#ShelterSunday: Working Cats in the Big Apple

NYC’s Community Cats Provide Non Toxic Pest Deterrent

Recently, four feral cats that we helped relocate to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center have caught the attention of journalists. Their stories and headlines have focused on how these cats are providing the service of driving rats away from the Javits Center’s loading docks. While this is true, many of these articles missed the point that these cats were not simply turned loose to hunt rats. Their original territory was destroyed by construction and, with the help of the non-profit NYC Feral Cat Initiative (NYCFCI) of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, the Javits Center gave them a home where they could live out their feral lives under the care of sympathetic humans. The mission of the NYCFCI, which receives no government funding, is outlined below, including attention to the discrepancies found in recent media coverage.

Community cats rely on human caretakers to provide food, water, shelter, and care

Community cats rely on human caretakers to provide food, water, shelter, and care

In New York City, more than 6,000 trained volunteers practice the humane Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) colony management technique to sterilize, vaccinate, feed, and monitor already existing, self-formed cat colonies until they completely disappear through gradual attrition. The NYCFCI provides free TNR certification training workshops throughout the five boroughs. Those who complete the workshop become eligible for free spay/neuter and other free services provided by the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, the ASPCA, and other area organizations to support their volunteer work to help community cats.

It is true that neighborhoods and areas hosting spayed/neutered community cat colonies managed through TNR do enjoy the collateral benefit of a non-toxic rodent deterrent. The scent established by hosting and feeding cats regularly in one place is what keeps the rodents away. Breeding female rats will move away from an area inhabited by resident cats that would clearly be a danger to their litters. When the breeding females move out, the male rats follow. Cats will remain in place with the daily food, water, and shelter provided by a colony caretaker, and will not just follow the rodents for survival.

The NYCFCI would never place a cat on the street for the purpose of providing rodent control. Our express mission is to have as few cats living on the streets as possible. The very rare person who offers to adopt a feral cat or colony in need of relocation must pass an application process showing they wish to provide compassionate daily care to the cat or colony at-risk, and are not merely looking for “mousers.”

It was by coincidence that the Javits Center offered to host a colony of cats, and shortly thereafter an already existing group of street cats needed relocation from an area that had become too dangerous for them to continue to be cared for safely. The NYCFCI knew that several cats had already lived safely at the north end of the Javits Center for more than ten years.

Alfreda is slowly introduced to her new home in habituation space, designed to get her comfortable in her new home

Alfreda is slowly introduced to her new home in habituation space, designed to get her comfortable in her new home

Relocating cats is not easy, and it requires careful planning and time. These new cats were successfully relocated from danger to safety and released at the Javits Center after a three-week period of confinement onsite for habituation after confirming their comfort level in an area with heavy traffic and loud noise. As it turned out, the new cats have helped to control the rodent population at the south end’s loading docks, but that would not have been sufficient reason for our placing them there.

They had been offered a permanent home, not conditional to their performance as rodent deterrents. It worked out marvelously to mutual benefit at the Javits Center, but providing “mousers” is not a feature of the NYCFCI program.

Cats have lived near human dwellings for thousands of years because we need each other. Even the most feral community cats rely on humans for food and shelter, either directly or indirectly.  Both humans who are cat lovers and those who are not can agree: a well managed, TNR-ed cat colony can provide a mutually beneficial addition to most communities.  Cats who become a part of a managed colony are saved, and humans reap the benefits of non-toxic rodent deterrent.

The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals is supported entirely by donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals and receives no government funding. You can help them continue to save the lives of New York City’s feral and stray community cats and humanely reduce the number of kittens being born on the streets by supporting the efforts of October’s Monthly Mojo, the NYC Feral Cat Initiative by donating to their Gift That Gives More Campaign. 

Visit NYCferalCat.org for more information