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Animal advocates address Freeport’s cat colonies

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Three young cats were abandoned Jan. 5 outside of Freeport-based cat shelter, All About Cats, ACC, on E. Sunrise Highway. Surveillance video captured two unidentified people dumping the cats on AAC’s porch without food, drinks or a carrier.

Since they were abandoned the three, cats two females and one male; Amanda, a buff tiger and Aiden, a tabby were adopted by one unidentified family and Ashley, a grey tabby was adopted by another family. Unfortunately, not all cats get happy endings and some can spend months or a couple of years in no-kill shelters like AAC. Often times abandoned cats become strays that roam neighborhoods and may join feral cat colonies.

According to AAC volunteers, a feral cat and a stray cat are different from each other based on the way the animal interacts with people. A stray cat is a cat that has been socialized with people at some point but has been left or lost from its home. A feral cat is a cat that has never had human contact. A feral cat is also fearful of people and survives on its own outdoors.

Throughout Freeport, there are a number of cat colonies made up of feral and stray cats. These cats will find refuge where they can— deserted buildings, cars or anywhere they can get shelter. The amount of roaming cats within the village is alarming to many Freeporters and many have shared their frustrations and sympathies on social media.

Freeporter Patricia Phelan said she’s had issues with the feral cats that visit her yard, adding that they don’t relieve themselves where they eat thus ending up on her property.

“They come to our property and their business in the gardens, in the sand pile where our grandchildren dig,” Phelan said in an email. “The mess is sometimes stepped in.”

People improperly abandoning cats are one of the biggest reasons the cat populations on Long Island has grown, according to Terri Kaufman, a volunteer at ACC.

Kaufman said people give up their cats once they find out they’re allergic, moving or can’t afford to care for it.

“There is never a real reason to abandon an animal,” said John Debacker, 25, ACC volunteer and cat trapper from Seaford.

“We would live out of our cars before we’d abandon our cats,” Kaufman said.

Families who can no longer keep their cats should follow a proper procedure to give up the animal. ACC volunteers suggest making efforts to find the animal a home through friends, neighbors or other family members. Other efforts include contacting local shelters that have intake processes to surrender the cat.

ACC takes in approximately 700 cats a year that are either dumped at the shelter or kittens that are found on the street.

“There are so many cats that are out there because they aren’t fixed,” Kaufman said.

Though Kaufman referred to the Town of Hempstead’s Trap-Neuter-Return, TNR, program as a band-aid because ideally cats, she said, should have families to call home, but to the cat populations on the streets, she said it is an effective way to manage community cat colonies.

TNR allows cat trappers like Debacker and Baldwinite Heather Mancuso to humanely trap community cats, get them spayed or neutered, vaccinated against rabies, and then returned to their colony to live out their lives. TNR, Debacker said does help to decrease the number of cats having kittens in the spring and summer seasons.

A Town of Hempstead spokesperson said TNR program was launched in late 2010 and has sterilized approximately 18,000 cats. In 2018 approximately 400 cats were spayed and neutered.

In a busy week, Debacker said he could trap up to 20 cats. He then takes the cats to the town shelter to get the cats spayed and neutered and after they’ve recovered from the surgery rereleased into the community he initially trapped it in.

The town does allow residents to visit the Hempstead Animal Shelter to rent a trap for $80 refundable fee. The Shelter in-turn covers all of the cat’s vaccination and surgery, as well as keeps the cat for a few days to recover. The cat is later released to the community it was trapped in.

Debacker said cats that have been serviced by the TNR program will have their left ear tipped. However, Mancuso shared despite the tipped ear, it doesn’t necessarily mean the cat has to be kept outside and maybe a lost cat needs attention or new home. However, Debacker said knowing the difference between feral and stray cats is important to know for safety reasons.

Mancuso said another way to help cat owners is to keep them educated on proper care, low-cost clinics and the benefits of spay and neutering. On March 7 at the Baldwin Public Library, she will present a TNR forum with Barbara Palm from People and Animals Team-up Successfully, PATS, and together they will educate the community on the inner workings of TNR.

The village of Freeport attorney, Howard Colton, also known as an animal advocate said when it comes to strays and ferals the village follows the Town of Hempstead protocols and supports the TNR programs.