This past Saturday I went to Staten Island, one of the areas hit hard by the storm on its coast, to volunteer with Staten Island Feral Initiative. I’ve wanted to do something with SIFI for a while, as feral cats are a gap for me and I’d like to know more about them. This wasn’t exactly that, but it sure was eye opening.
We met in the morning in a church parking lot and divided up into team. Each team had one driver and we loaded all sorts of animal supplies into our cars, both for cats and dogs. Each team was dispatched to a different coastal neighborhood in Staten Island and instructed to give supplies as necessary but most importantly to walk the neighborhood, talk to as many people as we could, and find out what the needs of people were for both dogs AND cats so that whatever they needed for their animals could be delivered to them. We were assigned to go to Eltingville.
Eltingville was a lovely little neighborhood before the storm, with neat little homes and condos, but the storm had torn the coastal areas apart. Although there is no marina there, there is one across the cove from Eltingville, and the storm had picked up boats, swept them across the cove, and thrown them everywhere – in streets, into houses. In addition to the damage caused by the massive surge and the flooding (which had, by then, receded), the boats – and some cars – had been picked up and turned into weapons.
We began to walk the streets of our assigned neighborhood and take the lay of the land. For the most part, life was normal 2-3 blocks from the shore, but in the shore area… houses were completely flooded. Muck was being shoveled out of them, walls torn out, discarded household goods being carried to the street. Power lines were down everywhere and the hum of generators was constant.
We began to talk to everyone we met. At first we didn’t have much success – very fortunately, most of the people who had dogs took them with them when they left and there were no strays to be seen. We did distribute some dog food to people who were running low. We began asking people about cats, especially outdoor cats. The first few people we talked to denied ever having seen an outdoor cat in the neighborhood, but we know ferals are everywhere. Then someone pointed us towards Ralph.
Ralph is 75 and has been caring for, feeding, and neutering cats in the neighborhood for years. His house was a mess – the inside stil waterlogged and gutted as he shoveled the debris out of his home. In his front yard, however, he had cardboard boxes set up with bedding, towels, food and water. The insulated houses he had built had all been destroyed and nearly every possession was ruined, but he was still caring for cats as best he could. We left him with some food and promised him we would return with more food and replacement shelters for him.
From there he pointed us to others, who led us to still others. We found many people who cared for outdoor cats and helped them with the supplies we had. Many told us of a woman who cared for a very large colony and had her house destroyed. Eventually, we found her.
That used to be Kim’s house, and she took care of feral colonies totaling 40 cats. We knew we were in the right place because there was a cat shelter out front and several traps scattered around.
As we were looking for places to drop food, Kim herself pulled up. With the storm bearing down she had been trying to trap as many cats as she possibly could to take them to safety. She had 9 in the house when the storm surge hit her house and ripped it apart, trapping her inside in violently moving water. She had to break a window and climb out of it to survive, but the surge killed the trapped cats and destroyed her home, dragging half of it out to sea. Kim had been back many times since – not for the home, which was a total loss, but for the cats she cared for. She was extremely grateful for the food we left and we promised her we’d be back with habitats.
I was just one of many teams on the ground that day and we identified 6 caregivers in the target area and made sure they had some supplies. The next day, SIFI held a volunteer day where they constructed 75 cat shelters, which will be distributed to those people and others throughout the affected areas of Staten Island on Monday and Tuesday, as well as larger amounts of supplies for those who need it.
SIFI is one of many small all-volunteer organizations doing great relief work. You can read more about their efforts, including how to donate to them here and follow their activities on their blog. If you have time to help, they would greatly appreciate that as well.