Leaves blow lazily across a concrete-covered backyard off 83rd Street in Bay Ridge. Four wire cages lay scattered throughout the area, waiting for the block’s feral cats to investigate the plates of canned cat food within.
Three cats push through holes in the fences surrounding the yard—a gray cat, an orange, and a calico. They sniff suspiciously at the cages. Eventually, the gray one takes the plunge and walks into the cage, lapping up the wet food sitting behind the button that will spring the trap and close the door behind him.
This is how Tara Green from Brooklyn Animal Action spends her Sundays. Green works as an animal rescuer for the organization and has been TNR (trap-neuter-release) certified for three years. The goal of TNR is to lower the number of breeding cats living on the streets in the most humane way possible. The cats are trapped, tested for a number of things by the veterinarians to keep them healthy, given a rabies vaccination, and neutered. Volunteers like Green hold them for a while in a safe location in order to make sure the cats heal before they are released.
“She’s amazing with cats,” said Sarah Garonce, a fellow volunteer trapper. She remembers a time she saw Green rescue an abandoned cat: “She just grabbed it by the back of its neck and pulled it through a fence and the cat was freaking out and she didn’t have a single scratch on her.” But despite Green’s skills, her job is not getting any easier.
On Oct. 26, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed Assembly Bill 2778. The bill was meant to allocate up to 20 percent of Animal Population Control Program funds to eligible organizations that trap and neuter feral cats. His reason in the written veto was that “the prevailing science suggests that TNR programs are not guaranteed to reduce feral cat populations, and, even if they do, may take many more years to do so than existing programs.” When asked to elaborate further, Cuomo’s office sent a copy of the veto statement.
Organizations like the New York branch of Audobon fought hard against the bill. While Audobon did not respond to an email asking for comment, they do have a form on their website asking members to write to Cuomo. The page also states that “TNR has not been proven effective,” and claims that feral cats pose a risk to New York’s birds and other wildlife.
Martha Stone, founder of the Bedford Corners Community Cats organization, disagrees. Stone has been doing targeted high-impact TNR through her organization since 2010. During that time she has neutered close to 315 cats, most of them in the last two and half years.
“I’m a lot more pragmatic of a person than a cat lover,” she said, “If the solution for them was euthanasia I probably would have gotten behind that.” Stone adds that she is “hard pressed” to find information that shows that neutering programs do not work. She adds that the research is out there for people willing to find it: “What our community in animal welfare isn’t doing is paying attention to the evidence,” she said.
Stone went on to say that she would frequently see sick ferals or even dead cats and kittens in her neighborhood, which is what prompted her to do something. She catalogs every cat on her computer and continues to monitor colonies in order to neuter any newcomers.
But Stone felt that the vetoed bill wouldn’t have necessarily helped TNR organizations enough anyway, since she points out that there was no guarantee that the money would go to the organizations, just that it could.
On Sunday, Nov. 15, Green trapped three cats along with Garonce. She, and her husband John had become TNR certified just the day before. Trapping the three cats could be seen as a success since they were fairly young. Green says that it is better to trap and neuter younger cats, before they can begin breeding.
Ginny, however, was a different story. Ginny was one of the three trapped that day. According to Garonce and John, she is likely responsible for several of the litters of cats that have been born in the neighborhood. More importantly, she currently had a litter of three kittens that Green guessed were around 4 to 5 weeks old. Now that they had trapped Ginny, they had to get the kittens, since they would die without their mother.
The problem: the neighbor whose yard the kittens were in was not answering the door. After several attempts at contacting the owner Green decided to hop the fence. But once she was in the yard, Green realized that cats now appeared on the opposite side from the yard she and Garonce had been trapping in. Green, Garonce, and John asked the opposite neighbor if they could attempt to catch the kittens through his yard. After a struggle through the fence, they were able to catch one of the small gray kittens.
Eventually, the owner of the yard where the kittens were saw what Green was trying to do and let the team in to catch the remaining two kittens. This brought the total number of cats trapped that day to six.
Green feels that the governor made a poor decision when he vetoed the bill.“We have to convince Gov. Cuomo that this is important enough to fund,” she said. “These babies are being born outside and they’re starving.”