MAPLEWOOD, NJ – How many feral cats live in Maplewood?

Maplewood Committeeman Marlon Brownlee said the answer to that question is a key piece in determining whether a proposed ordinance to allow feral cat colonies is successful.

The plan was vetted at an Oct. 7 Board of Health meeting. Health Officer Robert Roe and members of the Furry Hearts Rescue organization were on hand to address the concerns of Township Committee members, acting in their capacity as the Health Board.

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“There should be some quantitative measure, given that the purpose of that program is to reduce the number of feral cats,” Brownlee said. “Someone other than the Furry Friends (should) get a baseline measure before the program begins.”

But Committeewoman India Larrier said that it’s not realistic to expect much of a change in the first year. Instead, a first-year review of the project should focus on the operation of the program. “I think it would be two or three years before we got changes in numbers,” she said. “This is a three-year-pilot program.”

Roe cautioned that even establishing feral cat colonies will not totally solve the stray cat problem. “There will still be people feeding stray cats,” he said.

Brownlee said that a reduction in animal control costs also could be a measure. Roe added that counting the number of dead cats picked up by animal control also could help determine the success of the program. “We pick up 70 to 90 cats (a year),” he said. “To me that’s an alarming number.”

Brownlee also was concerned that feral cats would not stay on the property of the person approved to maintain a colony. “(If) there’s a cat in my yard and I call animal control, will they come and remove the cat?” he asked.

“I’d like to give a short answer to that,” Roe said. “But there are a lot of factors.” He said that if it’s determined the cat is a member of a colony, it probably would not be removed, but that complaints would certain be a factor in evaluating the program.

The town anticipates introducing an ordinance creating the pilot trap-neuter-return program as early as tonight's meeting.