A cat fight has ensued over Hempstead Town's plan to move dozens of feral felines that have made their home in Newbridge Road Park in Bellmore.
Town officials want to move the cats, take down their makeshift shelters and relocate their feeding stations from behind the baseball field to a new location about a quarter mile away.
In incremental steps that could take months, they would shift the cats to an area behind a nearby parking lot, at the far end of the park, starting May 1. But the cats' caretakers of at least 12 years say moving the colony of more than 30 cats would probably threaten their survival.
"Moving the colonies put the lives of the cats in danger due to possible starvation," said Joyce Christie, 71, of Bellmore, who cares for the cats along with Jennifer Jones, 67, of Merrick. "There is no guarantee that they will follow the feeding stations."
The two women have been feeding the cats out of their own pocket -- spending more than $7,000 a year. With the deadline looming, they are concerned because the animals are very territorial and most likely will not move, they said. The cats could wander more often throughout the park, seek shelter and food from other places, they said.
"We are the voice of the animals," said Christie, who has 10 cats at home.
Town spokesman Michael Deery said the move is necessary since the areas where the feeders are located have begun to erode due to the nearby Whaleneck River. He added that the Nassau County Health Department has expressed concern, and parkgoers have complained about cats leaving droppings near the park's pool deck.
"The move is for the health and safety of the people at the park and for the cats," Deery said.
Mary Ellen Laurain, a spokeswoman for the health department, said inspectors have visited the park five times and recommended supervised feeding -- requiring the removal of open food containers -- to avoid attracting rodents. They were also concerned about the accumulation and odor of animal waste, she said.
The caretakers said they have addressed the concerns of the county and the town by adhering to supervised feeding and putting down nontoxic lime. They feed the cats daily on a platform off the ground, and remove food residue after feeding, they said.
"We feed them every day -- rain, shine or snow," said Jones, who has five cats.
There are logistical challenges to relocation, the caretakers argued. They said some of the brush behind the fenced area where the feeders are kept would need to be cleared, and the cats will continue to face erosion during the move. They said an alternative is to move the feeders toward open ground and plant around them to make them less visible.
"There are other options, but they are not working with us," Jones said. "They are just dictating to us what we have to do."