A colony of feral cats at the Montauk Downs State Park is being disbanded by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. The cats, some of which have been there for up to eight years, are being taken to the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons for evaluation. Some are being placed elsewhere, and others might have to be euthanized, depending on their health.
Cared for by Elizabeth Willoughby since 2002, the cat colony has thrived on the site for more than 15 years, and all of them have been spayed or neutered. Ms. Willoughby said that in the time she has been caring for the cats, no kittens have been born and the colony has been reduced from 37 to about 20. Since state park officials began trapping the cats, Ms. Willoughby has been able to place 9 of them with new owners.
The others still consider the space behind the park’s Dumpster their home, however. When a visitor arrives, felines will coyly start rubbing up against their hay-lined shelters and congregating around the food dish. They are black, gray, orange, and calico. They look to be healthy, with good coats and seemingly hearty appetites. A chorus of purring begins when Ms. Willoughby sits among them.
Ron Foley, the Long Island regional director of the State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, said the state is removing the cats because of neighbors’ complaints. “They’re saying, ‘Your cats are fouling our yards,’ ” he said. Neighbors have also complained that the cats are killing songbirds.
Mr. Foley said the state’s policy on feral cats is to reduce the population to none. “Through no fault of anyone, that’s not happened in Montauk.” He said a former park employee who took some of the cats to his house became ill, and the cats were returned to the park by a neighbor.
A letter sent out from Mr. Foley’s office to cat rescuers in Montauk called abandoned cats on state parkland a continuing problem. “If these cats have not been relocated in 60 days from the date of this letter, they will either be brought to a humane shelter or humanely euthanized,” the letter said.
Mike Caggiano of Nuisance Wildlife Control in Ridge said he has so far trapped 16 cats at the park. He baits traps in the late afternoon and then waits, he said. He often has to remove a raccoon from a trap before he catches a cat, which is then taken to ARF in Wainscott.
There they are medically evaluated, Sara Davison, the group’s executive director, said. So far, two have had to be put down because of their age. “It was an opportunity to give them a humane send-off,” she said. The others are feral and will live only outside. “We’re looking for someone with a barn or a backyard, or someone who already feeds feral cats, to take them,” she said.
Ms. Willoughby is also trying to place the cats. She said they are good mousers and ratters. Operation Cat at ARF will supply some food to those who adopt. Anyone interested can e-mail her at email@example.com.
“Feral cats are a community concern, they are not a problem,” Ms. Willoughby said. “The problem is with the people who dump cats when they don’t want them anymore.”