When Cornwall Borough passed an ordinance barring residents from feeding feral cats, borough resident Jennifer Wentzel thought there was a better way to go.
“I was not in favor of that ordinance,” Wentzel said. “I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the community.”
Now, with the blessing of borough council, Wentzel and Melisa Brightbill are launching a new program to trap, neuter and release feral cats in the area.
“It remains to be seen,” Wentzel said, “but I’m hoping that law will be repealed if this program is a success.”
Update 7:40am: Wentzel reached out to us after this article was published to clarify that she had misstated this when speaking to our reporter, and is not seeking the complete repeal of the ordinance. Rather, she is hoping that it can be eventually amended to formally allow for programs such as the one she and Brightbill are launching.
The borough passed an ordinance in April after a resident in the Anthracite region started feeding strays and lured more than 50 feral cats to the neighborhood.
Police Chief Bruce Harris said in August that the cats became a nuisance to neighbors. The ordinance allows officials to hit violators with fines from $100 to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to 30 days, although Harris said police are more likely to issue warnings on a first or second offense.
Previously, the borough had worked with a local nonprofit organization that offered to trap, neuter and release cats, but officials said the problem, although reduced, was not eradicated.
Now, Wentzel hopes to succeed with a similar Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) program.
“Council gave us permission in September to go forward with a Community Cats program,” she said. “We are currently in the formation stages, building a list of volunteers and canvassing communities to determine exactly where feral cat problems exist.”
Once the problem is mapped, she said, they’ll begin “high intensity sterilization” in the worst problem areas.
Borough manager Cody Rhoads said council has not dedicated any funds to the program but endorses their efforts to control the local cat population.
The feral cat problem dates to before Rhoads was hired in May, he said Tuesday, but Wentzel came to a meeting after the ordinance was enacted and asked for council’s permission to launch the program.
“She clearly did her research,” Rhoads said. “I don’t think she has a feral cat problem—I don’t think she even owns any cats—but she felt compelled to do something to help out with this issue.”
The borough will assist in spreading information about the program, he said; for instance, they’ve posted notices about it on Cornwall’s Facebook page.
Wentzel said the Community Cats program needs public support: financial donations to cover the program’s costs, and volunteers.
They’re working with local veterinary clinics to reduce the price of services, she said, but fixing, vaccinating, and ear-notching the cats will still cost $35 to $70 per animal.
16 people attended the group’s first meeting on Sept. 28, Wentzel noted.
“We have various roles that need to be filled, and we’re always looking for more volunteers,” she said, “but we have a good core group.”
A free forum on the TNR program will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Nov. 16, at St. Paul’s UCC, 1304 Heidelberg Ave.
Meanwhile, Wentzel said, residents can help with the community assessment by reporting feral cats when they see them—how many there are, where they’re sheltering, and if anyone is feeding them.
“As soon as our community assessment is done, I would love to see the program begin this winter,” Wentzel said.
The ASPCA, in a statement on community cat programs in general, noted that communities of feral and lost or abandoned pet cats nationwide number “in the tens of millions.” Sterilization of the cats “decreases nuisance behaviors and increases welfare,” the organization states.
“Feeding bans are difficult to enforce and are ineffective at decreasing cat populations,” the ASPCA notes. “For those cats who have become dependent on food provided by a caregiver, a feeding ban can be inhumane, as it often forces cats to subsist on insufficient resources.”
Rhoads said it’s not likely the ban on feeding feral cats will be repealed at this time.
“Council implemented that because you have to have a tool for enforcement, if people have a problem,” he said. “But I think people will have more leeway. … We’re kind of complaint-driven. We don’t have the police out there looking for people feeding feral cats. And I don’t believe we have had any complaints since the ordinance went into effect.
“Council just wants to alleviate the problem.”