EAST BRUNSWICK – In 2018, at New Beginnings Animal Rescue in East Brunswick, Lindsay Margossian discovered a friend. While volunteering as a cat socializer, she met a 10-week-old kitten named Micah. The mutual connection they established led her to adopt him.
“He was special from the moment I met him. … He wasn’t bothered at all by my motorized wheelchair or the sounds of my medical equipment. … Micah chose me, and I chose Micah. Micah came from a local hoarding situation. He was rescued along with 39 other cats,” Margossian said.
This relationship created a new love for cats and an interest in confronting East Brunswick’s feral cat problem.
According to Margossian, thousands of feral cats reside in East Brunswick. Pinpointing the root cause is difficult, but she attributes the explosive population growth to several man-made factors.
“With a town the size of East Brunswick, there could potentially be anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 community cats. … I don’t believe there is any singular root cause for our overpopulation of community cats. This is a man-made problem and I believe that there are several factors at play,” Margossian said.
Margossian cites East Brunswick’s reliance on trap-and-kill as a contributing factor. She explained that it creates a vacancy cycle that inadvertently introduces more cats to the area.
Irresponsible and neglectful owners are also culprits, she said.
“When you employ trap-and-kill, that leads to what’s called the vacuum effect. When you trap and remove cats from a colony, the resources are still there … whether that’s a dumpster, rodents or a good Samaritan who is feeding cats. New cats will find those resources and move into that territory taking the place of the cats who were trapped and killed.
“We also have an issue with people dumping and abandoning their pet cats. This happens frequently at motels, apartment complexes, and even individual homes. … Then, owners let their unfixed cats outside to roam and these indoor/outdoor cats are adding to our community cat population. … Another contributing factor is a lack of awareness of the low-cost spay/neuter options that are out there,” Margossian said.
Unfortunately, in 2020, the problem grew worse.
As the pandemic peaked, lockdowns and restrictions were implemented. As a result, animal clinics and veterinarian offices were closed and unable to provide neutering surgeries. This resulted in what Margossian described as the “kitten season.” During this fertile period, it could be argued that cat colonies were the fastest growing demographic in East Brunswick.
Therefore, to address the cat population and the issues raised by fellow residents, she created the East Brunswick TNR (Trap, Neuter and Release) Facebook page.
“I created the Facebook group East Brunswick TNR in the summer of 2020. … I decided that I was going to make it my mission to help my town enact a TNR ordinance and implement a TNR program. I created East Brunswick TNR to connect residents and those within East Brunswick looking for assistance with TNR to those who could help. It has also become a way for me to update everyone on the progress we are making as far as changing policies,” Margossian said.
Although Margossian is a first-time cat owner, she began practicing TNR in her own backyard in 2012. Now, after years of experience, she’s hoping to introduce and pass a town-wide TNR ordinance to counteract township policies.
“The town’s policy has become to ignore the issue and to not respond to cat calls except in the case of a nuisance cat. That has left the community cat population to literally explode in numbers.
“Currently, based on our municipal code, TNR is illegal here,” Margossian said.
A direct comment about East Brunswick’s TNR practices could not be obtained from a township official. However, according to a FAQ page regarding pets and wildlife on eastbrunswick.org, the township does claim to support TNR when certain criteria is met.
The webpage states, “The Township of East Brunswick can provide referrals to local organizations that conduct TNR programs. … All colonies must be established in cooperation with East Brunswick Animal Control, health agencies, wildlife organizations, humane groups, and veterinarians.
“The operation of the colony must comply with all state and local laws, rules and ordinances and receive landowner permission. When deemed necessary and appropriate by East Brunswick Animal Control, the Township of East Brunswick supports the efforts of these organizations. The East Brunswick Animal Control officer maintains a working relationship with several of these organizations and provides consultation, instruction and advice when needed.”
Despite this, Margossian said the municipal code still presents “obstacles to practicing TNR.” Essentially, anyone who harbors an animal over a certain age is considered the owner and is required to license that animal.
The code serves as a deterrent to anyone attempting to harbor animals unvaccinated and unlicensed animals. The webpage states that “Under both township ordinance and New Jersey state law, all dogs, 7 months old or older, must be licensed. In order to obtain a license, an animal must have a current vaccination against Rabies. In East Brunswick, cats, including outdoor cats that you provide any care for, must also be vaccinated against rabies and licensed.”
Margossian says the code is counterintuitive as it doesn’t prevent people from feeding feral cats.
She believes TNR will alleviate the decades-long cat problem in East Brunswick by removing the “illogical” barriers that prohibit TNR entirely.
“Essentially this is stating that if you feed a cat, you own it, and therefore need to license it. … There needs to be an exemption made for community cats for the licensing issue.
“A TNR ordinance would remove these barriers to TNR. It would also create a process or system with structure and guidelines uniting all the independent trappers. … It would provide a nuisance abatement process as well for those cats who have become nuisances.
“It would also provide a process for those to follow when they see a feral cat or a colony and don’t know who to turn to for help. Ultimately, my goal is for East Brunswick to implement a TNR program, but we can’t do that until we update our ordinances to make TNR legal,” Margossian said.
For Margossian, the issue isn’t exclusive for cat lovers. If anything, it’s a community-wide problem that has the potential to affect everyone in East Brunswick.
“This absolutely is a community issue that everyone from all walks of life should care about. This is not an issue for just cat lovers or animal lovers. Residents do not want cats peeing in their gardens or tearing up their trash. They are tired of seeing litter after litter, season after season, year after year being born in their yards,” Margossian said.
Contact Tyler Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.