Michael Marra, 59, an ex-firefighter, and Bloomfield resident, fed and cared for a colony of around 90 feral cats living at the extensive Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford. He had done this continuously for ten years and then the police, last December, decided to charge him for illegally trespassing on sports complex land and feeding stray animals. Like a number of places in America, it is illegal to feed feral cats in East Rutherford, North Jersey. This sort of legislation severely disrupts the work of feral cat advocates who practice trap-neuter-return programs and it got Marra into trouble.
Marra had been hauled into court on two occasions because of his voluntary role as a feral cat caretaker. Fortunately, this story ends happily or I hope it does. This is because the operators of the extensive Meadowlands Sports Complex decided to take care of the feral cats themselves which then allowed the court to let Marra off provided he stays away from the complex. In short the job of caring for the feral cats has been handed over from Marra to the complex management.
One of the factors which appears to have swayed the operators of the complex to take on responsibility of caring for the feral cats is because on that land there used to be stables for the horses that ran on the racetrack, which is still there. Earlier operators had employed cats to control rodents and other vermin at the stables.
In other words, earlier operators brought onto the land feral cats and that must, I would have thought, place a responsibility upon subsequent operators to take care of the colony.
The worrying aspect of this neat agreement which saved Marra from being convicted of a crime is that despite the promises by the racetrack’s director of operations that the feral cats will be fed and looked after, the law preventing the feeding of stray cats is still in place and therefore, on the face of it, it would appear that they will be engaging in a criminal act. Perhaps the law allows somebody to care for stray cats on their land and the law only applies to feral cats on public property. I don’t know. What we know is that a deal was struck between the police, the racetrack operators, the court and the defendant, Michael Marra which led him off the hook.
The second concern I have is will they really care for these cats like Marra did? I have severe doubts about that. Commercial enterprises rarely have the will and the heart to do that sort of thing for a long time.
An interesting twist to the story is that in January 2015 the racetrack’s director of operations gave Marra written permission to feed the feral cats. That would seem to cancel out the trespass charge but in October 2015 the police informed Marra that he was still engaged in criminal activity because he was feeding the animals.
The next thing to do is to try and get rid of this uncomfortable and I think unnecessary law which prevents people from feeding feral cats. Bonnie Wilson a resident of Paramus and a volunteer for Friends of the County Animal Shelter is trying to gather together public opinion to overturn the law against feeding feral cats. She herself has also been involved in trap-neuter-return programs releasing the cats onto the racetrack. Wilson makes a good point that:
“Feral cats need to be allowed to be alive… There is no reason why they should be killed.”
I’m sure that there are other occasions in the USA where people feeding feral cats are under the same sort of pressure and potential danger from being charged by the police. I can recall a case years ago of a nice woman who was feeding feral cats in Beverley Hills and there was a lot of trouble around that but in the end the local residents got together and forced a change in the law. I hope the same thing happens in this instance.