With temperatures plunging to sub-zero in the village of Ossining, Westchester County, NY, the new local authority management lead by Debbie McDonell decided to remove winter shelters for feral cats, without consultation.
They had been provided with permission by a prior administration as part of a TNR program. Then suddenly, unannounced they were taken away. The shelters were removed pursuant to a new village code which put the lives of the cats in danger. All the cats are spayed, neutered and vaccinated and cared for properly. They were doing no harm and apparently no one objected.
This left eleven or twelve community cats out in the cold and uproar amongst feral cat advocates. A protest developed managed by the Cat Protection Council of Westchester who gathered support from their Facebook webpage. Supporters wrote to Mayor Gearity and a protest march took place last Sunday (see video below). Mayor Gearity said that the Village management had been meeting with the ‘community volunteers and the SPCA’ but Paula Garber, president of the Cat Protection Council of Westchester, says this is untrue and she has evidence to prove it. Paula says that the Village manager will only discuss the TNR program with the SPCA who are not involved in the TNR program. Therefore the Cat Protection Council of Westchester representing the volunteers is cut out of discussions.
In response to the media campaign online, Debbie McDonnell, Ossining Village manager ordered the 10 cat shelters to be removed from another colony on a municipal property for which permission had been granted by the prior Village administration (in addition to 2 shelters removed from another site as I understand it). Despite the fact that it was a holiday for Animal Control they were called to remove the shelters on Friday 10th. Paula says that the temperatures were in the 20s and the coldest night of the season.
The feral cat colony caregiver was told to collect the ten shelters from the police station and not to return them to the site. A threat was made: if the shelters were returned they would be collected and thrown away. No laws had been broken by the colony caregivers. The cats of the colony are now exposed to the elements and will suffer.
“Whether you like cats or not, this is the most inhumane way of treating innocent cats who are not harming anyone.” (Paula Garber, president of the Cat Protection Council of Westchester)
The question asked by the Cat Protection Council of Westchester is does this cruel decision reflect the feelings and intentions of the residents of Ossining because if it does not it is out of order. Their role is to serve the community and reflect the thoughts of the residents.
Feral cat advocates are very supportive of the plea for help. For instance, to take one comment from the FB webpage from Barbara Mangoine:
“Sent an impassioned email to them. Asked them to respectfully return the shelters so these cats don’t die a horrible death due to the arctic air moving in. I advised them that as a former clinic manager at the Simpson Clinic, the volunteers who feed the cats and trappers who get them to the clinic are working very hard on their own time (and sometimes their own money) to stem the feral cat population in Ossining. Hope it helps. Please keep us posted”
The volunteers are making their own makeshift shelters as a desperate measure to try and keep these cats well in severe weather.
Here is a short smartphone video of the protest:
Paula sensibly wants a dialogue with the Village management to resolve the matter and the shelters returned. There must be a mutually satisfactory method of proceeding. It seems that the new management have outdated ideas concerning community cats. TNR is becoming a mainstream method of managing community cat colonies across America and winter shelters are part of the process. If the Village management agree TNR (as they do) they are obliged to agree shelters for the cats in very low temperatures during winter.
P.S. – Legal Stuff – A couple of visitors have suggested that the council may be committing a crime, a misdemeanour, in removing the shelters. There is a faint possibility that this may be the case but a challenge would be unlikely to succeed, I feel. I am aware that the council have changed their rules but the new rules may be incompatible with allowing good TNR. Therefore the new code (rules) may be defective.
The possible relevant NY state law is: McKinney’s Agriculture and Markets Law § 331 – 379; McKinney’s Penal Law § 130.20. The relevant section I believe is: § 353. Overdriving, torturing and injuring animals; failure to provide proper sustenance:
….any animal, whether wild or tame…neglects or refuses to furnish it such sustenance or drink….
The word “sustenance”, I believe, could at a stretch include life supporting facilities such as shelters as well as food and drink. Also, as mentioned, the council approve TNR and therefore they should approve shelters in extremely bitter conditions as part of the community cat colony management.