S1034 “Compassion For Community Cats” Bill Passes Initial Hurdle

Today, the New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee unanimously voted yes to the S1034 Compassion for Community Cats bill. The bill must proceed through several steps before reaching Governor Phil Murphy’s desk. 

People For Animals’ Executive Director Jane Guillaume, along with Brian Hackett (HSUS-NJ State Director) and CPAW NJ Board Member Michelle Brodbeck provided testimony regarding the bill. Below is Michelle’s testimony.

Michelle Brodbeck, CPAW NJ Board Member, testifies in front of the New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee Monday, October 19.

Dear Chairman Smith, Vice Chair Greenstein and Members of the Committee, We applaud the sponsors for introducing the “Compassion for Community Cats Law”. We believe that this simple, revenue neutral bill would be a game changer for the State of New Jersey in promoting humane animal welfare practices.

CPAW NJ started operating in 2017 specifically to promote awareness of how to help community cats through trap, neuter, vaccinate and return; our tagline is Compassion with a Purrpose. As a nonprofit TNVR group, we know from first hand experience why this bill is both common sense and life changing for cats (and the humans who care for them).

Why This Bill Is Good Public Policy

In 2019, 7,255 cats were euthanized in NJ shelters accounting for more than 80% of all animals euthanized, making them the most at risk population. The traditional “catch and kill” method that has been used for so long is costly, inhumane, and has not reduced the outdoor cat population.

Municipalities and individuals need a source of funding to encourage TNVR, and there exist current revenue streams that can be accessed without ANY new monies being collected — it’s revenue neutral. By making one simple change to the current law requiring stray unsocialized cats to be “impounded” (often leading to their death and more costs to the municipality) and instead promoting TNVR, cats’ lives are saved, the outdoor population naturally decreases over time, shelter intake is reduced, costs go down, and more room is available to help owned animals during these difficult times.

This law specifically addresses the underlying problems behind outdoor cat overpopulation: a lack of public education about outdoor cats and how to help reduce their numbers, laws which actually promote the inhumane treatment of outdoor cats, insufficient low cost spay/neuter services and significant barriers to accessing them.

We are in unprecedented times and the future looks bleak to have the pandemic controlled. As a result, more owned animals are being abandoned, less funds exist for any regular vet care or surrender prevention — so outdoor animal population increases with fewer resources to stem its exponential growth. This bill takes a huge first step in acknowledging the value of TNVR at the state level and supporting its increased use by municipalities and local groups. Individuals all over the state want to help cats, but few resources are available and/or local laws are unfriendly. In 2019, an older colony caregiver was walking in Passaic to care for a colony early in the morning so as not to attract attention and she was struck and killed. While this is only one story, it represents countless other people and animals that have suffered. Responsible care and feeding of outdoor cats, including getting them fixed and vaccinated, should be encouraged.

We have always tried to take a collaborative approach to work with municipalities. We want to commend the Township of Bloomfield, NJ. The Township of Bloomfield refers its TNR calls to us and reimburses us for our out-of-pocket medical costs for Bloomfield cats. The other towns they serve through animal control contracts are referred to us as well, but no funds are available to support our efforts.

Further, Bloomfield has not been able to participate directly in the TNVR process because of state impound rules — under current law any cat picked up by ACOs is required to serve a seven day stray hold. It is stressful for a feral cat to be caged in a shelter for seven days with no hope of adoption and potential death. We are glad that Bloomfield refers to us and we are able to help those cats; few cats throughout the state of NJ are that lucky.

Essex County Commissioners also support TNVR and have allocated a limited amount of funds, but funds alone are not enough. We need public support from local municipalities, more low cost vet care, and the public to learn and participate in the TNVR process. Attached for your information is CPAW NJ’s Community Cat Action Plan describing the steps required for successful TNVR.

Benefits of the Compassion for Community Cats Law

If nonprofit organizations had more financial and public support, they would be more willing to start TNVR programs. Most nonprofits currently focus on adoption which is merely a bandaid for the bleeding wound that is cat overpopulation. TNVR programs effectively address the problem at its source and prevent cats from being born. However, fighting city hall and trying to raise money during the COVID-19 pandemic with fewer low cost spay/neuter options available has made it very difficult to spread the word and help more cats. With many shelters still closed to the public, the community has become the shelter. The time is ripe for this bill to address cat overpopulation at its source by helping the people who care for them.

*Moreover, removing the requirement to impound healthy stray cats will drastically reduce costs to taxpayers. Less animals being impounded, housed and fed for seven days to only be euthanized. All of those steps cost money, take time and have a large emotional burden on animal control and shelter workers. In my years working in shelters around the country, the impact on these individuals is tragically
forgotten. Imagine for a moment you had to euthanize healthy animals day after day with no plan to address the issue. Shelters want to participate in a more humane solution. TNVR is not only a humane and practical strategy, it is more efficient and fosters more community
participation. People are more likely to devote their time and resources to a positive outcome; when the community can get behind a positive solution the problem is solved quicker.

On behalf of CPAW NJ, I appreciate the time to appear before you today and support the passage of The Compassion for Community Cats Law. We are available for any future questions to help you in understanding why this bill would be so effective and should be passed. Thank you so very much.