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Fostering Stray Cats Gave Me Purpose

From the New York Times - an excerpt  on the movement to rescue feral cats. Inspiring!

Cat family portrait‘I Literally Had No One.’ Then the Foster Kittens Arrived.

Last summer, Jali Henry was feeling lonely and depressed after many of her friends moved out of the city because of the pandemic. “I literally had no one,” she said. “I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” Then she began noticing street cats in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where she lives: first, a group of four that lived behind a school; then, a cat on her block, obviously sick and infested with fleas. Ms. Henry, 28, who had started volunteering with the rescue group Puppy Kitty NYC, corralled the cat and took it to the vet. “I kind of chased her around the neighborhood, it was really crazy,” she said. “Random people stopped to help me.”

 

Longtime animal-rescue volunteers in the city suspect there are more stray and feral cats on the streets these days, but there are also, it turns out, more New Yorkers like Ms. Henry, who want to rescue and foster them. “On one hand, we have a group of people who are subject to financial and housing insecurity, which makes them more likely to have to part ways with their pet in a very tragic way, which leads to more cats on the street,” said Will Zweigart, the founder of the Brooklyn-based nonprofit Flatbush Cats. “An entirely different group is experiencing this pandemic with more free time. They’ve finished their Netflix queue, they’re aching for a sense of purpose.”

Betty Arce, a retired Education Department administrator who has been rescuing cats for eight years in the Bronx, said that she had never seen as many cats on the streets before, especially friendly cats and, starting last spring, kittens. “We suspect there is an increase, we just don’t know by how much,” said Kathleen O’Malley, who leads the Bideawee Feral Cat Initiative, which focuses on spaying and neutering community cats.

Neighborhood Cats, a group based in Manhattan, said its number of online donations doubled last April and May, and continue to come in at much higher rates than before the pandemic. Bryan Kortis, the national programs director, said he had also noticed an increase in the number of New Yorkers seeking training on how to help community cats. “They’re home more; they’re more aware of what’s going on in the backyard,” he said.

That’s what happened to Carmen Castillo-Barrett, a science teacher who lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Last June, she and her husband realized that three newborn kittens were living in their backyard. After she had the kittens and their mother fixed, Ms. Castillo-Barrett, 42, went through what she called an “interesting summer socializing feral cats.” She would sit beside the kittens as they ate, hissing at her, she said, until eventually they would let her touch them with just one finger. It provided a welcome distraction. “It was like a big experiment,” she said. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, “it’s possible this could have happened and we wouldn’t have noticed.”

 

Cat volunteers still face major challenges. There is no city or state funding for organizations that trap, neuter and return cats to the streets. That method, which Bideawee practices, is endorsed by the A.S.P.C.A. and the Humane Society. The Audubon Society and other bird and wildlife advocacy organizations, however, oppose the practice because they consider outdoor cats a predatory threat to songbirds. And getting appointments for free or low-cost spaying and neutering, which has always been difficult, is even more so now.

Still, the rising interest in helping street cats during the pandemic offers a glimmer of hope for people like Mr. Zweigart, who, when not rescuing cats, researches the future of work as a brand strategist. “I’m very optimistic that past 2021 we’re only going to see a higher interest in fostering as people have higher flexibility and only spend more time at home,” he said.

Hayong Lau, 28, who lost her job at a cocktail bar last spring, began fostering kittens, even bottle-feeding a newborn every two hours at one point. “Fostering feels like we have something to control, and it just felt good to do something good,” she said. Ms. Henry, who also plans to continue fostering, has started documenting her experiences on Instagram, in the hopes of getting her charges adopted. “I want to eventually take in smaller kittens and expand my expertise,” she said.

 

Comments

Elaine

Cats are wonderful creatures, and dogs too. They know when we are in pain and how to ease our pains so that we'll never feel lonely. My life and hobbies change a lot after I foster a cat from a rescue center. Now she is just like one of our family members.

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