Cape May County presents enough of a feral cat problem that three people representing three different agencies decided to work together to keep the population under control.

For at least the last couple of years, Linda Gentille, manager of Shore Animal Control, Judy Davies-Dunhour, manager of the Cape May County Animal Shelter, Charlotte Anderson, a board member from the Animal Alliance of Cape May County, and others from their groups have joined forces to keep cats from being killed.

The best way to avoid having to euthanize unwanted cats is to keep them from being born in the first place. All three agencies advocate for programs that trap, spay or neuter and release the animals.

The idea is to keep capture, vaccinate, catalog and keep the feral cats from reproducing to avoid eventually having to kill them because they have become a nuisance but can’t be adopted.

“Feral” is the term for a domestic animal that lives in a wild state.

Trap-neuter-release programs work, said Steven Dash, director of the Humane Society of Atlantic County since 1991.

There used to be as many as 400 cats under the Atlantic City Boardwalk, but over the past 16 years, that population has been cut by more than half through TNR, Dash said.

“Don’t feed outdoor cats unless you make sure all the cats have been spayed and neutered,” said Dash, who added spaying or neutering a cat can cost between $30 to $100 per cat. “Cats belong indoors if they are not wild or feral cats.”

There are managed colonies in Cape May County where feral cats are given food, water and shelter, but only after they have been spayed or neutered, Gentille said.

At least 40 people in Cape May County either take care of feral cats on their own property, like Gentille, who has eight cats on 2½ acres, or look after a group of cats who have created their own colony somewhere.

Gentille is in charge of animal control in a majority of the county’s municipalities. Feral cats are a problem in Dennis and Middle townships, which she does not handle, and in the Wildwoods, Woodbine and Lower Township, which she does.

Gentille founded Friends of the Felines, which started two years ago. One of the group’s goals was to create a spay and neuter clinic. Once that was accomplished, it became the Animal Alliance of Cape May County, which runs the clinic at the Cape May County Animal Shelter.

Just because a cat is an outdoor cat doesn’t mean it’s doomed to a meager existence. The Cape May County Animal Shelter had 223 cats under its care as of Nov. 1. Half of them are socialized pets and the other half are “barn buddies,” as Davies-Dunhour calls them.

They can live outdoors at horse farms, barns, in warehouses or at marinas, and the animal shelter will give the cat away for free if someone is going to use it for one of those purposes, Davies-Dunhour said.

Cape May County took inspiration from Atlantic County for its TNR program. The TNR program in the resort is known as the Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats Project. It is run by Alley Cat Allies, which is based in Maryland.

The organization started in 1990, but the Boardwalk Cats Project began 10 years later in 2000.

The Atlantic City project showed the charity the importance of having a grass-roots organization, because dozens of volunteers take care of the cats daily. No new kittens have been born in years.

“The point of TNR is to stabilize the cat population. Cats have had a long afterward (after spay or neutering). You can do this humanely,” said Molly Armus, a member of the program department of Alley Cat Allies.

“It’s good public policy. ... It’s something we advocate all over the world.”

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Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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