Cat fight troubles N.J. town

Woman's neighbors say 12 felines is too many

September 27, 2002|By Robert Hanley | Robert Hanley,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MORRIS TOWNSHIP, N.J. - Dian Freeman keeps 12 cats at her handsome Tudor home, which really bothers Sharon Remlinger, her neighbor across Brigade Hill Road. Remlinger has a big German Shepherd, which really bothers Freeman.

The tension between them is thick.

"There's cats everywhere, all the time," Remlinger said. "They're overrunning the neighborhood. Some go into the catch basins, which is pretty sad. She's fed feral cats. The whole street smells of cat urine. All the male cats spray all the bushes, everybody's bushes."

Freeman, though, says her cats do not go near Remlinger's home, because they are afraid of the dog. Once, she said, the dog came running toward her house and threatened two guests in the yard. She chased it away with a broom and called the police.

Squabble spreads

Back in those days, the women's animal-related animosities were confined to Brigade Hill Road, a sloping little cul-de-sac tucked into woods dense enough to muffle all but bird song. But now the squabble has spread throughout this wealthy North Jersey community of 21,000 and into Town Hall, where officials are considering an ordinance that could curb the cat population.

In January, Remlinger drafted a petition complaining about the cats and gathered the signatures of four neighbors. In response, the Board of Health proposed limiting the number of cats per household to six.

Cat owners howled. At its August meeting, the board tabled the proposed law for possible revision. The board plans to take up the measure again, but officials refuse to say whether the proposed quota remains in it.

Clearly, they seem exasperated by the issue. "It started as a quiet little thing, and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," said the mayor, Jan Wotowitz.

The chairman of the Board of Health, Peter Doherty, said: "We're not trying to go against anybody. We're trying to help everybody. It would be wonderful if we could make everybody happy and not penalize anyone."

Dogs limited

The town already has a law limiting the number of dogs per household - allowing three to five, depending on the size of the lot.

Those limits were imposed in 1997 after complaints about barking, officials said. A curb on cats would not be that unusual, Doherty said, noting that 11 of 39 towns in Morris County have such quotas.

But Freeman said that no such laws exist in wealthier towns with large house lots like Morris Township's. "This is not a place that's filled with squalor and poor little alley cats," she said.

Health officials say the cat limit was proposed in part because of concerns about feral cats spreading rabies. The law would require every cat to wear a collar with a license tag showing that it had been inoculated against rabies.

Freeman chafed at that proposal. "It legalizes the killing of every cat in this town without a collar," she said. "That's unconscionable." She said her 12 cats had all received rabies shots and were licensed. But, she added, they would not "tolerate" a collar. "If I could tattoo collars on them, I would," she said

She rejected Remlinger's contention she had fed feral cats. The cats that sometimes come to her home, she said, are farm cats that roam a cattle farm and an organic vegetable farm nearby. "Cats all intermix," she said. "The world is full of unwanted, unloved animals," she said. "Why make a law against those that are loved?"

"It infringes on my rights and the rights of these creatures to live in my home.""We've got more wild turkeys here than cats," said Robert Corman, a former environmental lawyer. "If there's something to get upset about it's the number of deer we have. They're destroying the ecosystem in the parks around here. The underbrush is gone, and the summer birds that came for years are gone."

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