One Unverified Claim Of An Aggressive Stray Prompted A New Jersey Town’s Plan To Trap And Kill Cats

The recent saga of a New Jersey town’s ill-advised plan to “destroy” feral cats highlights almost everything wrong with local government.

First, a notice went out from the northern New Jersey town of Matawan, informing residents that feral cats had become a “nuisance” and their presence posed a danger to “the welfare and safety of both the community and the cats.” The town, in cooperation with the police and SPCA, the notice said, would begin trapping stray, feral and free-roaming felines in November, and any cat not claimed after seven days would be “destroyed.”

The backlash was loud and immediate, and it took the Monmouth County SPCA by surprise.

After receiving angry complaints, the local SPCA posted a notice on Facebook blasting the “outlandish and outrageous campaign.” The SPCA’s leaders said they hadn’t been consulted and hadn’t approved of the policy, blaming the Matawan Animal Welfare Committee, a three-person group comprised of the town’s business administrator, Scott Carew, town councilwoman Melanie Wang and an animal control officer.

“We are completely outraged and disheartened that our organization has been attached to this archaic campaign to euthanize feral cats, when there are so many other successful, humane alternatives,” the Monmouth County SPCA wrote in its statement.

Carew backpedaled in the fallout, claiming the notice was a well-intentioned way of informing people who live in Matawan to keep their cats inside and stop feeding strays and ferals.

“By no means was the goal of the trapping efforts to destroy trapped cats,” Carew told “That said, since there was the chance that cats would be trapped and brought to the shelter, we wanted to alert cat owners whose cats are allowed to roam outside.”

But Carew also said he and the other were “obligated to address the complaint,” and said the town would have to enact “a resumption of trapping efforts” if it received more complaints about the cats. According to a statement by the Matawan police department, in a meeting between local leaders and people concerned about cats in one neighborhood, it was a single complaint about a possibly aggressive feral cat that prompted the plan.

That’s it. That’s all it took, in the eyes of local government officials, to justify a policy of trapping and killing sentient, human-habituated innocent animals, a group that includes free-roaming pets, former pets, strays and true ferals. A single, unverified complaint of a potentially “aggressive” cat, with no further detail about what the word aggressive means in that context, no information about what the cat supposedly did, or even confirmation that the cat was a feral and not a stray or a wandering pet.

When the dust cleared from all the finger-pointing, Carew said his committee should have informed the SPCA of its plans, and police brushed off responsibility by saying they “assumed” the notice was drafted with the cooperation and intent of the SPCA and other local animal welfare groups.

Cat trap
A cat caught during a trap, neuter, return program, which reduces feral/stray populations in the long term without the cruelty of culling. Credit: Pixabay

Local government leadership and incompetence has become a big problem. With the death of newspapers, particularly regional dailies that employed trained journalists, there are entire swaths of the country no longer served by local government watchdogs who have the time, skills and resources to monitor local officials and inform the public.

We’re fortunate that NJ Advanced Media, an online portal for content from more than a dozen New Jersey local newspapers, has found a way to exist as a viable business serving millions of readers throughout its home state. Without it, it’s doubtful the story would have surfaced anywhere.

Lots of people think local government is small potatoes, but the truth is that local officials are responsible for enormous budgets and wield considerable power. The decisions they make very likely have more impact on our lives than decisions made in the halls of congress, even if it’s the latter that gets people’s blood boiling.

In this case we have a meeting conducted in secret, without public notice, that would have determined the fate of an unknown number of animals. We have anonymous, nebulous complaints and allegations about “nuisances.” What constitutes a nuisance? How many cats are involved? Are the cats part of managed colonies and cared for by people who trap and neuter them? None of those questions were answered.

Additionally, instead of taking intermediary steps or using widely available resources — the “other successful, humane alternatives” the SPCA referenced, from the willing cooperation of local shelters to the free toolkit created by the authors of the incredible D.C. Cat Count — the local officials came up with their own ill-advised plan to trap and kill cats.

Outrage by animal lovers and the SPCA were enough to make sure a plan like this was quickly discarded this time around, but you have to wonder how many other places this kind of thing might be happening without so much as a blurb about it.

25 thoughts on “One Unverified Claim Of An Aggressive Stray Prompted A New Jersey Town’s Plan To Trap And Kill Cats”

  1. DISGUSTING!! If any feral cat is aggressive most likely in last stages of FIV or any horrible disease causing them pain. We trapped a very aggressive feral cat in my twenty years of tnr. He was positive fo FIV and never would of released him back. The kind thing was to euthanize him.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Same up here Gilda when our Feral Cat Rescue group was operating. We had 2 Vet’s who did all our TNR/check-ups on live trapped & if any feline was beyond help they were quietly Put To Sleep! That is the way things should be done!
    Man this world sucks Big Buddy & Buddy!
    😦 BellaSita Mum an **hangss head** BellaDharma

    Pee S.: Buddy can you emagin mee beein semi-feral an beein trapped an mee preeveuss ownerss wuud not have come fore mee…***gulpss***

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Our feral cats had tests done by ASPCA medical van when spayed or neutered.. If any cat had a disease that would have them suffer a horrible painful death they would not make them wake up from surgery. Cat that was trapped was vicious from pain. Pain so horrible he bit a cat in persons garden twice. This is another reason indoor cats should stay indoors.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. That’s the thing, how are they supposedly differentiating between ferals, strays and free roaming pets? Not that any cats should be killed, but if they had managed to trap and kill any cats as part of this program before outrage forced them to shut it down, that would have caused even more problems if they were pets.

      It’s bone-headed, especially since there are alternatives and resources.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. We pretty much knew by cats disposition if they were feral, semi- feral or strays. Strays were checked for microchips. But the places we went to were areas where owned cats were thrown out like trash. One of my cats was a throw away during a tnr project. She was not feral but very shy.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. That’s true, although I know Bud can seem like an aggressive cat when he’s really frightened. Cats taken out of their element can be hard to classify.

        Some communities are great about working with local rescues, shelters and groups like the SPCA and Humane Society, and some just ignore those resources or even oppose the work they’re doing.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Big Buddy it is virtually impossible to know what cat is what label…..
        To think if a indoor pet cat gets out & lost by mistake; its’ fate is death….wrong on every level morally!!
        It scares me to bits to think of it happening to BellaDharma or any cat for that matter.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Exactly. That was what I was trying to get across with my earlier comment, although it got muddled a little bit. But especially for cats like we have, who revert to a sort of “wild” temperament when they’re scared, they very easily could be mistaken for ferals.


      5. A lot of it has to do with wildlife biologists and birders who inexplicably blame cats for bird extinctions when humans and our structures/machines are responsible for the vast majority of those deaths, and we have killed off 75% of the world’s wildlife in the past 100 years.

        Of course cats do have an impact, but the “studies” claiming cats kill 20 billion+ birds in the US alone are completely bunk, examples of activism masquerading as science, and do not comport with genuine efforts to measure feline impact, like the D.C. Cat Count.


      6. It’s anti-cat contempt. … The more plausibly problematic negative attitudes toward cats are those openly expressed by news-media commentators, whose recklessly worded views can be influential. For example, there’s the otherwise progressive national commentator who proclaimed in one of her syndicated columns that “I never liked cats”.

        In another she wrote that Canadian politicians should replace their traditional unproductively rude heckling with caterwauling: “My vote is for meowing because I don’t like cats and I’d like to sabotage their brand as much as possible. So if our elected politicians are going to be disrespectful in our House of Commons, they might as well channel the animal that holds us all in contempt.”

        I search-engined the Internet but found nothing as to the reason(s) behind her publicized anti-feline sentiments. Still, if her motives were expressed, perhaps she’d simply say, ‘I just do not like cats’. As for my house cat, Mr. Simon, I believe he appreciates me as much as I express my appreciation (via enthusiasm) for him.

        Liked by 2 people

      7. I’m trying to think who that columnist is. Was it the New York Times writer who wanted to shoot an emaciated stray in her neighborhood instead of feeling sorry for the poor cat, and despite being a self-styled progressive who hates guns? That was one of the most bizarre columns I’ve read.

        As for enthusiasm, you’re right, they definitely pick up on that. When Buddy pads into a room and I say “Hi, Bud!” his tail shoots straight up and he walks over to me, all proud and happy. Doesn’t matter if I was just petting him five minutes earlier or if I was out for a few hours, he’s always happy when I greet him.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Along with individual people, society collectively can also be quite cruel towards cats, especially the ‘unwanted’, if not despised, felines. For example, it was reported a few years ago that Surrey (B.C.) had an estimated 36,000 feral cats, very many of which suffer severe malnourishment, debilitating injury and/or infection. And I was informed last autumn by Surrey Community Cat Foundation that, if anything, their “numbers would have increased, not decreased, in the last 5 years.”

      Yet the municipal government, as well as aware yet uncaring residents, did little or nothing to help with the local non-profit Trap/Neuter/Release program, regardless of its (and others’) documented success in reducing the needlessly great suffering. [That TNR program is the only charity to which I’ve ever donated, in no small part because of the plentiful human callousness towards the plight of those cats and the countless others elsewhere.]

      Additionally, 59 kittens and cats were rescued from a feces-filled Surrey home a few days ago. While the Peace Arch News, to their humane credit, rightfully deemed this worthy of frontpage space, Surrey’s Now-Leader newspaper didn’t give these afflicted animals any newsprint. Are these felines and their suffering worth so little? …

      Apparently, there is a subconscious yet tragic human-nature propensity to perceive the value of animal life (sometimes even human life in regularly war-torn or overpopulated famine-stricken global regions) in relation to the conditions enjoyed or suffered by that life. With the mindset of feline disposability, it might be: ‘Oh, there’s a lot more whence they came’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, the classic “it’s just a cat,” along with the misconception that they’re inscrutable creatures who mindlessly mate and eat.

        Local authorities failing to work with local rescues is a problem in the states too, and the same “scientists” who issue those bunk studies about felines killing 20 billion+ birds a year are also responsible for much of the pushback against TNR, claiming it doesn’t have an impact while also claiming, inexplicably, that randomly shooting cats or culling them with poison is an effective way to manage populations.

        That idea, that sentient animals with the intelligence of young children are “disposable” and their lives are worth less because of their numbers, defies all logic. There are 8 billion of us humans, so by the same logic we are disposable because there are “plenty” of us. It’s nonsense.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s actually been a major topic of discussion among physicists, astrophysicists, astrobiologists and space travel enthusiasts over the past several decades, and it’s been explored heavily in science fiction as well. (Mostly of the literary variety. Scifi movies aren’t exactly known for existential questions, with a few exceptions.)

        In 1964 a Soviet astronomer named Nikolai Kardashev came up with a scale for categorizing humanity and hypothesized alien civilizations. The Kardashev scale is based on maximum energy capacity: A civilization that can harness the total energy resources of its home planet is a Type I, a civilization capable of harnessing the power of its home star is a Type II, and a civilization that can harness the power of a galaxy is Type III. (There may or may not be Type IV civilizations that can harness things like dark energy.)

        We are a lofty 0.7 on the Kardeshev scale, according to calculations by Carl Sagan and Michio Kaku.

        So it’s entirely possible that we wouldn’t know we’re looking at a Type II or Type III even if we were staring right at it, and perhaps more frightening, we may be beneath the notice of such civilizations.

        So the danger is not an invasion, since there’s nothing we possess that a civilization of that power could possibly want. The danger is getting paved over.

        When people say “Yeah, but obviously we’re intelligent and important…” Kaku likes to point out that we don’t worry about demolishing ant hills when we pave highways or lay building foundations.

        There’s an additional aspect to this, in that some scientists think sub-Type I civilizations like ours may be a dime a dozen in the galaxy, and the majority wipe themselves out because, like us, they developed the ability to destroy themselves utterly before they matured past the point of slaughtering each other over things like land, ideology and dumb pride.

        Even if all this turns out to be science fiction, it’s something to think about at a time when a madman is threatening to nuke just about every country in Europe.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Simultaneously interesting, scary and depressing.

        On a somewhat similar note, I occasionally muse that what humankind may have to brutally endure in order to survive the very-long-term from ourselves is an even greater, non-humanoid nemesis than our own politics and perceptions of differences — especially those involving skin-color and creed — against which we could all unite, defend, attack and defeat, then greatly celebrate. Maybe a humanicidal, multi-tentacled extraterrestrial invader would suffice.

        During this much-needed human allegiance, we’d be forced to work closely side-by-side together and witness just how humanly similar we are to each other.

        (Although, I’ve been informed that one or more human parties might actually attempt to forge an allegiance with the ETs to better their own chances for survival, thus indicating that our wanting human condition may be even worse than I had originally thought.)

        Still, maybe some five or more decades later when all traces of the nightmarish ET invasion are gone, we will inevitably revert to those same politics to which we humans seem so collectively hopelessly prone — including those of scale: the intercontinental, international, national, provincial or state, regional, municipal, and so on.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Kind of like Sept. 11, 2001, when we united for like two months before going back to old divisions.

        The best alien invasion story I’ve ever read is a book called Salvation by the great SF novelist Peter F. Hamilton. It begins from the PoV of an alien civilization hiding between the stars because of a galactic threat, and noticing us when their sensors pick up the characteristic double flash of a nuclear explosion, a sure sign of an ascendant civilization. They decide to dispatch a message essentially telling us to stop advertising our existence before we attract the wrong kind of attention, then they get worried when they see more and more double flashes, and start to speculate on how violent and aggressive we might be. And that’s just the very brief opening chapter.

        It’s an alien invasion story in a literary style, by an accomplished novelist, using plausible science and well written characters. One of my favorite scenes has two kids in London sitting in a living room, getting high out of their minds while watching the opening phases of the invasion, knowing their lives and world are over.

        IMO one of the best things about SF is what it can tell us about ourselves as a species and individuals.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I simply agree with the sentiment of everyone here. It’s disgusting, frightening & incredibly sad. I was about to say what was everyone thinking but then I realized, no one who mattered at all was thinking!!! I’m horrified as I have known enough indoor cats who have gotten out of their apartments in buildings & are afraid & mirror the behavior of a frightened feral. There’d be no distinguishing between any & there’d just be a massive amount of loss. I could just sit here & cry about it but it wouldn’t help anything…😔😖😭

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve encountered hundreds of cats over the years, and can only remember two who were somewhat aggressive. This psycho animal my sister-in-law had, a huge orange bruiser who at all times was on auto-growl. Another cat was owned by a friend, who asked me to take care of the little darling when she took a family trip to Florida. This was a cat who’d seen me dozens of times. But with her mom hundreds of miles away, she took the opportunity to go all rabid she beast on me. By day three I was so afraid of her I practically threw her food to her so that I could make a quick getaway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That second cat sounds like Bud attacking his cat sitter who he knows very well, except of course Bud sounds like Elmo and thinks he’s four times his actual size. The orange tomcat had to be one of those neighborhood cats who ruled the block.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My mother has always maintained that, “Humans are the real ‘animals’; it’s the animals who are human[e].” For so long, domesticated animals have been abused and discarded like trash if they were not adored by some animal lover.

    Ironically, this cruelty occurs while the abusers are ignorant to the healthy reciprocal relationship — some animal lovers would even go as far as to describe it as somewhat symbiotic — existing between animals (many of us see them as family members) and their loving and appreciative human hosts, especially physically and/or mentally ill hosts.

    Whenever I observe anxiety in the facial expression of my aging mother, a typical senior, I can also witness how that stress suddenly drains and is replaced with joyful adoration upon her cat entering the room: “Hi, sweetheart,” she’ll say.

    I know that countless other seniors with pets also experience the emotional benefits of their animals’ presence. (Of course, the animals’ qualities, especially an un-humanly innocence, makes losing that pet someday such a heartbreaking experience.)

    Many of us can appreciate the reciprocally healthy — perhaps even somewhat symbiotic — relationships that can exist between pet cats and their loving and appreciative human hosts, especially physically and/or mentally ill hosts.

    Perhaps pet cats have a beneficial effect on the human psyche that most people still cannot fathom thus appreciate, a quality that makes losing that pet someday such a heartbreaking experience. [Cat purrs are great, but I like their trilling even more; and a combined purr and trill is delightful, too.]

    I read that people with autism spectrum disorder (like myself) typically prefer cat company, including their un-humanly innocence, over that of dogs. For me, felines’ silky soft coat and generally more mellow and less sensorily overwhelming are important factors.

    Yet, some cat-haters procure sick satisfaction from torturing naively-trusting thus likely sweet-natured cats whose owners have recklessly allowed them to wander the neighborhood at night.

    A few cat-haters simply do not care for cats’ seemingly innate resistance to heeling at their masters’ commands. Indeed, with their reptile-like vertical-slit pupils and Hollywood-cliché fanged hiss when confronted, in a world mostly hostile toward snakes, cats may have a permanent PR problem, despite their Internet adorable-pet dominance.

    Human neglect and/or abuse against cats occurs prolifically/daily/globally, for various reasons, though none morally justifiable. … At 54 years of age, I believe that along with human intelligence comes the proportionate reprehensible potential for evil behavior, malice for malice’s sake.

    “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
    [German philosopher Emmanuel Kant]

    Liked by 1 person

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