Volunteers work to reduce the city's feral cat population.
There are tens of thousands of cats estimated to be living on the streets of New York City.
A growing movement of people is working to keep that number under control with what they say is the most humane and effective method. As part of WFUV's Strike a Chord campaign on animal welfare issues, Jacob Anderson has the story:
Debi Romano is hiding behind a car in Astoria, Queens, with one end of a string in her hand. The other end is attached to a stick propping up a metal trap on the sidewalk, next to someone's bushes. Her prey: cats.
“There’s a lot of them,” she said. “I just caught 8 black ones the other day.”
Sure enough, one cat slowly approached, ducked under the trap and began eating the food inside. Romano didn’t move. She thought there was one more cat still in the bushes. “I’m going to see if the other one comes out. If not, I’ll get this one.”
Debi pulled the string and the trap fell.
The cat freaked out, and started thrashing around in the cage while Debi and a neighborhood resident helping her rushed up to the trap. She tried to coax the cat through a door in the trap into a smaller cage.
Unlike hunters of other animals, Romano works to keep this cat alive and healthy. She practices a method called TNR--trap, neuter, return. It’s a labor intensive process--in two days here Romano has trapped only 9 cats out of the thousands around the city. But advocates say TNR is the kindest way to deal with them, and ultimately more sustainable than just feeding them and hoping they don’t become a nuisance.
Mike Phillips works with the New York City Mayor’s Animal Alliance, and specifically with the Feral Cat Initiative.
“You know, you can afford to feed six cats,” he said. “But if those six cats turn into fifty, soon there’s not enough territory, so they start spreading out. You can just visualize the reproductive invasion of a neighborhood”
In years past, cats would be trapped and then euthanized, which is what colony caretakers say some of their neighbors still want. But Phillips said TNR is ultimately more effective than just removing the cats. He said returning the cats to the block prevents other un-spayed and un-neutered cats from moving in. And the fixed cats that stay are less prone to noisy fighting and mating, and smelly territorial marking.
Phillips said over 4,000 people have been TNR-certified in the city. An organization called Neighborhood Cats offers training workshops almost every weekend. Debi Romano, the cat trapper, teaches classes in Queens. Getting certified gives caretakers free access to traps, as well as to five dollar spay and neutering services through the ASPCA.
New York City recently passed a law designating Trap Neuter Return as its official policy for dealing with feral cats. Jane Hoffman is the President of the Mayor’s Animal Alliance. She said the Alliance doesn’t take official positions on laws, but she’s also a founding member of the New York City Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee. She said she was asked her opinion during the writing of the TNR law.
Hoffman said, “We need to make it clear that these people are doing a good thing, that this is the only thing that works. Trap-Kill doesn’t work, ignore the situation doesn’t work. That Trap Neuter Return is the answer and I wanted that acknowledged”
New York City has had a growing TNR community since around 2000. Some are worried that the legal mandate will bring rules that ultimately make it harder for them to keep doing what they’ve done on their own for years. The city’s Department of Health is in the process of finalizing its regulations for the TRN law. The Neighborhood Cats website lists around seventy other cities across the United States that have laws supporting TNR. But they say the regulations can be too onerous. Some require caretakers to trap and sterilize every single cat in a colony-- which is said to be quite difficult sometimes. Neighborhood Cats says that kind of thing could discourage people from getting involved in TNR. And they don’t want that here.