Cats at a housing community in Queens narrowly escaped a cruel fate last week when cat advocates successfully persuaded the New York City Mayor’s Office to step in to save their lives. Fortunately the cats survived, but the near-tragedy at the Ravenswood Houses illustrates the need for humane policy changes at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and housing authorities nationwide.
For months, local groups have offered to perform Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) for feral cats at the Ravenswood Houses community in Queens, but NYCHA would not allow it. Earlier this week, NYCHA opted instead for a reckless and inhumane approach – locking up the building crawlspaces without ensuring all the cats were able to exit.
Cats were stranded inside these crawlspaces with no way to get out, as Alley Cat Allies received reports that temperatures under the buildings could reach 150 degrees. The only food and water provided was set inside traps, but NYCHA checked the traps just twice per day, meaning cats could be trapped for hours on end in lethal heat. While the cats suffered needlessly, NYCHA callously prevented people who wanted to rescue the cats from saving their lives.
Alley Cat Allies sent a letter to NYCHA chairman John B. Rhea, and copied Mayor Bloomberg, asking NYCHA to unlock the crawlspaces immediately and allow rescuers access to the cats. We asked our network of supporters to do the same. By Tuesday afternoon, however, activists had only been allowed limited access to rescue one cat, and NYCHA falsely insisted that no other cats were trapped in the crawlspaces.
Finally, on Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office intervened and ordered that local TNR group SaveKitty Foundation be granted access to the crawlspaces. Rescue work began last Thursday morning — one cat has been rescued from under the buildings and several more have been sighted.
The rescue at Ravenswood Houses is a great victory for animal protection and thanks are due to the Mayor’s Office, SaveKitty Foundation, and the hundreds of compassionate people who contacted NYCHA and took action on behalf of these cats.
But there’s still more work to be done; a permanent humane policy does not exist for NYCHA residences.
Although NYCHA has not allowed the group to perform TNR, SaveKitty Foundation has been advocating for cats at Ravenswood Houses for months and has removed dozens of adoptable cats and kittens from the property. (Many of these cats still need new homes — if you can foster or adopt them, please contact the SaveKitty Foundation.)
Most importantly, a humane TNR program must be implemented to care for the remaining cats living at Ravenswood Houses. Trap-Neuter-Return is the humane, effective approach for feral cats. Cats no longer undergo the strains of mating or pregnancy. The behaviors associated with mating, such as yowling and fighting, stop. There are no new kittens and the colony size stabilizes. Local groups are still offering to carry out TNR at Ravenswood Houses at no cost to NYCHA or the city, and many residents have supported this offer from the beginning. Even NYCHA itself does not deny that TNR works, as expressed in a letter to SaveKitty Foundation: “NYCHA is not disputing the effectiveness of the program as a means of controlling a feral cat population.” Still, NYCHA refuses to allow TNR, turning a blind eye to the best interest of the cats and to sound proven policies, while disregarding the humane wishes of the community.
This isn’t the first time NYCHA has pushed through bad policy regarding animals. In 2009, they revised their pet policy, putting weight and breed restrictions on residents’ pets — a policy that caused people to give up their pets and resulted in a surge of animals relinquished to local shelters.
Authoritative bodies like NYCHA have the opportunity to set a standard of compassion by embracing humane policies. Alley Cat Allies will continue to urge NYCHA to work with the local volunteers and groups to develop and maintain sound, humane policies and programs that will benefit the animals and the community.
Becky Robinson is the founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization dedicated to transforming and developing communities to protect and improve the lives of cats.
photo credit: Alley Cat Allies
by Becky Robinson, founder and president of Alley Cat Allies