NEWS AND COMMENT: BETHPAGE STATE PARK, LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK STATE: For a very long time volunteers have been looking after the feral cats on Bethpage State Park. There is a long established colony and one of the current volunteers looking after them is John Stravato, 67, who said that he’s been caring for them since 2010 under the authorisation of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (“NY Parks Office”) They issued John with an official “Volunteer Service Agreement”.
Without notice, NY Parks Office erected signs in Bethpage State Park which state the following:
PLEASE DO NOT FEED FERAL CATS
FERAL CATS HARM PARK WILDLIFE AND THEIR HABITAT
ABANDONMENT OF ANIMALS IS ILLEGAL, PUNISHABLE BY IMPRISONMENT UP TO ONE YEAR AND/OR FIND UP TO $1000
AGRICULTURE AND MARKET LAW CHAPTER 26 SECTION 355
AGRICULTURE AND MARKET LAW CHAPTER 26 SECTION 355 states the following:
355. Abandonment of animals. A person being the owner or possessor, or having charge or custody of an animal, who abandons such animal, or leaves it to die in a street, road or public place, or who allows such animal, if it become disabled, to lie in a public street, road or public place more than three hours after he receives notice that it is left disabled, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for no more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or by both.
Comment: Mr Connelly could well be wrong because a lot of feral cats are born in the wild and therefore never abandoned by anybody. Therefore there cannot be a misdemeanour. So the sign that he erected in the park is not completely correct or accurate. This may provide volunteers with ammunition to defend themselves and fight the order if they wish to.
The sign is very clear and it is obvious that NY Parks Office have totally changed their policy regarding feral cats in the park and now want rid of them. They have instigated this change in policy without notice to the volunteers who have managed the feral cat colony under TNR principles for many years.
Stravato was told, when he enquired, that they are going to hire people from different organisations to do the trapping of the cats and that the cats weren’t going to be euthanized but when he pressed Kevin Connelly, the regional director of NY Parks Office, he didn’t provide a clear answer, Stravato said.
The New York Post report that Connelly has been involved in the removal of feral cats from Jones Beach State Park after the American Bird Conservancy filed a lawsuit claiming that the cats endangered Piping Plovers. Apparently Connelly said that he would do the same thing again on Long Island, which he is clearly doing.
Cat lovers have signed a petition (2,900 signatures at the date of this post) which has been organised by Jenny Luca of the non-profit TNR Task Force of Ronkonkoma. They do TNR on Long Island.
An animal rights lawyer, Karen Copeland, says that the behaviour of NY Parks Office violates a law which makes it a misdemeanour to abandon animal because in removing them from their current territory it is effectively abandonment. Comment: this appears to be based upon the premise that the cats are going to be relocated but if they’re going to be euthanized, which is a distinctly possible, this argument would not apply.
Alley Cat Allies said that relocating the cats would not be easy. Comment: once again this is based upon the argument that they are going to be relocated, which personally I doubt.
My further comment is that they will have to keep the cats entirely away from the park in the future which is going to mean a plan going forward. Feral cats have a habit of filling a void so once you remove feral cats from one area new cats fill the space. Is Mr Connelly going to make arrangements to keep the park entirely free of cats for the indefinite future?