NJ Senate bill S1034 and sister bill A4399 would establish a “special, nonlapsing fund to be known as the ‘Compassion for Community Cats Fund” that would be funded in part by “moneys as may be appropriated by the Legislature.”

Before discussing the provisions set forth in these bills, one has to wonder if this is the appropriate time to consider such legislation—at a time when so many people and businesses are suffering from the economic impact of COVID-19.

That said, the issue of population control of feral cats, notably considered invasive species, is important.  However the proposed bills do not adequately address the harm to wildlife from these populations, or the potential spread of diseases to other animals, including people.

Field research conducted using sound research design and data collection techniques yielded statistically significant evidenced-based estimates that cats kill at least one billion wild birds each year in the US (including homed outdoor cats, free-roaming abandoned cats, and feral cats).  Free-roaming abandoned and feral cats also contribute to Toxoplasma gondii contamination of watersheds and local ecosystems, threatening wildlife and human health.

The emerging science and policy decisions surrounding SARS-CoV-2 necessitates focused consideration on the impact of human disease outbreaks or other disruptions to care and services provided to free-roaming abandoned and feral cats in future emergent events.

Furthermore, euthanasia of feral cats experiencing serious medical conditions must continue to be available as a tool veterinarians can use to ensure that humane end of life provisions are available when indicated.

There are at least two additional concerns in the proposed bills.

First, they seem to dilute the decades long Animal Population Control Program that has provided low cost sterilization of owned dogs and cats whose owners meet the eligibility requirements set forth by law (providing proof of low income).  The program is funded in part by local licensing requirements, fees collected for the NJ animal welfare license plates and as appropriated by the legislature.  However, these funds have historically been insufficient to provide for all requested sterilizations.  The addition of feral cat procedures to this oversubscribed program, will result in unintended consequences to the owned pets who should be sterilized to reduce unintended breeding.

Second, the bill would permit the commissioner of health to “contract with a nonprofit organization that is exempt from federal taxation pursuant to Section 501(c)(3) of the federal ‘Internal Revenue Code,’ 26 U.S.C. s.501(c)(3), for the administration of the Animal Population Control Program established pursuant to section 2 of P.L. 1983, c.172 (C.4:19A-1).”

A nonprofit organization is not the appropriate entity to administer the Animal Population Control Program.  Unlike the Department of Health, who has stated that they are neither in favor of or opposed to community care of feral cats, nonprofit organizations often have expressed a bias for or against such populations.  Instead, the Domestic Animal Companion Board that provides oversight of the Department of Health’s animal health programs and funding, should provide oversight to this program, if it is expanded as proposed.