You should not. And with some effort, you can get out of trouble and protect the cats you feed while also being a better neighbor.
If you're feeding cats but haven't gotten around to fixing them, and now have many cats, you may have had a visit from an animal control officer or police officer. Perhaps the cats were spraying or yowling outside your neighbor's house, or using their children's sand box as a litter box. Now an officer is at your door, and it's an issue.
First things first: get familiar with your ordinances. Now. While no two towns are the same, there are basically two types of municipalities when it comes to ordinances: those that mention TNR and those that don't. Either way, you are going to be forced to make a choice: become compliant with ordinances, or be the reason that cats were removed and euthanized. Denying the cats food or veterinary attention when confronted about feeding is not an option and puts you in violation of state law.
Towns whose ordinances are silent on feral cats and TNR typically have licensing requirements for cats. You can be found in violation of ordinances because the cats you feed are not licensed. Cats can be removed by animal control officers if they are found to be a nuisance, such as by the neighbor who complained.
Buddy was at large for years in a TNR-unfriendly town that requires all cats to be licensed. He has not been removed by AC because Whiskers TNRed and vetted him despite neighbors' complaints about the feeder. When the complaints stopped, the violations stopped. Buddy also looks a lot better these days and enjoys meals where he is welcome, not shooed away to starve or dig in peoples' trash. It's amazing what some work and colony control does for a community, even after complaints have been made.
Left: Buddy before his dental and neuter; Right: Buddy and his spayed friend, now welcome in a neighbor's yard.
Towns who do mention feral/community cats and TNR in their ordinance are another story. More often than not, TNR is "allowed" only if the colony is registered with the town. There are requirements for reporting and sometimes fees. However, if your colony is not registered, and particularly if it is not fixed and someone has complained, the town has licensing requirements that will apply to any colony not protected by registration and TNR by the caretaker. Not only can the colony be removed, you will also be fined for violating licensing requirements for your cats, usually determined by the fact that you are feeding or harboring them on your property.
Sometimes, we hear that a police officer or even an animal control officer has instructed someone to stop feeding cats outside in response to a complaint. They do not remove them and the cats are suffering with starvation and illness outside as the feeders withhold food to avoid fines or additional work or expenses.
This is 100% illegal and constitutes cruelty in the state of New Jersey, denying care to an injured or stray cat as well as food and water to any animal in one's care. This should be reported first to the Humane Law Enforcement Officer in your town, and if that fails, next is the county prosecutor. If you need assistance in finding these contacts, please reach out to us. Do not wait to escalate the issue.
However, if your town does not support TNR and simply requires licensing, the cats can be removed for causing a disturbance, held in stray hold, and likely euthanized if not adoptable. This is still a more humane end than starving to death outside and is not unlawful, but involves deaths that you could have prevented by fixing the cats and doing the work required to protect them. You can likely still fix this, but it's going to take work.
In a town that supports TNR, you will likely be given a time frame in which to register and fix your colony; otherwise, the cats can be removed.
Here's where you need to get to work. Fix the cats. Prepare to work because you let this problem get to a point that authorities are involved, and now fixing those cats and registering the colony is the only way that they will not be euthanized or left to starve outside.
What about TNR-unfriendly towns? In most cases, animal control would prefer that you just fix the cats and stop the complaints. It's no guarantee, but offering a solution of fixing the cats and other neighborly measures can go a long way if you offer it. The ACO may return in a prescribed time period to make sure that you have fixed the cats, and that if needed, you have licensed them.
What it is NOT time for is to fight with your neighbor or insist that you're right, because you have already been found in violation of the rules. You have a choice to make and work to do.
If you care about the cats, you will do what you have to do and take time off, spend vacation money, and make the sacrifices needed to avoid sad ends for the cats you feed. Programs like our 50 Feral Fix exist with vouchers for individuals willing to work and learn to trap if they cannot afford surgeries.
If you are unwilling to work, pay, or correct the problem, the cats are going to suffer with angry neighbors' actions and eventual removal of the cats by animal control.