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Feeding ban hurts feral cat population control efforts, animal groups say

Trap-neuter-return, the method animal rescue groups say is the best way to reduce feral cat populations, has essentially been prohibited in Ocean View.

The town has banned feeding feral cats and will fine violators. That basically prohibits the practice of trap-neuter-return, which many animal rescues, including the Brandywine Valley SPCA, say is the best practice for reducing feral cat populations. 

The Ocean View Town Council voted unanimously to update the "animals” section of the town code in September.  

The new language defines “nuisance” dogs and cats and bans residents from sheltering and/or feeding them. The fine for violations of animal ordinances was raised from $25 to $100. 

The changes were enacted to address concerns and complaints from residents “regarding the continued nuisance and damaging behavior of feral cats on their private property,” said Town Manager Carol Houck.   

Cats have their ears "tipped" to indicate they have been trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and released.

The residents’ right to enjoy their property is being impacted and, in some cases, property is being damaged by feral cats, she said.

Residents participating in online Town Council meetings voiced opinions both for and against the ordinance. 

Brandywine Valley SPCA’s Walt Fenstermacher also addressed the council, pointing to trap-neuter-return as the best way to reduce feral cat populations. 

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“The increased fine for feeding and associated barriers to trap/neuter/return perpetuate misperceptions about managing the population of outdoor cats,” said Brandywine Valley SPCA spokeswoman Linda Torelli. “Our preference is to allow for controlled feeding so cats can be trapped, sterilized, vaccinated and safely returned.” 

Both the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Protection of animals endorse TNR, as well, which requires food to lure the cats into the traps.

The Brandywine Valley SPCA is Delaware’s contracted shelter partner and was one of the driving forces behind a law enacted in 2018 that supports feral or “community” cat caretakers. Though the law provides the group with some protections, it doesn’t prevent towns from banning them from feeding feral cats. 

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Another animal rescue that’s performed trap-neuter-return in Ocean View and surrounding areas for years said the ordinance “feels like a slap in the face.” 

“They never mention the word ‘kittens,’ because there aren’t any. We’ve been taking care of that,” said Nancy Ward, Cats Around Town society secretary. “But we get no thanks.” 

Cats Around Town Society is based in Ocean View. The all-volunteer nonprofit has performed trap-neuter-return on at least 650 cats since 2008, according to President Clare Mace. 

Ward said forbidding trap-neuter-return, during which the cats are vaccinated, will backfire. 

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“Not feeding them means they’re going to become even more visible because they’re going to be looking for food, going through your garbage, roaming further,” Ward said. “TNR reduces feral cat populations. Banning feeding them does not.” 

Ocean View is the second southern Delaware town to address feral cat issues by banning feeding. 

South Bethany prohibited it in 2017 and instituted a $100 fine. However, South Bethany’s ordinance includes language that specifically allows trap-neuter-return.