Residents across North Hempstead said town officials need to build a shelter and provide adoptions for a swelling feral cat population that is straining the wallets and the patience of people trying to feed and care for them.
Almost a dozen residents attended a Jan. 29 town council meeting and told Supervisor Judi Bosworth that the town must devote more resources to feral cats. Besides Shelter Island, North Hempstead is the only one of Long Island’s 13 towns without a dedicated space to house and adopt cats.
The town operates a dog shelter in Port Washington and a monthly program that allows residents to bring feral cats to be spayed or neutered, but some residents said it’s not enough.
“What is needed is a spay-neuter program that is not once a month for 25 cats, but a viable one that will make a difference,” said Great Neck resident Stuart Kroll. “Just as there is a dog shelter in Port Washington, there needs to be a cat shelter.”
Residents have been pushing North Hempstead for a cat shelter for at least a decade. In 2009, then-Supervisor Jon Kaiman said the town would have a cat adoption program by 2010. Officials hired a construction company to build a cat shelter, but the company sued the town, alleging it had not paid for the work. The town settled the case for about $130,000.
North Hempstead isn’t the only town that has had issues with cat adoption facilities. In 2017, Smithtown embarked on a $2.4 million reconstruction of its aging animal shelter where cats were confined to cages in hallways, in a former kitchen and in a former shower room. That same year, Huntington Town officials discontinued their contract with a local nonprofit that ran its cat shelter because the organization had not filed proper paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service.
North Hempstead is home to North Shore Animal League America, which offers cat adoptions but is not the town’s animal shelter. Joanne Yohannan, the group’s senior vice president for operations, said the Port Washington facility accepts feral-born kittens and displaced adult cats that had previous owners.
With no town-operated cat shelter, residents and animal groups are spending their money to capture, care for and spay/neuter feral cats, Kroll said. They do what they can, but “it’s a huge emotional and financial obligation on those with very limited resources,” Kroll said.
One rescuer said she had a four-figure bill for a recent feline rescue. “My last bill for the last cat I rescued was $3,900 — that’s more than my mortgage,” said Manuela Gattasse, of Roslyn Heights. “Some people say cat lives don’t matter. They matter. They’re walking all over the place.”
Bosworth said she met with North Hempstead officials last week “to discuss what the town’s options are” for creating a cat adoption shelter. She said the town will continue to discuss it internally and notify residents once a decision is made.
North Hempstead’s dog-only shelter is unique on Long Island. Shelters in the towns of Islip, Babylon, Southampton, Hempstead, Brookhaven, Oyster Bay and Smithtown have dog-and-cat adoptions under one roof. Riverhead, Huntington and Southold towns have shelters operated by nonprofit organizations. East Hampton Town uses the East Hampton-based Animal Rescue Fund, or ARF, to help control its feral cat population. The nonprofit will accept feral-born kittens for adoptions.
Gattasse and others who spoke last Tuesday said North Hempstead’s cat population is growing because the felines’ former owners release them into the streets once they move away, or rescuers have no place to help cats recover from the surgeries.
“Many constituents who are concerned with the welfare of feral cats would love to trap them, but they do not because they have no place for recovery of the cats after surgery,” said Jack Hausman, president of the Great Neck-based Humane Urban Group, a nonprofit that captures and spays/neuters cats in the town.
The town has spayed and neutered about 3,000 cats since 2011, said Shawn Brown, the town’s public safety commissioner who oversees the TNR (trap-neuter-return) program. He said the animal shelter division would welcome an expansion.
“We do have a robust TNR program,” Brown said. “It’s not perfect. We strive to do better. We want to do better.”
CORRECTION: Robin Fishman, of the Humane Urban Group, said there is “a definite need” for an animal shelter in North Hempstead Town to house adoptable cats whose owners can no longer care for them because they’ve had to relocate, are elderly or had to surrender the animals for other reasons. A caption for an earlier version of the video accompanying this story misstated the type of animal she was referring to.