If you’ve noticed more stray cats around lately, it’s not necessarily a coincidence. Greenpoint Cats (and multiple other local and nearby cat rescues and individual rescuers) have been working to foster a healthy, safe environment for community cats that include spaying and neutering, regular feedings, and shelter from the elements.
“There always have been cat colonies and there always will be cat colonies and outdoor community cats. There are several locations that are really well-known and really established cat communities throughout Greenpoint,” Greenpoint Cats founder Becky Wisdom said. “And one of them is the Commercial Street colony, which is so historic and has such iconic standing that it was even included in Atlas Obscura. The structure where those cats have lived and cats have come and gone was there for 18 years.”
For the most part, the colonies have lived in harmony with the community until recently, when Wisdom notes that a rise in cat-hostile actions mainly by developers, management, and construction companies has resulted in displacement and disruption of the neighborhood feline ecosystem. In one recent instance in particular, the MTA was seen removing cat shelters from nearby a construction site on Commercial Street, which feeders claimed was done without any prior notice despite their history of collaborating with construction personnel (and visible signage with contact information).
Wisdom also cites a similar situation with a longstanding colony on Hausman Street.
“There was a change in management and they’ve decided no more feeding the cats, no more taking care of the cats,” she recalled. “So we are in a situation where we’re trying to come up with a compromise to allow the cats to remain in their home, because if you do remove them, you also have something called the vacuum effect where other cats usually move in. They’re very territorial animals and it’s better to have spay neutered animals on your property or in the community than to remove them and then wait for other grifters to move in.”
The most important tool in navigating and avoiding these situations, according to Wisdom, is education. The goal is to work with neighbors, businesses, and other tenants to raise awareness of both how to foster healthy community cat colonies, but also the benefits of having cats around — namely for rodent control.
“There’s a colony on Eckford Street where shelters were displaced by development. We moved them across the street to an empty abandoned lot and immediately we were faced with a hostility from a neighbor who said, ‘No, thank you. It’s going to attract rats,’ which is not true. We have a trash problem that attracts rats, not a cat problem that attracts rats. The cats actually help with the rodent population,” she explained.
And when it comes to education, Wisdom and the Greenpoint Cats team invite any opportunity to raise awareness about community solutions, from keeping cats off of your deck or out of your garden to getting involved with colonies on a voluntary basis.
When encountering a stray cat, here are some of Wisdom’s tips:
- Look for an ear tip on the left ear (typically a notch or the ear may have a flatter, sharper edge) — this designates if the cat has been spayed or neutered and, typically, if it’s being cared for.
- Observe how it looks — does it look well fed? Is it unkempt? Runaway or missing indoor cats actually may look more disheveled than community cats due to their inexperience with the elements and outside maintenance.
- Try to give it food — this can also help provide a better look for any ear tips and mitigate any crying or other disruptions.
- Take photos and share them — Instagram and Nextdoor are great resources for finding if a cat is recognized by other community members, and you can also send the photo to Greenpoint Cats directly. Hanging flyers is also good for older neighbors who may not be online.
- Talk to your neighbors — see if anyone else knows or recognizes the cat.
“We try to encourage people to like, just take care of that cat in your backyard. You’ll be happier for it. You’ll have fewer rats. You’ll have a little friend in your backyard. We provide a lot of support and resources and vetting and a lot of what you need to just live peacefully with your yard cat,” Wisdom advised. “Once people understand these cats are cared for, they’re fed, they’re not a nuisance, and in fact they’re a benefit to the neighborhood, it really changes the attitude and the sentiment.”