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Feisty Felines Served Eviction Notice From Hempstead

Town plans to move Newbridge Road Park cat colony starting May 1

Cats are known as reserved, independent, yet loving creatures. But when it comes to feral cats, special treatment is needed because they are difficult to control. The Town of Hempstead will attempt to handle a hairy situation concerning a group of felines in a town park. Are they up to the task?

Animal activists and cat rescuers berated the Hempstead Town Board on April 24 for its plan to move a feral cat colony from its location at Newbridge Road Park in Bellmore. The relocation process begins May 1, when the town would start to move feeding stations about a quarter-mile away from the current spot.

Jennifer Bohnak and Joyce Christie have cared for the cats for 12 years and feel a move would threaten the felines’ nine lives. The colony has grown to more than 30 cats.

The duo has been aiding the cats at their own expense, which Bohnak estimated costs $7,000 a year. With the deadline approaching, Bohnak is concerned because cats are very territorial and most likely will not move when prompted by the town.

“I am asking [the town] to stop the May 1 deadline in moving the colony,” Bohnak pleaded. “I was at the last town hall meeting two weeks ago to make the board aware and also recognize the movement of this colony is a bad move.”

Christie could not be reached for comment.

Alfred Pagano, a resident who frequents the park, says the odors emanating from the feeding area is bothersome and is worried of diseases the cats could carry.

“Who knows what they may have,” he said. “If one of those cats were to attack someone and get them sick, it’ll be bad.”

A 21-year Bellmore resident, who declined to give her name, stated, “this has gone on far too long.” She claimed she sees feral cats climb fences onto the park pool deck, daily.

“More than three years ago it was a problem,” the resident said. “These women were feeding these cats. There weren’t as many at the time. They were feeding them between the pool and the rink. They were moved to its current location.”

Feral cats are born on the streets. They struggle to survive and end up usually being too wild to be handled. They often form colonies or communities, feed on rodents and garbage, and breed without restraint.

“They’re all over the place,” the resident stated. “These four structures behind the fence do not contain them from the park. I run the park and walk the park every day.”

Bohnak stated she contacted Town of Hempstead Department of Parks representative Ray Roden, but it was to no avail. She exclaimed that while she may be one of the few speaking up, she isn’t alone.

“We have many alternative options that do not risk the lives of these animals,” Bohnak affirmed. “There has been no willingness on Mr. Roden’s part in coming up with solutions. Both Joyce and I strongly oppose this move. We have a lengthy petition of over 500 signatures of residents, constituents and concerned animal activists internationally for the safety of these animals.”

Hempstead officials released a statement concerning the cat colony. Town staffers said they have received numerous complaints from nearby residents.

“Hempstead Town Department of Parks officials have been working with local residents and caretakers to relocate a feral (wild) cat colony at Newbridge Park to create an environment that is conducive to the health and safety of cats and people alike,” the statement read. “The cats’ habitat is threatened by erosion from an adjoining river and the Nassau County Department of Health has expressed concerns about odors and the accumulation of animal waste at the park. As a result, the department of parks is planning to humanely transition the cats to a nearby area at the park. This move will ensure that the cats are not disturbed by the public and that people using the park and its pool will not be subjected to wild cats, animal waste and odors.”

After a warm winter, TNR (trap, neuter, release) experts feel the number of feral cat pregnancies and births will be on the rise this summer. Randi Diamond thinks manpower issues from the town and local, independent humane trappers will ensue once the warmer weather kicks into high gear.

It’s almost impossible to tame an adult feral cat, according to Diamond. These cats tend to mate and reproduce this time of year.

“I don’t think that the town’s TNR program will accomplish anything in the long run,” Diamond stated. “As a TNR person, it is extremely difficult to relocate feral cats. They won’t move without a fight.”

Diamond operates out of Hewlett and is listed on Petfinder.com under “Randi’s Rescues.” Diamond has an agreement with the town where Hempstead would send trucks to pick up cats that she traps and in turn, the town would neuter and release the cats to Diamond.

According to Diamond, the town has one full-time trapper on staff and the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter (TOHAS) routinely sends one or two staff members out to trap. Town officials stated it averages one to two animal control officers who do TNR, which includes a TNR administrator.

Officials noted that the town follows the Neighborhood Cats policy, which is an organization that oversees the program. The town also offers classes to certify residents for TNR and volunteering.

Approximately 2,000 cats have been treated in 2012, according to town officials. More than 1,600 cats were done in 2011.

A source close to the TNR program said the town is “not even close to 2,000 cats treated.” According to documents obtained by Three Village Times listing TNR cases for January and February 2012, 167 and 157 respectively, were trapped and neutered.

“We need experienced, humane, TNR trappers,” Diamond said. “I don’t think that [moving the cats] will accomplish anything and it will make things worse. The fact that so many people are supporting that these cats stay, speaks volumes.”

Diamond suggests the town still needs a full, comprehensive TNR program. She finds it unsettling.

“We are far from a full program,” she stated. “I have been working with the town as a volunteer, but every time I got to a location, there’s a slew of cats.”

The town reported last year that its veterinarian spays 120 cats per week. Sources say it’s more like 80 per week.

“I implore the town to create a full TNR program,” Diamond stated.

In a rare, blunt comment on TOHAS issues, Supervisor Kate Murray stated that a solution to the feral cat problem in the town and on Long Island would not come quickly.

“We run the largest shelter and have more services than I dare to say and more than any on Long Island,” Murray said. “We do what we can. We have an excellent TNR [program]. Is it going to absolutely solve the problem over night? Absolutely not.”

Lucille DeFina, who is involved in a lawsuit with the town concerning the animal shelter and its practices, figured contracting people to do TNR would get the job done.

“You’ve got tons of people like Randi and Jennifer doing this for free,” she stated.”