Village passes TNVR program to lower feral cat population

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Board of Health — which is now composed of the village president and Board of Trustees — approved the final passage of a Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return ordinance at its June 27 meeting. A triumph for many local animal lovers, the program is intended to prevent feral cat populations from growing out of control while keeping an eye on humane methods of population control.

The board passed Ordinance No. 16-01 on second and final reading with a vote of 6-0 — board member Howard Levison was absent due to a death in the family. Under TNVR, individuals will be registered to care for feral cat colonies, meaning they will feed them, provide shelter as needed, remove sick cats and, most importantly, trap the cats and bring them to veterinarians to be spayed or neutered and vaccinated, after which they will be returned to their colony, but without the ability to create kittens. In order to differentiate between treated and untreated animals, the treated cats will be ear-tipped, a process by which a bit of its ear is removed.

The program is set to begin in mid-July and will be sponsored by People For Animals, a nonprofit TNVR program with a location in Hillside.

Under the new and amended sections of the village’s code, no one is allowed to have more than six cats older than six months old under their purview, and only registered TNVR caregivers are allowed to feed feral cats. The laws remain the same for nonregistered caregivers; additionally, the new section of the code makes clear that it is unacceptable for cat owners to abandon their cats, even near a registered cat colony. This is considered abandonment and will not be tolerated.

Board of Health members questioned what the health department would be doing with regard to “notification.”

South Orange Health Officer John Festa responded that the health department and People For Animals would be working to notify residents of the steps by which they can become TNVR caregivers. Festa stressed that, in the beginning, it will be of vital importance to reach out to all current feeders to make certain they know about the new laws.

Village Administrator Barry Lewis Jr. added that, as for notifying neighbors of nearby colonies, it is not necessary, as the location of colonies will be a matter of public record. Additionally, since colonies are not created from nothing, the cats are already present in the area. Plus, it is not as if residents could veto having a cat colony in their neighborhood, even if they were notified.

Lewis said the addition of the program will have no impact on the budget.

People For Animals Executive Director Jane Guillaume assured the board and residents that PFA would keep track of the number of cats in the village and do everything possible to effect a reduction. She promised that all such numbers would be reported to the village.

“Hopefully we’ll see a quick reduction as in Hillside,” she said.

And, while TNVR has been a hot-button issue in New Jersey for the past few years, no one spoke during the Board of Health public comment likely because, prior to opening public comment, village President Sheena Collum advised residents that the ordinance would likely pass.