American Museum of the House Cat
A Memorial to a Beloved Street Cat Named Tombili

Inside the Hidden Cat Sanctuary on NYC’s Roosevelt Island

As reported in Untapped Cities -

From ancient Egypt to the modern day cat cafe, there is one thing we can all agree on: cats are pretty dang adorable. And, if you love cats even half as much as we do here at Untapped Cities, you’ll want to head over to Roosevelt Island to visit New York City’s one and only cat sanctuary.

Back in the 1800s, a wave of smallpox swept across New York City and drastic action had to be taken to ensure the disease couldn’t spread. Built specifically on an island for this purpose, the Renwick Smallpox Hospital treated around 7,000 patients a year. Eventually, however, Roosevelt Island became more popular and the original purpose of the location became moot, forcing the facility to relocate to North Brother Island. Renwick was briefly made into a nurses’ dormitory before being abandoned by the city in the 1950s, allowing far cuddlier inhabitants to move in.

No one is entirely sure where they came from, but today almost 100 feral cats wander Renwick Smallpox Castle. For years, these wild felines lived mostly without aid from the community — maybe a local would leave a can of tuna out every once in a while, but that was about the extent of it and the creatures were left to haunt the ruins of the old hospital. However, in 2005, a local cat, Princess Ying Yang, passed away and a group of animal lovers decided it was their duty to assist the cats that remained. The group dubbed itself the Island Cats.

Eventually merging with the Wildlife Freedom Foundation, Island Cats has been supplying our furry friends with everything they need for over a decade. Everything from blankets and food, to veterinary care and new homes are provided for these cats as volunteers work tirelessly to make sure their feline neighbors have a good life. Renwick is now off-limits to humans but entirely open to the colony of cats that reside there. Even volunteers steer clear of the ruins, making sure they leave their gifts on the outskirts of the facility.

If you love cats, there is absolutely no reason not to head down to Roosevelt Island and take a gander. Remember though, the main goal of Island Cats is to give these felines a home, and while volunteers have built structures and provided food, nothing comes close to having a real in-person caretaker and a warm bed to lay your head on at night. So if you do go down there and see a cat that strikes your fancy, a particularly cute or cuddly one, considering adopting it or making a donation. After all, we could all use another cat in our lives.



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