Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A cat fight

An Associated Press story about the feud between defenders of feral cats and lovers of shorebirds nesting in Cape May, N.J. — the self-styled “birding capital of the world” — comes as no surprise to this summer resident of the nation’s oldest seaside resort.

For the past nine years, my wife and I have “summered” near Cape May, a National Historic Landmark city, so designated for its many historic, Victorian-era houses that have been converted into pricey bed-and-breakfasts. (I should point out that our summer “residence” consists of a 24-foot by 7-foot pop-up camper that we keep permanently parked at a campground in Cape May Court House, the county seat.)

According to the AP, cat lovers and birders are at odds over feral cats roaming free along the Jersey Shore, where they prey on, among other unlucky animals, piping plovers — a small shorebird that is considered threatened by the federal government.

Among measures being considered to control them are requiring cats to be licensed, prohibiting free-roaming cats, and prohibiting abandonment of cats and feeding of wildlife, including feral cats.

This brings to mind the late Oscar MacDonald, locally known as “The Cat Man,” who for 17 years fed the feral cats inhabiting a small park situated on the Delaware Bay. He was there, every day of the year from 2:30 to 10 p.m., including Christmas, feeding the feline residents of the park from bags and cans of cat food that he brought in his aging Ford Taurus station wagon.

According to the Cape May County Herald, a free and widely read newspaper, MacDonald spent his own, meager funds on cat food, assisted by donations from individuals and from an Acme supermarket that supplied some of the food, gratis. Friends said MacDonald, who was unmarried, loved cats but could not keep pets in the small apartment in which he lived.

When he died in April 2007 of cancer, a memorial service was held at the park, attended by more than 30 people — and by the cats that he tended, most of whom, afraid or wary of people, watched the service while hiding in the grass nearby. The Cat Man was cremated and his ashes were spread in the tall grass, so he could be with his beloved feline friends forever.

-Paul Samuel, Associate Editor

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