After months of organizing, volunteers in a fledgling “trap, neuter, return” program say they have already reduced the feral cat population in Lavallette.
Borough residents last summer began coming to the borough council with complaints over a growing feral cat problem, particularly near President Avenue, leading the town to begin to make changes in its approach to animal control. Starting this year, Lavallette trained an in-house animal control officer rather than leaning on Seaside Heights to provide the service, and a group of volunteers from local towns began the TNR program.
“I want to thank the neighbors for their patience and understanding,” said Eileen Turner, a Brick Township resident who helped organize that town’s TNR program.
After hearing about Lavallette’s feral cat issues, several volunteers from Brick’s successful program pitched the idea to Lavallette officials. There was pushback from some residents, who did not favor the idea of the cats being returned to the community, but it slowly-but-surely gained support, and the borough plans to provide some seed funding for the program in its 2023 budget.
Under TNR, feral cats are trapped, brought to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, then returned to the area from which they came. Supporters of the program said that over time, the stray cat population dwindles as fewer and fewer cats breed, eventually keeping the population under control. Lavallette, however, faced challenges that larger communities do not, including the fact that a sizable portion of the population is seasonal, and volunteers can be difficult to find. There was also remaining concern over the now-defunct TNR program in Seaside Heights, where some participants began feeding and hosting cats on their properties, leading to complaints from neighbors.
The Brick program, on the other hand, has been touted as a success story, with a dedicated cadre of volunteers who have held fundraisers and donated their time after, likewise, receiving a small amount of seed money from the township. The Brick volunteers say they have already recruited some Lavallette residents to the program, and have successfully neutered nine cats, mostly from the President Avenue area.
“There were some concerns about returning them because of cars and other factors,” said Turner, referring to disturbing stories of feral cats – including some that were pregnant – being run over by vehicles on Route 35 last summer.
As for the nine cats: “None of them are friendly – none of them can be picked up and held,” said Turner, however three will be socialized and go to a rescue where they can eventually be adopted. Some went to a farm out of town where a friend of one of the volunteers allows feral cats to live out their lives if they cannot be returned to their original communities.
“If they are brought to a shelter, they will definitely be put down,” said Turner, who prefers the cats to be returned to Lavallette or brought to a safe home in another location.
The group has been volunteering in Lavallette three days per week.
“In the morning, we pick them up and I drive them,” Turner explained. “Everybody is a volunteer, nobody is getting paid. I’m really grateful to them for all their hard work. A lot of supplies are needed for this, and these ladies have been doing a lot of this work.”
The cats are neutered at a veterinarian’s office in Toms River, who provides the service at a discount, though it still incurs a cost.
“I’m very impressed by the numbers,” said Mayor Walter LaCicero. “I never thought we would see that many, that quick. We thank you very much.”
“You’re going to see a dramatic drop in the strays,” said Doreen Gesslein, one of the volunteers. “In Brick, we have dropped our count of cats by half. We’re going to teach people how to trap, hopefully more people will get on board, and we’ll see far fewer cats crushed in the street.”
The program has also begun to find monetary support in the community.
“It’s so wonderful that everybody steps in to help,” said Councilwoman Anita Zalom, herself a President Avenue resident. “We had a person in town who lost her son, who loved cats, and she donated money to help with the cat program.”
Lavallette does not have an “official” signup form for the program, but those interested in volunteering or donating to TNR can call borough hall’s main number at 732-793-7477.