2016-07-07 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Wish I could begin with the word “Hooray” or “Hallelujah” for Islip Town Hall finally posting a draft of a Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) voucher program for feral cats. The plan is a positive step, but needs lots of revamping immediately, so vouchers and loaned humane traps become reality. It’s kitten season. Nursing Mama cats will continue to get pregnant while Islip has a draft.

Islip remains the only Nassau or Suffolk Town without a program to help residents “fix” feral cats they feed or find. For the last 10 years, Islip Shelter hasn’t accepted cats or kittens for adoption. Months after the “retirement” of the former shelter director responsible for refusing cats, there are a few cats inside for adoption, yet a sign remains on the front door stating the shelter doesn’t take cats. (See “Pets” 9/27&28/15 & 4/17 &18/16 for more.)

For many years animal advocates have been trying to convince Islip Town Hall feral cats are a community problem, which demands a humane, community solution. Rescue, residents and government must work together. The Islip feral population has reached epidemic levels because Town Hall and the shelter chose to do nothing for so long. Their closed-door policy resulted in “Cat Calcutta”, a huge feral colony next to the shelter.

Beginning last fall, the rescue- Shelter Link- led by Rita Schrecongost, reiterated the feral issue at every Town Board meeting, offered to work with the Town, found an ally in Councilwoman Trish Weichbrodt and met several times with Commissioner Jim Heil. They were told the Town could not subsidize a TNR program because “it is illegal to spend taxpayers’ money on animals not at the shelter.”

Surrounding LI towns have TNR programs for their residents, and these towns have not been cited for breaking the law. NYS Agriculture & Markets law (Sec. 116) allows towns to spay/neuter dogs and cats. Towns can use tax money but not dog licensing fees toward spaying/neuter of cats. As for the specification “owned cats,” caretakers sign veterinary paperwork as guardians of ferals they bring for altering.

Islip posted their TNR draft the day before the last Town Board meeting on June 28. The link is: http://www.islipny.gov/news/news/3266-tnr-program-trap-neuter-release-fo....

Supervisor Angie Carpenter wrote on the Islip website: “Residents can send their comments to Jim Heil at the following email: commissioner-dec@islipny.gov by Fri., July 8, 2016.” Sorry, that is tomorrow. Some of us spoke at the Board meeting and enumerated portions needing to be revised. Not sure if Islip really wants draft suggestions, or if this is another stalling strategy. As my father (who turns 95 today) always says: “Joanne, you were born a pessimist.”

Let’s examine three facets of the Islip TNR draft needing changes:

#1- Rescues completely responsible: Islip plans to contract with at least one rescue to administer the TNR program. That rescue will “do the field work with the colonies, transport or arrange transport for a cat to a supporting veterinarian, ensure its care and return the cat to its colony.” This would mean trapping and holding the cats for surgical recovery too. The rescues, not individual residents, will receive the vouchers, be loaning out the Town’s traps with a deposit, and incurring all extra costs not covered by the voucher. Islip proposes vouchers subsidizing $50 per cat. Other towns provide more financial support. Hempstead’s program is free; and Babylon has certificates where caretakers pay $35 per cat, extras absorbed or pay nothing at all depending on the situation.

The Islip model places a huge burden on all-volunteer rescues. For a decade Last Hope had similar contracts with two Nassau towns. Linda Stuurman, president of Last Hope, said, “It is going to cost the rescues more than the services covered by the Town because as we found when we were the trappers for Oyster Bay and North Hempstead, we ended up with many expenses that the Town did not cover. We were basically doing the work that the Town should have been doing.”

The goal should be to educate and empower residents so they eventually become self-sufficient controlling the cat population in their yard. As Maimonides (not the hospital) said, “Give a man a fish you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.”

Rescues and shelter personnel can host TNR workshops in Spanish too. On-site help can be given when necessary. Islip Shelter needs to establish a cat-friendly environment. The public should leave the shelter with a borrowed trap and a sense of how to trap and care for the cat until recovered. Tame cats and kittens caught should enter the shelter when there is room. Babylon Shelter staff teaches residents TNR 101 in the lobby. Chris Elton, shelter director, mentors people in the field. Babylon, much smaller than Islip, subsidized the spay/neuter of over 500 feral cats in 2014 and again in 2015. Hempstead has the largest budget and staff, which does some of the trapping. At one point, over 100 feral cats a week were altered with Hempstead’s free TNR program. Islip has an idle trailer on shelter property, which was used as a clinic. The Town could pay per diem vets to spay/neuter ferals there.

#2- Funding woes: Islip believes they cannot use tax revenue for TNR assistance although these programs are part of the budget in Towns like Babylon and Hempstead. Islip plans to use donations to the shelter not earmarked for a specific use. Then the Town wants to fundraise with the help of the rescue group. Later apply for grants. TNR vouchers will continue only as long as there are donated funds. This doesn’t bode well for longevity of the Islip TNR program, especially since non-profit rescues spend every waking moment doing their own fundraisers.

#3- Rabies: The draft omits administering rabies shots to feral cats in the program and ensuring public safety.

Last Hope Pets for Adoption (631-671-2588), 3300 Beltagh Ave., Wantagh: “Lefty” a small Lab/Border Collie was invited to 94.3 The SHARK to show off his tricks via radio live Facebook. He is so smart, and has been waiting months for someone to discover that. “Checker,” a yearold tabby, was seen thrown from a car into a cemetery and rescued by Good Samaritans. He is a love.

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