Animal advocates hissing mad over plan to remove feral cats from NY park

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Cat lovers on Long Island have their backs up over a government plan to eliminate a long-established colony of feral felines from Bethpage State Park.

A sign posted last week near the park’s picnic area warned that officials “are in the process of removing” the dozen-plus kitties, which have been trapped, neutered and returned by a group of do-gooders.

“The feeding and/or the maintaining of feral animals is not permitted within NY State Parks,” the sign said.

That assertion came as a shock to John Stravato, 67, who said he’s been caring for the cats since 2010, after being recruited by a parks worker to replace an older woman who had to give up the practice.

Stravato even has an official “Volunteer Service Agreement” — issued by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in 2015 — that gives him “continuous” authority to monitor the colony and ensure its “health and welfare.”

Stravato, a widower from Bethpage who has eight pet cats, said he called the office’s assistant regional director, Kevin Connelly, whose name and phone number were listed on the sign.

“He said they’re going to hire some people from different organizations to help do the trapping,” Stravato said.

“He said their goal is not to euthanize them. When I tried to press him about where they would go he didn’t really have a clear answer.”

Connelly also he’d been involved in the removal of feral cats from Jones Beach State Park — following the 2018 settlement of a suit filed by the American Bird Conservancy to protect flocks of endangered Piping Plovers — and was “going to do it all over Long Island,” Stravato said.

Meanwhile, word of the plan has spread among animal lovers, with more than 2,900 signing an online petition organized by Jenny Luca of the non-profit TNR Task Force of Ronkonkoma, which traps, neuters and returns feral cats on Long Island.

“Feral cat caretakers are tired of the constant battle we have to fight all too often for innocent animals,” the petition says.

Animal-rights lawyer Karen Copeland of Manhattan said the state’s plan would violate a law that makes it a misdemeanor to abandon an animal, because removing the cats from their habitat “is tantamount to abandonment.”

Copeland also said there’s no provision in the agreement with Stravato that allows it to be canceled.

Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, a $10 million-a-year charity based in Maryland, said that “relocating outdoor cats is not the easy fix some may expect.”

“While this may temporarily reduce the number of community cats in a given area, it is ultimately counterproductive, as the population of cats rebounds,” she said.

Robinson also said that “killing cats has always failed in managing community cat populations.”

Neither Connelly nor a spokesperson for the Office of Parks responded to requests for comment.

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