Most beach towns don’t want anyone to feed the seagulls, since the birds will harass humans for more food. Now, in South Bethany, people may no longer feed stray and feral cats.
Residents originally complained that some properties appeared to be a haven for feral felines. That means more cats running around town, potentially carrying germs, carrying dead birds, tracking across back yards and sometimes taking up residence inside houses that were otherwise closed up for winter.
After months of debate among those who love, hate or are completely indifferent toward cats, the South Bethany Town Council has now passed rules to prohibit the feeding of wild mammals and stray cats; ban the importation of feral or stray cats into town; and promote local trap-, neuter-and-return (TNR) programs.
“Feeding wild mammals, feral cats or stray cats anywhere in the Town of South Bethany is prohibited … even when the provider claims they did not intend the food to be consumed … [when a] reasonable person would have known that the food could be consumed at least in part by wild mammals, feral cats or stray cats,” the ordinance states.
Stray and feral cats intended to be adopted out may not be imported into town, unless the strays are kept indoors. People may not maintain property “that is offensive, annoying or dangerous to the public health … because of the number, type, variety, density or location of the animals on the property.”
Penalties are $100 for the first offense, which increases by $100 for each subsequent offense, not to exceed $500, plus court costs.
“We have a feral cat ordinance,” Mayor Pat Voveris finally said on May 12, after the unanimous vote on Ordinance 187-17.
Councilman Wayne Schrader led the drafting of the ordinance. The town council carefully picked around earlier drafts that suggested a process for the Town to remove cats. They abandoned that idea early on, partly due to the expense of humanely relocating cats and the public outcry.
Instead, the public is being encouraged to call local nonprofit cat trapping programs.
Nancy Lord reminded the crowd that trap-neuter-vaccinate-return programs are “scientifically proven to be more effective than removing cats from an area or euthanizing them. It’s called a ‘vacuum effect,’” she said of what happens when cats are simply removed and not returned. “Other cats will move into the area and take up that same space.”
Coastal Cats and the Cats Around Town Society (CATS) have a mission reduce the overall population of feral cats in southeast Sussex County. Kittens taken in during their work are often adopted out, and feral adult cats are neutered to prevent more reproduction.