Feral cat dilemma grabs city’s attention

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
Concern over how to resolve the issue of feral cats in the city continue, as a number of people approached the City Council last Tuesday during its regular meeting.
A recent press release from TOMcat Animal Rescue stated that residents at Bonnie Acres are worried that nothing is being done to solve the problem of feral cats. During last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Cynthia Mulhearn, the director of TOMcat Animal Rescue, expressed her concern to the council, asking the city to take some responsibility. During the meeting, Mulhearn distributed a petition signed by thousands of Connecticut residents who asked to stop the feeding ban at Bonnie Acres and to partner with a legitimate group to perform TNR (trap-neuter return).
Trap-Neuter-Return serves as a non-lethal strategy to reduce the numbers of community cats and to improve the health and safety of cats, according to the Humane Society’s guide for managing community cats. Under this strategy, community cats are spayed or neutered so they can no longer reproduce. They are vaccinated against rabies, marked to identify them as sterilized and then returned to their home territory.
“These are Bristol residents that need your help, so you can do something,” said Mulhearn, adding she sent a message that was ignored. “These are Bristol’s cats.”
But an attorney of the BHA said the authority “has and continues to actively achieve appropriate humane policies and procedures dealing with the feral cat issue at Bonnie Acres.” A subcommittee of the Board of Commissioners met recently met to discuss the issue extensively.
“BHA hopes to have a plan in place to deal with the feral cat issue as soon as possible,” said the authority’s attorney. “The Housing Authority has never evicted a Bonnie Acres tenant for the reason of feeding feral cats. The authority has never removed cat shelters… [and] has never intentionally taken any action to harm feral cats or any other animal unless that animal was deemed to be a danger to the elderly tenants at the housing complex.”
He further added the BHA’s current policies have been in place for a number of years, and the issue of feral cats came to the attention of the commissioners mid-November last year.
Although the mayor appoints commissioners to the BHA, the city is not involved in any decision-making involved with that agency. The city itself is not responsible for any actions made by the BHA.
In a press release earlier last week, Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne said he received emails and notifications through social media about an issue with feral cats on the Bonnie Acres property at the Bristol Housing Authority. He said a petition started alleging that Bristol was “starving freezing cats and kittens.”
Cockayne also said that the Bristol Housing Authority contacted an agency to offer TNR services at Bonnie Acres. Nine stray cats reportedly have been identified, and food has been laid out in one area to attract the cats so they can be caught, Cockayne stated in the release.
“Residents who were feeding the cats were instructed to stop feeding so that the cats go to the identified area to feed,” said Cockayne in the release, adding he has no direct control over the BHA, which is not a city agency. “This is an appropriate and humane course of action.”
“It is disappointing to me that so many on social media have reported mistruths and that so many more have believed what is posted as the truth,” said Cockayne in the release.
Bristol resident Jeff O’Donnell said he has been doing TNR for about 12 years. O’Donnell said a friend of his, Greg Hartman, made an offer to BHA recently to trap all the cats, get them fixed, and return all the ones who are feral, but that offer was not accepted.
O’Donnell further offered his TNR assistance free of charge for anyone in the community
“The release has to be done at the spot where the cats were living,” said O’Donnell, adding how he has spent his own money doing TNR. They can’t just be released anywhere…that’s the most humane thing to do.”
During the meeting, City Councilor Ellen Zoppo Sassu made a motion that the issue of community cats be referred to the code enforcement committee for discussion.
“We have run into some abandoned cats in some of our code enforcement activity,” said Zoppo.
Later in the week, the city announced a meeting would soon take place to create a strategy and resources list to be used by agencies, government and neighborhoods to “humanely reduce and control the feral cat population per Humane Society guidelines,” according to the event details on Facebook. Those involved in the issue were asked to bring any material or information around existing resources, groups, funding, possible grants, and best practices in order to help find a solution.