SEASIDE HEIGHTS — An international animal rights organization believes the free-roaming cats that live under this borough’s boardwalk would be better off with a lethal injection than having to spend all their nine lives in the cruel outdoors.

In a letter to Mayor Anthony Vaz last week, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says the group supports the borough’s recent decision to end its trap-neuter-release program, which allows feral cats to live outside after they’ve been spayed or neutered.

The decision has raised howls of protest from supporters of the Seaside Heights Animal Welfare Organization, whose volunteers for the last four years have helped feed and care for the estimated 300 cats that roam this shore town.

PETA’s letter highlights a longstanding policy debate over the effectiveness and ethics of TNR, whose proponents say is a better alternative to packing feral cats into animal shelters that would be forced to euthanize unadopted animals. While the state Department of Health recognizes TNR and maintained colonies as options for cat population control, the state “does not endorse or oppose” the method, deferring to local officials.

TNR advocates call it natural attrition. We call it cruelty to animals.

TNR programs are endorsed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and by the Humane Society, whose New Jersey chapter also has jumped into this cat fight.

But PETA, which also advocates veganism, maintains that TNR itself is cruel because domestic cats are not equipped to live outdoors and they can cause considerable ecological damage by killing birds and other mammals.

“Homeless cats are forced to fight (and lose) daily battles against parasites, deadly contagious diseases, dehydration when their water sources evaporate or freeze, speeding cars, loose dogs and malicious people,” PETA Animal Care and Control Specialist Teresa Chagrin writes in her letter.

“Cats should be taken to open-admission animal shelters for a chance at adoption, even if euthanasia is the most humane option that can be provided in some cases.”

Lisa Franciosi, the president of the Seaside Heights Animal Welfare Organization, calls PETA’s position “despicable.”

“They (PETA) do not live up to their initials,” she said this week. “These cats have been cared for and fed and maintained in colonies for years. To think that they just be euthanized is just beyond words.”

“Our volunteers are so connected to this program. These cats are taken care of so well. We have feeding stations for these cats. We don’t allow people to throw food at them.”

Vaz this month cited personality differences with the group’s leadership and complaints from residents and visitors about cat waste on the beach and cats on private property. Officials also are worried that the cat colonies encourage people to abandon their unwanted pets in the borough. Vaz said the boardwalk cats will have to be moved in anticipation of a dune reconstruction project slated for next year.

It’s despicable what their position is. They (PETA) do not live up to their initials.

The organization continues to feed the cats whose fates remains uncertain. Borough officials have not put forth a plan to address the cats in the absence of the volunteer organization.

In an interview with New Jersey 101.5, Chagrin says TNR supporters “live in a fantasy world" and suggested they "try sitting under the boardwalk themselves for the night or week" during the next blizzard.

“It’s cruel to abandon a domestic animal on the street,” she said. “Euthanasia can be much more humane than dumping an animal to struggle for weeks or years until they are hit by a car or the elements get them or kids light them on fire or other of the many, many dangers that befall abandoned domestic animals.”

Franciosi says volunteers provide the cats with straw shelters in the winter and says that cats born outdoors are able to find shelter from the cold.

Many of the cats that were around more than four years ago when the program was started are still alive today, Franciosi said. One boardwalk cat, a calico named Momma, is estimated to be more than 10 years old.

But Chagrin says it’s not easy to notice a cat in pain because they are “stoic” and instinctively hide their injuries.

While some cats may survive a brutal winter, “some get frost bite and their ears fall off, their tails fall off. Many of them freeze to death,” she said.

“TNR advocates call it natural attrition. We call it cruelty to animals.”

Brian R. Hackett, the New Jersey state director of the Humane Society, wrote borough officials Tuesday to warn that PETA’s suggestion, which he says is based on "outdated and inaccurate information," would result in the “publicly-unpopular euthanasia of hundreds of healthy cats.”

“Many public health officials now recognize that TNR programs — which also vaccinate cats as well as sterilize them — lead to healthier cats, and thus reduce concerns about public health,” his letter says.

"While abandonment of cats is a real issue, it needs to be addressed in other ways – improving enforcement of existing laws, raising awareness of said laws and their penalties, providing practical options for those who can no longer care for cats, supporting affordable spay/neuter efforts and implementing programs to keep cats in their homes.”

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email