Fur flies in battle over the free-roaming Seaside Heights cats
What will happen to the Seaside Heights cats?
For the past 4 years, a group called the Seaside Heights Animal Welfare Organization has been feeding, trapping, neutering and releasing more than 300 feral cats in the borough, but suddenly, everything has changed.
Last week the Borough Council voted unanimously to end its relationship with the group, and Lisa Franciosi, the president of the Seaside Heights Animal Welfare Organization, doesn’t know why.
“That’s the million dollar question, and we would really like a reasonable answer,” she said.
According to Franciosi, the only thing she’s been told is “we don’t have a harmonious relationship, which is completely inaccurate because we have only met with the mayor one time.”
Mayor Anthony Vaz sees things differently.
“The personalities of our marriage between the town and them weren’t working out,” he said. “This administration supports the feral cat trapping, neutering and releasing program but we’ve decided to end the borough's relationship with the Animal Welfare Organization.”
According to Vaz, “we had concerns from the public that would come to council meetings and concerns from the visitors about cat feces on the beach ... and we said let’s plan a different route.”
“[The cats are] roaming in people’s yards destroying their properties, their gardens, feces and worms. If someone called to report a feral cat in their yard they (the Animal Welfare Organization) would come and pick the animal up, they’ll have it neutered, and they return it to you because you called ... You can’t force people to take a cat they don’t want.”
And what about the rumors cats are being rounded up and killed?
Vaz insisted that was completely ridiculous.
“Anybody in their right mind, in their right mind, would never even think of that,” he said. “Do you think we would authorize the killing of cats? That’s totally out of whack, I mean really out of whack. Rumors have become widespread.”
The mayor added he’s had calls from people in other states, asking why they were being so cruel to cats, while other folks in different parts of Jersey have called to say they’re going to be bringing more cats to shore town.
“We’re trying to reduce the cat population but we’re getting cats coming in because people think it’s a safe haven, but that’s not the objective here,” he said. “If there’s concerns coming from the business community, the property owners, the residents, the summer residents, we have to address them.”
The mayor said the cats living under the boardwalk will have to be moved because of the Army Corp of Engineers dune build-up project that will take place next year.
“We have to prepare now in fairness to the cat population, particularly on the beach. Where are we going to place these cats?” he says.
Vaz added “we’re going to continue the TNR program, but we are meeting with various groups to get input from them, veterinarians and so forth. We have to move them. Where, I don’t know. We don’t know yet but we have to plan between now and 2017, we have to place them, they have to be safe, they have to be fed.”
Franciosi believes she knows what will happen, and it won’t be good.
She said they have not had indications any of the cats are being harmed, “however we do know that their plan is to trap and relocate.”
Franciosi said she is convinced the plan is to catch the cats and move them to a dock area near the bay, which is a horrible idea because “there’s no protection whatsoever for these animals, they have the water on one side which is the bay, and they have Route 35 which is the other side.”
She added “if anyone knows anything about feral cats they know they will make an attempt to return to their colonies, so in that attempt they will probably try to cross the highway and be harmed, and that is our concern.
"Our biggest fear is these cats are going to come to in harms way.”
Franciosi is still hoping her group will be invited back to work with the town.
“We never had any issue with the former administration, all nuisance calls and complaints were directed to our officers and volunteers and they were addressed immediately, but this mayor has not given us that opportunity, he took it upon himself to bring this to the Council and not have a relationship with us anymore,” she said.
“We are still feeding the cats,” she stated. “And we’re just trying to do anything we can to raise awareness, we want to ensure the safety of everyone, the residents and the animals. We just want to make some noise, and hopefully have the administration work with us again. These animals of course can’t speak for themselves and they have no control over what happens to them, and I believe 9 out of 10 people truly don’t want them harmed.”
The mayor, however, says the borough's relationship to the TNR group is "just a marriage that didn’t work out."
"No, we’re not killing cats. We’re still feeding cats. We’re just going to continue the program in a different way.”