I am known as a “dog guy”, which I suppose I am. My passion is dogs, much of my experience is with dogs, I have 6 dogs in my small home in the South Bronx, and the bulk of my volunteering is with dogs. But in the past year or so I’ve been more involved with cats – mostly in their transport but increasingly also in their care. I still don’t know cats as well as I’d like (I just figured out “blinky eyes” the other day – thanks, UberFacts!) and unfortunately it’s very dangerous to have them in my current living space, as some of my dogs are extremely aggressive towards cats and will do anything to get to them.
I expected to get more involved in cats when I moved to my South Bronx neighborhood – I moved here with the desire to help with some TNR, knowing that there were cats on the streets here. I had no idea.
My area teems with cats. Many are what one might call “feral”, although that means something slightly different here than it does in many places: in an area with such high population density there are very few who seek to completely avoid human contact. Many have some socialization. There are also animals on the street who are former housecats, cats that are allowed to roam, and a good many who are social and provided for by groups of people but do not have an “owner”, per-se – they wander about freely and have a water dish provided by the friendly bodega owner, scraps to eat from the projects’ garbage area, a petting appointment with a neighborhood child every day promptly after school, but no home to call their own.
I have found the months I have been here overwhelming. The issue is substantial, the resources scant: as far as I can tell, there is no one doing TNR in this area. I have never seen an ear-tipped cat in the neighborhood. Assistance with TNR (like low-cost altering) is awkward and time-consuming in NYC even for hard-core rescuers; for the general public it is near impossible. Although an ASPCA van stops in the neighborhood about twice a month, they focus on owned animals; perhaps a curious choice when a tremendous amount of the cat intake to New York City’s Animal Care and Control (NYCACC) at this time of year are the offspring of outdoor, free-roaming cats, putting tremendous pressure on the resources of NYCACC. Spaying or neutering the housecat who lives in an apartment that they rarely if ever leave is typically good for the cat and helps with owner retention by controlling unwanted behaviors, but I think there’s a good argument to be made that the free-roaming cats are a much greater source of NYC shelter intake (especially during kitten season) and deserving of far more S/N focus and funding than they currently receive from the major non-profits.
I have been overwhelmed enough to not really know where to begin and pursue a few dead ends. Sometimes I’ve worked a bit around the edges – a few months ago I picked up and re-homed two friendly young kittens, one with a broken leg that needed treatment. Annie would have been hard to ignore, as she limped right up to me one day as I was taking out the trash and asked for help. But mostly, being not totally comfortable and preferring to stick to what I know, being overwhelmed, and not knowing how to begin… I tried my best to ignore it, which was wrong of me. That ends now.
A few nights ago as I pulled into a parking space outside my home a cat ran across the road in front of us – pretty typical for the neighborhood. While I did not see much unusual in the cat’s behavior my incredibly compassionate girlfriend did and followed the cat down the block, eventually convincing the frightened animal to come to her for petting. I did not want to take the cat but she insisted, so I went home to grab a carrier and we quickly stashed him. The slightly unusual gait her trained eye picked up on so quickly turned out to be burnt paws, likely from pavement roasted by the recent summer heat wave. She knew that he was social and hurt and needed help.
This is Rico. Rico is a long-haired orange tabby, about 8 months old and friendly and social as can be – and he’s now neutered, has had his shots, and is FIV and FeLV negative. The person fostering him reports “He’s amazing… trusting, loving, funny, vocal, craving attention. He curls right up and settles in, follows at your heels if you get up to walk away.” He is curious and unafraid of dogs – an outgoing and friendly guy!
Prior to that night I had successfully convinced her to walk away from another cat. Dega was not hurt but she was also in danger, as friendly and trusting as she was, lurking on a street corner in the South Bronx. The morning after picking up Rico I went looking for her and found her again hanging out on her favorite corner – this picture was shot moments after I scooped her up and plopped her on my dashboard. Dega is a small, adorable, jet-black cat with the most expressive eyes. She is around one year old and now spayed, but she looks to have had at least one litter out on the street in her short life. She has her shots and is also FIV and FeLV negative. She is a quiet girl who is very affectionate with people once she (quickly!) warms up to them, and this skinny little girl loves her food! Her foster reports that she is “reserved but affectionate, flips over for belly rubs… purrs, kisses and cuddles.”
I needed the help of the Internet once before when I took in Blanca on blind faith that I could place her and now, Internet, I need your help again. I cannot keep these two wonderful cats in my home due to the danger posed by my dogs, and my rescue resources are unable to take them at this time – but neither can I return two completely social and friendly cats to the street where they are in danger. I have them both in a foster currently, but I can’t keep them there for very long – if you’re looking to adopt a friendly, social, lovable young cat – drop me a line – soon!
Going forward obviously many cats from the streets here may not be easily re-homed, but it’s time to get started… I’m firing up the traps, because if they’re going to be roaming my neighborhood, at the very least they can be altered, immunized, and ear-tipped. No more can I ignore it because I find it foreign or intimidating or overwhelming. I can start here and now, with many thanks to my girlfriend for smacking me upside the head (you know, metaphorically speaking) and reminding me to pull my head out of the sand and focus on what I can do for the animal standing in front of me without reservation.
More to come on the cats of the South Bronx…