Caring For Cats Amid A Coronavirus Crisis: TNVR In Essex County

·6 min read

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — The time for action is “meow.” This is the plea from local trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) advocates in Essex County, who continue their outreach efforts to community cats amid the coronavirus crisis.

Weathering the pandemic hasn’t been easy for many animal welfare advocates in New Jersey, who have reported big drops in their fundraising capabilities. And Communities Promoting Animal Welfare NJ (CPAW-NJ) hasn’t been immune from the same struggle, the nonprofit says.

“Our donations are way down due to COVID, but we’re doing our best to save community cats in New Jersey,” a spokesperson for the group said earlier this week. “It’s been a hard year.”

The volunteers who power CPAW-NJ cover a large swath of Essex County, including Montclair, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Caldwell, Nutley, Verona and Cedar Grove. Their mission? To battle overpopulation among the local population of community cats using a process known as “trap-neuter-vaccinate-return.”

There are several reasons a feline might end up as a community cat – a cat that lives outdoors. But regardless if they’re feral, stray or abandoned, without help, these animals will continue to have litters of kittens and suffer a hard life, the group says.

TNVR advocates such as CPAW-NJ say that humanely capturing, spaying/neutering and returning community cats to their original locations can make a world of difference when it comes to reducing the size of local cat colonies.

As of March, CPAW-NJ had spayed or neutered a total of 1,315 cats since its launch – a number that has now grown to 1,500 amid the pandemic.

In doing so, the group has managed to keep a wave of kittens from entering the local animal shelter system, which has been fighting its own battles amid the pandemic.

There are other benefits to TNVR, too. According to CPAW-NJ, feral cats often give back to their communities by helping to control the rodent population.

While community cats aren’t used to human contact, it’s important to remember that they have a right to live, too. And it’s entirely possible to preserve the animal-human bond while also ensuring that cats can get “adequate care in their familiar places,” CPAW-NJ says.

“The majority of kittens born outside don’t survive cold weather, so getting them as soon as possible has never been more important,” the nonprofit urged.

CPAW-NJ has also been working with local food pantries to provide pet food for families in need during the pandemic. Since the group launched in 2017, its members have supported the Montclair Human Needs Food Pantry (HNFP) by donating both cat and dog food for its clients. In 2020, the HNFP welcomed almost 900 new families, many of whom had pets they needed to take care of.

CPAW-NJ has also worked with Brookdale Pet Center and Corrado’s to donate pet food to these food pantries, such as Park Place Methodist Church Food Pantry and Toni’s Kitchen, helping prevent pet surrenders.

Last month, through donations and Facebook fundraisers, its members were able to raise more than $3,000 to benefit the cause.

“Due to COVID, a lot of people are struggling to pay their bills,” CPAW-NJ Founder Karen Shinevar said.

“People aren’t able to feed themselves and their children, let alone their pets,” Shinevar continued. “For us, we know how important it is for people to keep their pets especially in these times of anxiety, so we are making sure these food pantries have pet food.”

Those who want to help that campaign can email prairie@cpawnj.org to drop off in-kind donations, or donate to purchase pet food here.

CPAW-NJ also recently launched a fundraising campaign dubbed the “12 Spays Of Christmas,” which can be seen here. Every spare dollar helps, the group said.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, donations are down almost 40 percent,” the nonprofit stated. “If we can't raise this money, we don't know how long we can continue at this pace.”

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WORKING FOR COMMUNITY CATS IN WEST ORANGE

Other trap-neuter-vaccinate-return advocates in Essex County have also been working to help reduce the population of community cats in the area – and to find homes for those who need them.

Over the past five years, West Orange TNVR has spayed or neutered more than 1,000 feral cats and adopted out more than 600 kittens. It isn’t cheap, the nonprofit says.

According to the West Orange TNVR Facebook page:

“We currently use People for Animals (PFA) in Hillside who provide low-cost veterinary care. On average, the out of pocket cost to care for one feral cat is about $75, including vet costs as well as food and clean-up supplies while they are being monitored by one of our members after surgery (they must be watched for 48 hours after surgery before they can be returned to their colony). Occasionally the vet will find some other illness or condition with the cat slated for TNVR and this increases the cost … Please note that PFA charges less for feral cats to help promote and make affordable TNVR programs … The out of pocket cost per kitten that we rescue and socialize, then adopt out is about $140 to help offset vet costs, (wellness check, deworming, vaccinations, and spay/neuter) food, cat litter, clean up supplies, toys, etc. for while they are in foster care.”

The coronavirus pandemic has also hit West Orange TNVR, which has suspended all adoption events until further notice.

Learn more about helping the nonprofit with a donation or volunteering here.

COUNTY MEETING ON FERAL CATS

Officials in Essex County have responded to advocates’ calls to action.

In October, Essex County Commissioner Tyshammie Cooper held a virtual meeting to address the issue feral cat overpopulation in the region, which was also attended by fellow commissioner Robert Mercado, Essex County Administrator Robert Jackson and members of the public.

Items discussed during the meeting were the specific practices of trapping cats, the process of neutering cats, and the resources that would be allocated going forward. Also touched on were new approaches that may be used for these procedures, including the training of prospective trappers on the best way to trap cats, and providing more funds to purchase traps and hold training sessions.

Cooper said that although the county is prioritizing the welfare of its human residents during the pandemic, the concerns of local animal welfare activists won’t be ignored.

“We wanted to communicate that we did not forget about this important issue, we recognize their concerns and are working to develop a plan that we can implement in this climate,” Cooper said.

“The issue of feral cat overcrowding is not exclusive to Essex County,” said Brendan Gill, county commissioner president.

“Over the past year, we have heard from passionate advocates about this issue,” Gill said. “I am happy that [commissioner] Cooper and the TNVR committee were able to meet and take feedback from the public on how we can be more efficient in addressing these concerns.”

This story is part of Patch's Headlining Hope series, which profiles local nonprofits and charitable organizations in need of volunteers and resources. If you know about a local organization that should be profiled, contact eric.kiefer@patch.com.

A volunteer with CPAW-NJ transports a community cat. (Photo: CPAW-NJ)
A volunteer with CPAW-NJ transports a community cat. (Photo: CPAW-NJ)

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This article originally appeared on the Montclair Patch

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