A Cat Ghetto
Fuzzy lounging on the coach
Personally, I am not a cat person, but we have cats in our home because my wife, Mandy, loves them. She rescued both of them from a brutish life that meets every feral cat. We had a third cat which Mandy had for 14 years — a feral cat that was unsocialized to humans but got along well as an inside cat. Disease, predators, car strikes, starvation kills many but all suffer.
A tabby with an eye infection, probably conjunctivitis, cat lover or not, one could not help but feel outrage over the careless introduction of a cat colony to the southern-most beach in Fortescue. Mandy and I visited the site yesterday, and I felt like I was looking at prisoners trapped in a cold, harsh place. The cat population in this forlorn ribbon of beach is estimated by residents at over 100, most clinging desperately to a ghetto of improvised shelters. Food trays are scattered among a once-pristine dune, owned by the Natural Lands Trust of Philadelphia, nestled between the Delaware Bay marsh and the often-frigid wind and water of the Delaware Bay only a a hundred feet away. I’m sure the person who founded this colony meant well when s/he banished these cats to one of the most hostile places in South Jersey, with icy westerly winds in the winter and panic-producing clouds of biting insects in the spring. The cats may have diseases that kill them or make them easy prey for predators. There was no food for them when we were there, one cat looked to have severe conjunctivitis. This sad place is a conceit of people who can’t face the sad truth of life in the wild and are unwilling to make a commitment of real care — that is, take these animals into your home or find them homes — feral or not. They should spend one night, cold and undernourished, in the middle of a cold winter in a place where predators abound. Even worse is the effect on wildlife.
The site of the cat colony is one of the most important shorebird sites on the NJ side of the bay. Each May this beach, along with 9 others, is closed by NJ Fish and Wildlife to allow shorebirds undisturbed access to the horesheoe crab eggs on which they depend. Last year we had almost no red knots use the site, and unless these cats are moved the site will be useless to these birds that are suffering declines of up to 90%.
This colony is one of many popping up around the country under a loosely-organized program call trap neuter and release. The hope is to put out food and shelter and then trap the feral cats, neuter and release them back into the wild. The theory is the colony will eventually disappear from lack of reproduction. Unfortunealy theory is not reality. In this case, the organization that started the colony disappeared so cats are not being trapped and neutered. It is likely that unwanted cats are also being dumped here. One resident told us the population grew from a few cats to over a hundred over three years. Subsidized by feeding, the cats roam the area killing birds and small mammals. The food also attracts foxes, racoons and other animals that carry diseases and are also predators. In time both cats and wildlife end up victims.
People who love cats and/or wildlife should stop this nonsense and take responsibility for the damage. If you care about cats, rescue them and take responsibility for the very ugly side of what we have created — unchecked reproduction of unwanted animals which we continually fail to recognize as our responsibility. . . . spay and neuter, find homes for your unwanted animals or take them to a shelter, keep your cats indoors (cats have a fine life inside), get involved in helping animals in your community and volunteer at your local shelter. We have two happy cats, Fuzzy and Pewee, that prove the wisdom of this.