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Feral cats program on Tonawanda Island suffers a setback

NORTH TONAWANDA – For several years animal lovers have been feeding and helping to shelter the nearly 100 feral cats that roam the 83-acre Tonawanda Island.

But on Tuesday night, they found that all of the shelters, feeding stations, and a custom-made watering station that had been set up on the grounds of the Shores Restaurant and Marina had been destroyed or dumped.

Danielle Coogan, who founded Operation Island Cat in 2014, estimated the damage at more than $1,700. But even more distressing, she said, was the fact that they were never contacted by the Shores owner or given a chance to move their property to another site.

Was it miscommunication or an intentional plan to clear the rescuers off of his property?

It appears to be a little of both, according to Shores owner Michael Charnock. He said the city fire marshal had ordered the restaurant to clear out abandoned boats, some of which had been burned in a fire at the marina last year. He said he had limited time and did not have any way to contact the rescuers, but said he never gave them permission to set up on his property in the first place.

“We rented the equipment for $1,500 a day and they were here for four days. We didn’t really have any opportunity to call people and start asking for their opinion,” Charnock said.

From its start in 2014, Operation Island Cat raised more than $13,000 to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release feral cats that had overrun the island.

Volunteers and animal activists spoke out in favor of TNVR before the North Tonawanda Common Council in October 2014, moving the city to enact a TNVR resolution that granted permission to feed feral cat colonies. A month later, a successful TNVR program was launched on Tonawanda Island.

Coogan said after the group wrapped up the project, it used some of the funds to buy plastic igloo-type shelters, in which hay was placed, for around the site. She said the group also purchased a wooden water station. She said the organization has bought 1,200 pounds of food for the cat colonies a couple of times a year.

“I asked the owner and his wife if I could put up a wooden watering station and they said that I could as long as it was out of the way,” Coogan said. She said she asked if it would be OK to purchase the plastic shelters and was given an OK.

A total of 13 shelters had been placed on the property.

“I understand it is his property, but all it would have taken was a phone call,” Coogan said of the restaurant owner.

But Coogan did not have a phone number for Charnock and he did not have one for her. A marina manager, who appeared to have acted as an intermediary, left his position with Charnock after the fire.

Charnock is upset by being criticized by people who have not been to the site and were not taking care of the cats.

“I’ve been allowing the cats to be here for 20 years,” he said. “When they said they wanted to come and neuter the cats, I said, ‘Yes, that’s fine with me.’ Then the next thing, I know I got all these igloos here. We never authorized any of that. We never said we were going to house all the cats on the property.”

He called the igloos, which are covered with blue tarps, unattractive. He said the cats are getting into covered boats and his customers have complained about stepping in feces at the marina. He said he had once ignored it, but when he had the equipment on the site, he cleared everything out. He said he saved about eight of the igloos, which were covered in urine and feces.

“I was just cleaning up the property,” said Charnock, who said he is still allowing a caretaker to leave food and water. “These are wild cats. They will survive somewhere.”

Coogan said she found “a pile of shelters, completely destroyed.” Only about three of the nine shelters were salvageable. The watering station could not be located.

Coogan said her group will look for another site on the island, and that they have set up a fundraising site with Pets Alive WNY.