Some animal lovers in Astoria say they're misunderstood. The cat caretakers say they were recently banned from an Astoria bank parking lot, when neighbors complained about them feeding feral cats. NY1's Van Tieu tells us why animal rescue groups say they're actually helping the community.
Every three days, Charlotte Conley buys $250 worth of cat food. She's one of three people in a small non-profit called Astoria Cat Rescue. Every night, she and her partners feed feral and stray cats in the neighborhood.
"Feeding feral cats is not a bad thing, as long as you neuter them," Conley says. "If you do not neuter them, then you’re causing the population to grow out of control.”
For the past three years, Conley says she's been managing a cat colony that lives in the Astoria Bank parking lot with the bank's permission. She says she would trap feral cats about once every couple of weeks, depending on spaying and neutering availability at the ASPCA.
Recently, her traps disappeared. Conley doesn’t know who took them, but she says bank officials told her she wasn't allowed back on the property. Representatives at the bank did not return NY1's phone calls.
Conley fears that the cat colony's population will explode because it is kitten season, and a group a new cats have entered the territory.
"I need my traps returned, and I need permission to do the ongoing trap-neuter-rehome program," Conley explains.
Conley practices what's called "Trap, Neuter, and Return (or Rehome)", also known as TNR. The ASPCA recognizes it as a humane way to control feral cat communities.
"What a TNR project does is it stabilizes and reduces the population over time," says Kathleen O'Malley of The Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals. O'Malley runs its NYC Feral Cat Program, which certifies TNR caretakers. She says conflicts between neighbors and cat caretakers are common, because people believe feeding stray cats attracts them.
"The person who’s feeding them did not make them appear there. One day, she didn’t just put out a can of tuna and say, 'Here kitty, kitty, kitty. I want to start a cat colony.' Cats start their own colony."
O'Malley says if caretakers don't feed the cats, then problems are compounded with more cats yowling and fighting.
"What you end up with is a group of cats who are not as well-nourished as they were before because they’re basically eating garbage," she says. "They’re becoming more of a nuisance, because they’re dumpster-diving."
O'Malley says the non-profit is in touch with Astoria Bank to show them the benefits of TNR, and hopes to convince the bank to again give Conley permission to continue managing the cat colony. Conley wants her neighbors know she's just trying to be part of a solution.
"We’re not a hindrance, we’re a help,” Conley says.