veterinarians for the City of Glen Cove animal shelter to establish a TNR program.
Within three years, the feral kitten population in the city dropped by 90 percent, she said, and in the 20 years the program was active she estimates that more than 16,000 cats were neutered. Phillips now meets with officials across Long Island to help them establish TNR programs.
“You’ve got to get at least 90 percent of the cats in each colony to get zero growth,” she said. “If all of the municipalities are not participating and offering these programs, the cats are totally going to get out of hand.”
Feral and Stray Cat Facts from the Humane Society of the United States
A stray cat is a pet who has been lost or abandoned who is used to having contact with people and is tame enough to be adopted.
A feral cat is the offspring of stray or other feral cats and is not accustomed to human contact.
In the United States, there are 30 million to 40 million feral and stray cats. These cats produce about 80 percent of the kittens born in the United States each year.
About 2 percent of stray and feral cats have been spayed or neutered.