By DANIELLE TEPPER
Lurking in the woods adjacent to a day care center on Shrewsbury’s Avenue of the Commons is a group of wild animals that may seem out of place in this suburban enclave better known for its burgeoning deer population.
It’s a colony of feral cats that have claimed the wilderness as their own personal scavenging ground – abetted, authorities contend, by two women who feed them at an improvised encampment built several hundred feet into the woods.
Jeanette Petti of Oceanport and Ruth Rapkin of Tinton Falls are scheduled to appear in municipal court Tuesday on charges that they’re illegally harboring the colony in the woods adjacent to the school.
The pair face misdemeanor allegations they failed to obtain vaccinations and licenses for the felines, and that they are maintaining a nuisance on public and private property, according to summonses issued May 8.
The encampment is tucked deep into the woods behind a day care center in an office park. (Click to enlarge)
Administrators at the Creative Learning Center say that at least five apparently feral cats roam the school property at night. Their presence raises both safety and sanitation concerns, they say. Before school let out for summer on June 12, school officials found evidence that the kids’ playground was being used as a super-sized litter box.
Employees from nearby businesses have also encountered the cats when using the shared dumpsters.
“It was kind of scary to open that up to put trash in and have one of them jump out at you,” said CLC director Bonnie Brief Pauska. “And at night when you leave, you can see all their eyes in the woods.”
Where the cats came from is unclear, but why they’re not leaving is no mystery to borough officials, who contend Petti and Rapkin have been feeding and caring for them, possibly doing more harm than good than they intended. Officials say they attempted for two months to persuade the pair to dismantle the encampment and relocate the cats, but to no avail.
A quick visit into the woods reveals a clearing filled with makeshift shelters for the cats – dog houses, in fact – and numerous water bowls.
Petti did not respond to phone messages, nor did Rapkin, whose outgoing voice message says, “I can’t come to the phone right now, the cat’s got my tongue.”