NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Local officials are looking at an alternative method to keeping down the feral cat population without euthanization.

Known as trap-neuter/spay-return, the approach entails trapping feral cats, after which they are sterilized, vaccinated against rabies, and then returned to the colony from which they were taken.

“Trap and kill does not work, it cannot keep up with the size and the cost,” said Len Twist, who oversees TNR in Kearny and attended New Brunswick’s October 18 city council meeting.

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Once the cats are returned to the colony, they no longer breed, causing the colony to shrink as cats die from natural causes, Twist said.

Volunteer caretakers devote their time providing the colony with food and shelter and monitoring the colonies health.

“We have caregivers in this town that really love this town, let them take a sense of ownership of this,” Twist said, referring to volunteer caregivers.

Twist admitted that in his time as a volunteer caregiver of hundreds of cats at a time, he’s had to dip into his own personal savings.

An ear of the cat is notched, so that it can be identified as having been neutered in a TNR program, Twist said. 

Supporters argue this process saves time and money, while still reducing the nuisance of feral cats, which Twist said are known to screech and roam around night, while emanating foul odors wherever they go.

“This is costing the taxpayers of New Brunswick money,” said Theresa Cetera, one such volunteer and a New Brunswick resident of 40 years. “It doesn’t need to cost them money because these cats are living, they’re being cared for, they’re fixed and vaccinated.”

The cats generally don’t allow members into the colony, Twist said, which means they shrink as its members die out. Twist estimated that thousands of cats could be inhabiting the city, most of them in industrial and wooded areas.

According to state data, 2,776 cats from Middlesex County were impounded in 2016, while 49 were redeemed, 1,350 were adopted and 527 were euthanized.

By comparison, only 64 dogs in the county were euthanized that year, according to state data. Another 1,120 dogs were impounded, 499 were redeemed and 435 were adopted, according to state data.

Data was not immediately available on how many of those cats and dogs were from New Brunswick. 

Under state law, the animal has to stay at the shelter for seven days. During that time, the shelter has to feed the animal and attend to it medical needs. If the owner doesn’t come to reclaim the animal and no one adopts it, the animal is euthanized.

The city currently contracts to Bluming Kennel, based in East Brunswick, which performs those services.

Euthanization would still be an option with TNR, Twist said, but only when the cats are sick or severely injured. 

Other towns have also enacted a TNR approach to the feral population, including Old Bridge, Bayonne, South and West Orange, Irvington, Wayne, North Arlington and Lyndhurst.

Currently, the city is looking over TNR ordinances from other municipalities, and reaching out to said towns to get an idea of how the approach has panned out.