Born to be wild: Calls to deal with feral cats persist

Born to be wild: Calls to deal with feral cats persist
David Bernacchi, founder of the animal rescue organization Pets4Luv, speaks to the North Hempstead Town Board. During a board meeting on Nov. 17, residents continued to call for a cat shelter in town as well as an improved trap, neuter, and release program. (Photo by Brandon Duffy)

Calls for a cat shelter in North Hempstead and an improved trap, neuter and release program were  heard again during a Town of North Hempstead Board meeting Nov. 17.

Several different speakers addressed the board on the topic. They claimed that the town was falling behind others on Long Island and that the problem would not go away without their help.

David Bernacchi, the founder of the animal rescue nonprofit Pets4Luv, was one speaker. He described the issues the town is facing as significant.

“I’ve been doing rescue for over 30 years and the feral cat problem is a major one, especially in North Hempstead. The biggest problem we deal with is a lot of sick, injured cats that should not be outside,” Bernacchi said. “It’s not birds flying down and dropping cats, it’s the people that are releasing them and not having them fixed. That’s causing the problem.”

Cat advocates have long argued that the town’s current trap, neuter and release program is inadequate. They say as it exists, it puts a burden on individuals and local shelters.

Residents are provided with humane traps in exchange for bringing their cats in on a predetermined date to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated and ear-tipped. This stabilizes feral cat populations by ending reproduction and removing socialized cats from the colony.

After a brief recuperation period, residents collect the cat(s) and return them to their original colony. Currently, spay/neuter clinics are held once a month.

Those who spoke at the meeting said once a month is inadequate to deal with how quickly a cat colony can grow. The average cat can have one to eight kittens per litter and two to three litters per year, according to the Roice-Hurst Humane Society.

“This is going on all over the Town of North Hempstead,” Wendy Bonczek, another advocate, said. “People just have ferals and they’re feeding them, but nobody’s moving them and the cats are running around.”

In response, Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena mentioned the North Shore Animal League’s new Community Outreach Center in Port Washington, which assists cat owners with vaccinating, neutering, spaying and socializing cats.

The center is located in a renovated building on North Shore Animal League America’s campus. Its goal is to assist cat caregivers in identifying feral, stray and lost cats, as well as what to do if residents discover a feral cat.

“That is what is so wonderful about these caregivers; these people are dedicated to the cats in their area, up every morning,” Sylvia Ottaka, senior director for rescue and community outreach at North Shore Animal League America, told Newsday. “Despite rain, snow, sleet or illness.”

They will help those who want to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release cats, as well as guidance for those who want to socialize cats so that they can be adopted as pets. Renting supplies and attending training are also offered.

Advocares at the board meeting, however, criticized the North Shore Animal League and its new center. Liz Diamond, another speaker, told the board they are only interested in “perfect kittens.”

“In the past, they never helped those of us that were doing the trapping here,” she said. “They get dogs and cats from other parts of the country and they ignore [them] if they’re not kittens and they’re not easily adoptable.”

Efforts to reach the North Shore Animal League for comments were unavailing.



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