Vigilantism Will Cost Cats' Lives
During the past 14 months of talking to thousands of New Jerseyans as part of our 50 Feral Fix program, a recurring theme has emerged.
A huge portion of the rescue community has elected to respond to New Jersey's fatally broken animal control system and entered a game where cats and people lose: vigilantism.
Instead of rising above the crumbling animal control system that routinely ignores the law, the rescue community is shouting, "Hold my beer!" and proceeding to break laws at the same rate, with no consideration of the long reaching effects of these actions on cats and communities.
Indeed, the approach of the most popular rescuers and even nonprofits online is to act as vigilantes, not reformers. They regularly operate in ways that if enforced, state law would punish with charges, fines, and shutdowns of businesses:
Cats are fed on private property without permission.
Shelters are set up on private property without the consent of owners.
Cats are impounded by groups and individuals with no reporting, no 7-day stray hold, and often no vetting.
Practitioners have decided that because their towns are doing nothing to address the skyrocketing number of cats all over the state, they will take matters into their own hands. There is no long-term plan except to grab the cats off of the street, fill rescues, and warehouse cats. Facebook cat groups are starting to approach Craigslist status with the most vulnerable beings at the mercy of whoever wants to grab cats, trespass, hoard, or postpone medical care, as long as no one calls animal control.
We are not Robin Hoods.
While we are all for community involvement, it means acting as a CIVILIZED community.
Doing what you feel is right never excuses you from breaking the law. We also all have an obligation to rebuild the system that has collapsed into one that works, as removing all shelters and animal control from the state is denying services to people that need them.
Vigilantism goes both ways.
What many people trespassing fail to realize is that when vigilantes run the show, the opposition feels justified in doing the same. For every person sneaking on to property to feed cats, there is another one putting out poison or trapping and dumping cats....or far worse.
Vigilante-style rescue hurts us in the long run.
"Vigilante rescue" has created a very precarious situation as more and more of us are demanding the assistance of government in addressing the number of homeless and feral cats. It is simply too much for private rescues to handle both financially and from a public health perspective. To obtain support and funding, we need to appear as a united lawful front that can be part of the process, not as cowboys who do not know how to communicate and negotiate change with lawmakers.
As a result of poorly negotiated contracts and unqualified municipal decision makers, nearly every shelter is closed admission, and many have stopped holding municipal contracts. More and more cats are are turned away and left to die horrible deaths on our streets. All of this happens as our tax money continues to pay for inadequate animal control contacts.
We are asking for officials to see the importance of TNR, support it, and even help fund it. We cannot expect to gain support of anyone in power if we are selfishly clinging to the idea that many laws simply do not pertain to cat feeders or trappers.
We will NEVER obtain the financial or physical help required to control the feral cat population if we are not willing to follow simple laws regarding tresspassing, theft or the denial of enjoyment of private property. No public offical can fund nor condone illegal behavior. They certainly can not require people to allow strangers to feed and breed feral cats on their privately owned property.
There is no "unowned" property in New Jersey.
I have many angry and annoyed conversations with voucher applicants who are unwilling to ask permission before taking up feeding cats on privately owned property. These include mini malls, vacant homes, parks, and parking lots. They are all owned in NJ.
Please understand the issue is bigger, much bigger than any one colony. We are losing the race in controlling the feral and homeless cat population. We have to find a more comprehensive solution to this problem.
The only way we can hope to do this is to recreate a model of animal control in the state that involves legal TNR and added access to low cost spay/neuter. To make that request, the animal welfare community must show that we are willing to work within a fair and functioning system. Following laws is a start.
Join us in the "long game."
After 25 years of doing animal welfare work, I have some theories on how we lost our way but it no longer matters. What we need now is a solution. To prove that our community is willing to negotiate, help, and be part of policymaking, we have to take the first step. Nearly every town in New Jersey is currently breaking state law and signing contracts immortalizing their decisions. We know that and rest assured we have hundreds of pages of evidence to support that claim. That being said, if we are going to fight for these animals, we all MUST be willing to be the lawful, reasonable voices in the room, with our eye on the prize of animal welfare reform and adequate services.
Change will start with us but let's make sure we are not making unreasonable demands our of frustration and anger.