They sleek across streets, dash underneath parked cars, will plop down in the middle of the sidewalk to give themselves a quick bath or wake you in the middle of a warm summer night with their blood-curdling yowls.
They are feral cats, and they’re all over Bed-Stuy.
Whether you love cats or hate them, most can agree: Stray cats are a nuisance. But Bed-Stuy resident Harriet Faith seems to have the perfect Rx for dealing with these fuzzy feral felines: A TNR, a dash of TLC, a handful of Meow Mix and a pinch of Vitamin C! Voilà! Problem solved.
(I'll explain a little later).
By definition, feral cats are different than stray cats, as stray cats were at one time domesticated house cats that have either run off or have been let go. Feral cats on the other hand were born outdoors, have never been pets and have only known a life “on the streets.”
Although their natural feline instincts equip them for a rugged outdoor existence, they’re bloodline is domestic, and they are often only one or two generations passed down from a warm home.
“There are actually feral cats almost everywhere in Bed-Stuy,” said Faith. “I’ve counted eleven around Dekalb and Nostrand. But even this morning, I saw a new one about four months old. So there must be a new litter somewhere close by.”
Faith loves cats, and has one of her own-- a domesticated, comely, black-and-white long-haired named “Saturn.” But even Faith knows the implacable nuisance feral cats can become to a community, when left to breed and multiply freely.
That’s why she is in the process of staging a "trap-neuter-and-return," also known as a “TNR.” But the project is no simple undertaking. Faith needs a dedicated team to carry out her plan, and she’s working right now to rouse the community support.
Neutering a cat can cost up to $100. But because Faith has been trained and is certified in conducting TNRs, she’s able to walk any cat into the ASPCA and get it neutered, free-of-charge.
“TNR has been the most effective way to take care of feral cats, because if you just got rid of the cats, it creates a vacuum, and other animals will just move into the area,” said Faith. “But if you return them to the area, they help control the rodent population. There’s also a huge reduction in nuisance behavior like fighting or yowling all night (from boy cats fighting over female cats) and spraying-- that strong odor cats leave when they are in heat. If you do TNR, they become calmer, happier animals.”
“A lot of people feed the cats,” she said. “I want to point out that if you’re feeding cats, a really good thing to do for street cats is to add a pinch of vitamin C powder and mix it in really well.
“This will really help their immune system and help them get through the winter. It will also help them deal with the neutering surgery better."
Right now Faith is looking for volunteers interested in conducting a trapping with her. “But most important,” said Faith, “I need people willing to provide a holding space that is warm and dry—a backyard, garage or other area— where the cats will remain caged 1-3 days before and after the neutering.”
Also, in the spring, Faith, a graduate of Pratt School of Design, plans to hold an arts-and-crafts workshop for children to teach kindness to animals and about the importance of getting your pet spaded or neutered.
“I love this community,” said Faith. “I’ve lived in a lot of different places. But the sense of community I get from my neighbors here is just unlike any other I’ve ever felt. I’ve told a few people about my plan for the cats, and they have been very supportive. And so I think this can be just another great way to bring the community together.”