MAURICE RIVER TOWNSHIP — An animal-care group again is accusing Bayside State Prison of mistreating stray and wild cats on its grounds.

This time, the Animal Alliance of Cape May County said a recent do-not-feed-the-cats order issued to prison staff is leaving many of the cats in “starvation mode.”

Prison Administrator John Powell is ignoring advice on how to handle the cat-feeding, Alliance President Lew Vinci said. That includes establishing a designated area where the cats can be fed only cat food, not leftovers from the meals prepared for prison staff or inmates, he said.

But the suggestions run into another problem: The state Department of Corrections considers cat food to be contraband in prisons. The department contends the cat food containers could be used to smuggle items ranging from drugs to potential weapons to inmates.

Vinci acknowledges the problem but said it can be overcome by having the cat food go through formal prison screening procedures. The food could be limited to donated cat food that corrections officers bring into the prison, he said.

Vinci said he has contacted state legislators and corrections department staff about the problem. He filed a complaint Oct. 17 with the state Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, charging Powell with animal neglect, he said.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Deidre Fedkenheuer said she could not comment on the cat issue because of the pending complaint.

Stray and wild cats have been a problem at Bayside for several years. Bayside sits on more than 1,100 acres in the Leesburg section. The area is primarily wooded and rural, which animal care officials say provides the cats with something of a home.

Alliance officials said there is no accurate count of cats on the Bayside grounds, but they estimate more than 100 live there. The state paid more than $1,000 in March to have many cats of the cats sterilized.

Vinci said the cats generally are fed by inmates and prison staff, a practice that keeps cats from leaving the area and attracts other cats.

On Oct. 9, Powell issued a directive to prison staff that reads “staff are reminded that they are not to bring any food in to feed the cats, nor are staff to put out any type of containers for the cats.” Vinci provided The Press of Atlantic City with a copy of the directive.

A spay-and-neuter program has operated sporadically at the prison since 2005 to help control a growing stray and wild cat population, according to the alliance. The program resulted in the sterilization of more than 300 cats at a cost of at least $10,000, it said.

Vinci said he is not sure how successful the March spay-and-neuter was, primarily because the prison did not round up all the cats.

“If you don’t get every cat, by spring the prison will be back in the same boat,” he said. “It doesn’t take long for cats to reproduce.”

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