WEST ORANGE, NJ — Two years after the West Orange Township Council approved an ordinance that allowed the Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return program, and three years since the program was begun by animal rights advocates in the town, West Orange TNVR has neutered and released more than 580 cats. The program allows volunteers to trap feral cats that live in West Orange, then neuter and vaccinate them before releasing them back into their environment in an effort to control the stray cat population with a no-kill option. West Orange TNVR, a nonprofit organization run entirely by volunteers, has also adopted out 251 cats to residents.
“It’s been very busy, we’ve spayed and neutered 588 cats, feral only,” Judy Stier, the program’s director, said in a phone interview with the West Orange Chronicle on May 31. “I have about 30 being fostered right now. We also have adoption nights at the Petco in West Orange on Fridays and on Sundays at the Petco in Verona. We’re more well-known now; I’ve gotten a lot of calls.”
The program was initiated in 2015, after the town enacted a ban in 2014 that forbade the feeding of feral cats because they were considered “wildlife.” Stier, a self-professed animal lover, along with a group of volunteers, stepped up to care for the stray cats of West Orange.
Stier estimates that there are approximately 3,000 feral cats in West Orange, though she knows that number might not be accurate because residents have been neutering feral cats since before the TNVR program was implemented. The population control seems to be working, according to Stier, who said, “588 is still a lot of cats.”
“We also adopted out 100 in 2017; 183 in 2016; and 35 in 2015, which was the first year,” she said.
The program has approximately 10 volunteers who help trap feral cats. On Mondays, the cats are trapped and taken to Stier’s garage, where they are fed and cared for. On Tuesdays, volunteers transport the cats to the veterinarian, where they are neutered. The cats are then brought back to Stier’s garage or a foster family, where females are held for 48 hours and males, for 24 hours. After the waiting period, the cats are returned to the outside areas where they were found. Volunteers keep track of the returned cats, feeding them and ensuring they stay healthy.
But some cats are adopted into new homes instead of being returned to the wild.
“They’re returned unless we see that they’re super friendly,” Stier said. “Then they can be adopted.”
The residents who volunteer to foster cats are an important part of the program, Stier said. West Orange TNVR provides cat litter and food, as well as any other assistance for them.
“No rescue could do what we do without them,” Stier said. “We run on all donations; we’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. If people can afford to pay, they can, but we don’t turn anyone away. We’re always looking for fosters, especially at this time of year.”
It’s not only adults feral cats that are taken in by TNVR — kittens are often found, too.
“Our fosters are gold to the rescue because none of our cats live in a shelter,” Miriam Stein, a volunteer, told the Chronicle in a June 1 email. “They all live with fosters, who are often responsible for making sure the kittens are well socialized and healthy for adoption. We currently have two feral kittens living with a foster that has great experience habituating hissy, angry, scared kittens to living with and loving humans.”
Kittens are tough to care for, according to Stein, for a variety of reasons. The mother cat might not be able to be trapped, and kittens that are only a few hours or days old are very sensitive.
“We are also a go-to rescue group when someone in our area or one of our colony feeders finds very young kittens, known as ‘bottle-babies.’ When possible, we try to take the mother in so she can raise the babies and adopt her out if she’s friendly or TNR her when her kittens are weaned,” she said. “It’s not always possible, though, because sometimes a mother abandons her litter, gets hit by a car or young kittens are orphaned for any number of other reasons. Our bottle-baby fosters are magicians because kittens as young as a few hours or days old are quite delicate.”
Kittens are the most popular for residents looking to adopt, but adult cats are also up for adoption. Stier and Stein both said getting adults adopted is more difficult as young kittens make for longer-term pets. Sometimes though, the adult cats they find are pets that have been abandoned or have gotten away from their homes, so not all are feral.
“It’s an ongoing, 24/7 job,” Stier said. “But I think we’ve done a lot, I think we’ve made a difference in the population.”
To volunteer for West Orange TNVR or make a donation, visit www.wotnvr.com or contact Stier at email@example.com or 973-324-1346.
Photos Courtesy of Miriam Stein