City de­ploys feral fe­lines in war on rats

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By Verena Dobnik

Mul­ti­tudes of feral cats roam New York City’s con­crete jun­gle, and some now have a prac­ti­cal pur­pose: They’re help­ing curb the city’s rat pop­u­la­tion.

A group of vol­un­teers 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 vac­ci­nates them. The goal is to re­turn them to their home ter­ri­tory, but some end up in ar­eas rife with rats.

Fe­line rat pa­trols keep watch over city delis and bode­gas, car deal­er­ships and the grounds of a Green­wich Vil­lage church. Four cats roam the load­ing dock 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,” said Re­becca Mar­shall, the sus­tain­abil­ity man­ager at the 1.8-mil­lion­square-foot cen­ter. “And cats don’t cost any­thing.”

About 6,000 vol­un­teers have com­pleted work­shops where they’ve learned proper ways to trap cats.

The pro­gram is run through the pri­vately funded Mayor’s Al­liance for NYC’s An­i­mals, a coali­tion of more than 150 an­i­mal res­cue groups and shel­ters. It es­ti­mates as many as half a mil­lion feral and stray cats roam New York’s five bor­oughs.

The life of a street cat is a tough one. Some are for­mer pets, aban­doned by own­ers. Plenty die of dis­ease and mal­nu­tri­tion or are hit by ve­hi­cles. Oth­ers in­gest poi­soned cat food — set de­lib­er­ately to get rid of them, cat ad­vo­cates say.

Many of the an­i­mals are 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 empty ware­houses.

One colony of two dozen cats 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 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 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, ready to pounce if needed.

The cats are preda­tors but don’t nec­es­sar­ily kill rats. In­stead, ex­perts say 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,” said Jane Hoffman, pres­i­dent of the mayor’s al­liance.

The cat pop­u­la­tion is con­trolled through spay­ing and neu­ter­ing, pro­vided free of charge by the Hu­mane So­ci­ety of New York and the ASPCA. In most cases, adop­tion is out of the ques­tion for feral cats be­cause they are just too wild to be do­mes­ti­cated.

Thanks to the vol­un­teers, says Mar­shall, “we’re pro­tect­ing wildlife in the city, and the cats get a sec­ond chance at life.”

VERENA DOBNIK — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sylvester, a feral cat, sits in a load­ing dock at the Ja­cob Jav­its Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in New York on Thurs­day. Mul­ti­tudes of feral cats roam New York City’s nooks and cran­nies, but some now have a prac­ti­cal pur­pose: get­ting rid of rats. The NYC Feral Cat Ini­tia­tive res­cues wild cat colonies that have been pushed out by con­struc­tion and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, and plants them in ar­eas that need their ex­ter­mi­na­tion ex­per­tise the most, such as the Jav­its Cen­ter.

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