We are in the middle of a massive animal cruelty and public health crisis in NJ. Very few people want to discus the extent of the feral / stray / homeless cat problem or the ramifications of it on our lives. The reality is that we are seeing more and more suffering breeding homeless cats than ever before. With that comes an increase in animal cruelty.
Why? Overpopulation results in a huge number of free cats and kittens that can be simply grabbed from the streets and the internet.
As if the rampant cruelty is not enough, the increasing number of cats is trackable only in rabies statistics. There is no regulation requiring any entity to track cat populations besides the number of confirmed rabies cases, which in fact has shown a steady increase over the past 20 years to nearly triple the original number of confirmed rabies cases in cats.
So what do we do?
The simple answer was to try to work with towns to implement functioning animal control and TNR programs. We have tried this for decades across New Jersey in towns of all sizes.
Each time we have failed.
The popular excuse for failure of TNR in towns is almost always lack of resources for TNR. Instead of pursuing the issue, municipalities conveniently ignore the state's best practice guidelines. We have hit the same wall in every town.
So where do we go from here? Who is going to create policy and implement rules that work? The problem is clearly statewide, as the NJ State Board of Veterinary Public Health has issued this memo indicating that animal control's refusal to respond to cat-related calls is unacceptable, yet the state does nothing more than issue optional "guidelines" for best practice. This is all despite state cruelty laws being broken every day.
The current model leaves individual towns free to accept the lowest bid on a contract without even checking that it meets basic minimum requirements for local animal control, intake, and even humane law enforcement. This approach is failing.
It fails for the same reason making speed limits a suggestion but not law would fail.
Similarly, Individuals who feed often feel no responsibility to be involved in TNR, or that they are responsible for any care at all besides feeding. Municipalities either do not accept calls regarding cats or limit what will be done to address them once they are received.
Our opinion is that "stop feeding" or "we are full; call a rescue" is not addressing a complaint.
The state board of health set out guidelines for best practices but no decision maker has moved forward to make them statewide law.
So here we find ourselves buried in cats who breed every year and live difficult lives with little to no medical care, continuing to breed thanks to many irregular food sources (feeders) who are not compelled by law or enforcement to improve the situation.
We are facing a growing number of animal cruelty issues as residents who do not like cats take matters into their own hands: poisoning is only the beginning.
It's time to stop suggesting guidelines and commit to clear laws that define minimum requirements of municipalities and their animal control and shelter contractors.
It's time for a very simple rule that requires those who feed to fix the cats, with the assistance of towns and private nonprofits available if needed.
We and other nonprofits have been chasing the dream of no more feral cats on our streets for decades and we are losing. We will continue to lose, with cats paying the ultimate price, if we are not backed up by laws and solid enforcement of them.
It is time for change. It is time to create a system that will work to help animals, alleviate the number of animals on the streets, protect public health, and resolve ongoing neighborhood conflicts over escalating numbers of cats interfering with the enjoyment of private property.