The vote on July 20 to pass Ordinance 2016-11 in Seaside Heights was regrettable. After our twenty-six years of experience working with communities across the country, we have reached the unambiguous conclusion that in this case, Mayor Tony Vaz served the people and cats of Seaside Heights poorly. By plowing ahead with his ordinance, he has prioritized expediency over quality.

Few and far between are the number of city officials who have simultaneously asked for our help while refusing to even sit down and meet with us to hear our suggestions and thoughts on possible improvements to an ordinance. Instead, Administrator Christopher Vaz opted to repeatedly mischaracterize our views rather than hear them. Further, to serve his own ends of ridding the boardwalk area of its cats, Administrator Vaz opted to mischaracterize concern about this issue as coming exclusively from outside of the community of Seaside Heights. This is a slap in the face to the many cat caregivers in the community, and those who enjoy having the cats in their neighborhood.

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A community cat in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

In addition to the dozens of Seaside Heights residents who were brave enough to sign their names to letters sent to Seaside Heights officials, there were undoubtedly more who were alarmed by the consequences of this ordinance for cats, and by the heavy-handed approach Administrator Vaz took to push it through.

We are pleased that in the period between the first reading of the ordinance on July 6 and the decision on July 20, Administrator Vaz and Mayor Vaz committed to grandfathering all existing cat colonies, with the exception of those who live under the boardwalk. Administrator Vaz first made this promise in a July 18 letter to us, stating, “[t]he existing colonies will be grandfathered under the new ordinance – even colonies located in areas that will be off limits under the introduced ordinance. These pre-existing colonies will not be relocated and caregivers of these colonies will not have to obtain their neighbor’s approval when they register their colonies.”

In addition, we are pleased with his commitment to us that “although there is a ten cat limit in each new colony, the Animal Control Officer has the discretion to approve a higher number of cats depending on the circumstances at the property.” It is our hope that protecting the lives of cats will be a priority and will factor heavily into the discussion of the animal control officer when making these decisions. We are again pleased that the mayor and administrator have pledged that all cats in existing colonies will be safe. At their own expense, cat caregivers of Seaside Heights have spayed, neutered, and vaccinated the vast majority of cats living in these colonies.

Further, with regard to the boardwalk cats, we asked the borough to explore with the Army Corp of Engineers possible accommodations in the design of the dune project that could be made so that the boardwalk cats need not be relocated. Administrator Vaz has been steadfast in his refusal to consider this suggestion. The relocation of sixty cats is something that our organization does not take lightly. Dune projects such as this have regularly been completed without the removal of cat colonies. It is our hope that with a bit of time and reflection he, Mayor Vaz, and the council might rethink their position on this issue. After all, a phone call to the Army Corp of Engineers will only take a few minutes out of their day and may well result in a solution that would please the dozens of Seaside Heights residents who have written to us, and the several thousand people who live in easy visiting distance of Seaside Heights and who have also raised concerns.

Two years ago, the previous mayor of Seaside Heights received an award from Alley Cat Allies for his efforts to get a TNR program up and running. Unable to attend the event, current Mayor Vaz accepted the award on his behalf. We would be delighted if Mayor Vaz, even at this late date, were to consider amending the ordinance so that it can build on the best pieces of the town’s legacy in a way that delivers vastly improved results for the people and cats of Seaside Heights. We are far from alone in believing this is a desirable outcome.