NEW YORK – Multitudes of feral cats are now roaming New York City’s concrete jungle, and some now have a very practical purpose: They are helping to curb the city’s rat population.
A group of volunteers who were trained by the NYC Feral Cat Initiative traps wild cat colonies that have become a nuisance or been threatened by construction, then spays or neuters and also vaccinates them. The goal is to return them all to their home territory, but some end up in areas rife with rats.
Feline rat patrols help keep watch over city delis and bodegas, car dealerships and the grounds of a Greenwich Village church. Four cats roam the loading dock over at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where food deliveries and garbage have drawn rodents for years.
“We used to hire exterminators, but nature has a better solution,” explained Rebecca Marshall, the sustainability manager at the 1.8-million-square-foot center. “And cats don’t cost anything.”
Approximately 6,000 volunteers have completed workshops where they’ve learned proper ways to trap cats.
The program being managed through the privately funded Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters. It estimates that as many as half a million feral and stray cats roam New York’s five boroughs.
The life of a street cat is not an easy one. Some are former pets that were abandoned by owners. Plenty of them die off from disease and malnutrition or are hit by vehicles. Others may end up ingesting poisoned cat food — set deliberately to get rid of them, cat advocates say.
Many of the animals are also sadly displaced as a result of New York’s development, with new construction creating perilous conditions for those that once inhabited the city’s nooks and crannies, from vacant lots, decaying factories and also empty warehouses.
One colony of two dozen cats currently living in a lot on Manhattan’s West Side are about to be displaced by construction on a new $3 billion office tower. A City Council member is currently working with residents and developers to make sure the creatures are moved to a safe location.
The Javits Center’s quartet of cats — Sylvester, Alfreda, Mama Cat and Ginger — were lured to its 56 loading docks just about two years ago with pet food brought by animal-loving employees. On a recent fall morning, Sylvester stationed himself next to a commercial truck and was ready to pounce if needed.
The cats are predators but don’t necessarily need to always kill the rats themselves. Instead, experts believe the feline scent and droppings repel the rodents.
“A mother rat will never give birth near a predator because the cats would eat the babies,” stated Jane Hoffman, president of the mayor’s alliance.
The cat population is controlled through spaying and neutering, which is provided free of charge by the Humane Society of New York and the ASPCA. In most cases, adoption is completely out of the question for feral cats because they are just too wild to be domesticated.
Thanks to all of the volunteers, states Marshall, “we’re protecting wildlife in the city, and the cats get a second chance at life.”