Shelter and More for Rye’s Feral Felines

I am going to share a family secret that I’d asked my boys never to disclose — we have three cats.  

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Published February 24, 2014 4:04 PM
5 min read

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CatthumbI am going to share a family secret that I’d asked my boys never to disclose — we have three cats.

By Holly Staudinger

A6 cat 2I am going to share a family secret that I’d asked my boys never to disclose — we have three cats.

It happened by accident, because two is my absolute limit and I don’t want to be labeled a crazy cat lady. I have two sons and each chose a kitten from a litter of a feral cat that a neighbor was caring for. I thought it was better to have two so the boys didn’t fight over whose cat it was. The third cat appeared on Christmas day two years ago in another neighbor’s yard. Emaciated and crying for food, it ended up living with us after some hostage negotiations with the original owner who most likely dumped him but wanted money from me to keep him (a tale for another article).

I was feeling pretty good about my rescue of Benji, who turned out to be a rare Bengal and the most gentle, easy-going cat ever. And with that, and some volunteer work at a few local shelters, I thought my rescue days were over. That is, until my friend Christine, who lives near Playland, called me in a panic. She was coming home late one night when she saw a tiny kitten running across the street. I brushed it off to a careless owner who was probably out looking for the kitten as we spoke. Well, I was wrong, because Christine continued to see more cats and kittens. Pretty soon, we realized there was an issue with feral cats at Playland.

We read as much information as we could on the Internet and began the long process of Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR). Most humane organizations now advocate TNR as a means to diminish the cat population through natural attrition. It all sounded like a great plan but getting started is hard. Traps, bait, long waits in the middle of the night. Finding a low-cost clinic to do the neutering is another issue since many organizations have certain days they perform the operation. What if we trap a cat and can’t have it fixed immediately?

Christine put up flyers in her neighborhood to try to find more information about how many we were dealing with and if anyone else noticed this was an issue. One lead brought us in contact with Val Lagana, whose family owns Rockridge Deli and Florist. Christine made the initial contact with Val who had trapped colonies of cats before, including 27 cats at the Palisades Mall! We were very impressed and relieved to know we found the right person to guide us.

Val had the traps and the patience to sit hours on end waiting for the cats and kittens to take the bait. Val also has an accomplice, Judy, who lives in Harrison. The first night Val and Christine caught a tiny black kitten, and guess what? She came to my home to be fostered! Fostering is very dangerous when you have animal lovers and I knew this going in. My boys immediately wanted to keep her, but my husband started giving me exasperated looks and asked relentlessly when ‘it’ was leaving. Even I couldn’t tolerate four cats.

Judy brought my tiny Furbie (named after the popular Furbie play creatures from the ’90s that she closely resembled) to Pet Rescue in Larchmont, which offers low-cost care for feral cats. Soon after trapping Furbie, we caught three littermates and three adult cats, all at Playland. Through Pet Rescue, the four kittens were adopted and the three adults were neutered, immunized, and returned to Playland. Ferals can be tamed up to eight to twelve weeks old, but after that point they must be returned to their environment. During the operation, the vet also ear tips the end of an ear as a visual indication that the cat has been neutered. This prevents the cat from being re-trapped when it has already been fixed. Maine Coons have amazing personalities, making them known for their friendly and affectionate nature.

The next step was providing winter shelter for the adult cats returned to Playland and making sure they had food to get through the winter. With the park closed, the food they were scrounging from the dumpsters would be limited. I took on the task of making winter shelter for the cats from 36-gallon Rubbermaid containers (Rubbermaid actually sells the containers at cost to people who are using them to build cat shelters!). This involves securing insulation to the inside, finding straw for more protection (not hay which retains moisture – a deadly issue), using power tools to cut a hole (not too big so raccoons won’t get in). It was relatively quick and easy and the cats now have three large shelters for protection from the winter weather.

Lastly, we needed to begin the process of feeding the cats. Christine and I take turns leaving a tray of food every night. Pet Pantry in Rye generously donated expired food from their shelves to help our cause. Marion Considine, a teacher at Rye High who coordinates the school’s animal club, has organized bake sales to raise money for the care of Rye ferals and the cost of the neutering. Once the weather gets warmer, we will begin the stakeout process again at Playland to TNR any remaining cats we missed. We recently became aware of another feral colony in Indian Village and Val has already started the TNR process in that area as well.

Anyone who is annoyed by feral cats should read this bit of trivia: In 1663, the Lord Mayor of London believed cats were the carriers of the plague. He ordered all feral cats to be killed and 200,000 cats were destroyed. Ironically, this action caused the Black Death to spread more rapidly and contributed to the fatality of more humans. The cats were actually keeping down the population of rats, the culprits who were the carriers of the disease.

For up-to-date information and to learn how you can help, follow our Facebook page under Wildcat Rescues.

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