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AUGUST 05 - AUGUST 13, 2014

Tonawanda Island Cats Find Friend
In ‘Law-Challenging’ Danielle Coogan

August 05, 2014

Sometimes, doing the right thing means breaking the law.

And Danielle Coogan, a North Tonawanda homemaker and mother of three, may end up learning the hard way, or be a crusader for changing the law.

It began when she went with some girlfriends to The Shores Waterfront Seafood House, a Tonawanda Island restaurant for her 30th birthday party, earlier this year.

There she became aware of a problem people on the island have known about for years: feral cats. Felines dumped by uncaring owners and left to fend for themselves on the largely uninhabited, 85-acre island on the Niagara River.

"They're throughout the whole island," Mike Charnock, the owner of the Shores, told WIVB. "They're multiplying horrendously; there's just too many cats [is] what it boils down to."

The presence of kittens meant to Coogan that cats were breeding and would increase in population until food and space resources were exhausted. At that point, kitten mortality, animal fighting and disease would level their population in a violent manner.

"I was just kind of astonished by the amount of cats and I just felt like something needed to be done and I'm here to do it," Coogan said.

Coogan, who has four rescued cats at home, set up an account with, a crowd funding website where people raise money for various causes. As of press time she raised $9,170, contributed by 231 people in seven days, for her plan, which is to trap, neuter, vaccinate, and return the cats to where they were caught (called "TNR"). Kittens will be put up for adoption.

With TNR, cats are trapped, sterilized, vaccinated against common feline diseases and rabies, left ear tipped, and returned where they were found. A left ear tip has become an international signal that the cat has been TNR'ed, is being cared for and should be left alone by animal control authorities.

What Coogan is doing is illegal in North Tonawanda, where Tonawanda Island is located, and illegal in every municipality in Erie and Niagara Counties, except Buffalo which passed a TNR approval ordinance last June 10.

The Buffalo ordinance provides an alternative to slaughtering abandoned pets that is the norm throughout much of the country. More than 10,000 dogs and cats are killed in America daily.

But in North Tonawanda, some of the most feline hostile laws in Western New York prevail. It's against the law to feed, give aid or comfort to a stray cat and that includes TNR.

The law has been on the books since 1999, when North Tonawanda passed restrictive cat laws in response to a hoarding situation.

As a result of Coogan's efforts, the SUNY Buffalo Law School Pro Bono Law Project, led by Vice Dean Kim Diana Connolly, who wrote Buffalo's new ordinance, contacted Coogan and hopes to work with her and city officials to change North Tonawanda's laws.

Meanwhile, Coogan wasn't daunted by the possibility of prosecution. She is protected to a degree by positive publicity her efforts garnered; a UPI story about her generated worldwide headlines.

Meantime, this apparently has sparked further discussion on TNR.

Just prior to press time Coogan told the Reporter that she received a call from Amy Lewis of the Niagara County SPCA. Lewis said she is meeting with NT officials and they will work on a plan to rewrite city ordinances to allow TNR.

A recent report by the International City/County Management Association, entitled "Managing Community Cats: A Guide for Municipal Leaders" recommends TNR as "best practice" in dealing with free roaming, un-owned cats. It is best practice in part because it's cheaper for taxpayers.

"Trapping, neutering, vaccinating and returning is a cost effective approach," said animal activist and attorney Peter Reese. "To catch and kill a cat runs upwards of $100 for municipalities, while trapping, neutering and returning an animal costs $60."

Coogan's experience on Tonawanda Island is reminiscent of what happened in Newburyport, Mass., in the mid 1990s when diners at seafood restaurants along the Merrimack River saw so many stray and hungry cats staring in windows that many couldn't bear to eat in front of them.

In 1992, Newburyport became the first municipality to conduct a successful TNR program and solve the cat problem. As well fed, healthy and non-breeding animals began to get older adoption of the old codgers was considered and rejected. They seemed happy on the street and the last of the original cats, named Zorro, died in 2009.

The Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society, which was responsible for this first program, is active and has assisted more than 100 communities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Because of their position in the spotlight, elected officials in North Tonawanda have an opportunity to advocate for change and become leaders in the no kill movement currently enjoying a nationwide groundswell of support.

The mayor of North Tonawanda, Robert Ortt, is running for the state senate seat held by retiring George Maziarz. We predict that rather than allow Coogan to use money she raised, NT officials will tell Lewis to get out there with her trailer and start the TNR program using city taxpayer money to get the job done. It would be a smart political move by Ortt who can then proclaim he got the cat problem solved, instead of being upstaged by Coogan.

Coogan set out to get the job done, without taxpayer money, because of a heartfelt desire to help cats. NT officials, who could have addressed this issue years ago, will set out to get the job done because of a heartfelt desire to help themselves win elections.

The Niagara County SPCA is setting out to take center stage. Who can blame them? After all the bad publicity they have gotten in the past years, they need some good press.

But at the end of the day, none but Coogan did a damn thing about it.

Coogan set the model. May other animal activists follow her lead.





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