Now Displaced by New York’s Gentrification: Feral Cats

Complicating matters for these territorial creatures, the same developments that are forcing their colonies to relocate have made it that much harder for their caretakers to find new homes nearby.


From left, Robert Benfatto, the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Business Improvement District director; Gary Granger, an Urban Cat League volunteer; and City Councilman Corey Johnson, by a lot on 37th Street where a cat colony is being displaced.

Karsten Moran for The New York Times

“If they can make room for 10,000 people, they can make room for a few dozen cats,” State Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol said at a cat colony neighboring the Greenpoint Landing development site on the Brooklyn waterfront, where the keepers of two separate colonies fear encroaching construction.

But not all developers have clashed with their four-legged neighbors. Roosevelt Island has long been a haven for wildlife. When people began arriving at the Mitchell Lama apartment towers in the 1970s, so did their cats.

“You’d get cats that escaped, but also people throwing cats out of their cars,” said Rossana Ceruzzi, a former record and advertising executive who has been caring for the cats and other animals since she moved to the island 16 years ago. “One guy came down and pretended to be taking pictures, and when I turned around, he let a cat out of his backpack and ran.”

Some 70 cats live in four colonies on the two-mile-long island. Among the greatest source of felines was the former Goldwater Hospital, where many nurses and patients kept them as pets. When Cornell University took over the site about three years ago for its campus with Israel’s Technion Institute, Ms. Ceruzzi asked the schools to help rescue and relocate the animals.

“Cornell has a world-class veterinary school, it’s a land-grant university, and this is just part of those values, 100 percent,” Andrew Winters, the director of capital projects at Cornell Tech, said.

In addition to a few cats, Ms. Ceruzzi, a state-certified wildlife rehabilitator, rescued some raccoons and a family of opossums. About 20 cats now live in a fenced-in section of Southpoint Park, which opened in 2011.

Ms. Ceruzzi has found others less to be accommodating. When construction began on Four Freedoms Park in 2010 at the island’s southern tip, she was, understandably, denied access. And while the monumental expanse of granite designed by Louis Kahn has become a popular destination, Ms. Ceruzzi said that many of the fauna that once visited are gone, including a family of pheasants and a yellow fox.

Stephen Martin, director of design and planning at Four Freedoms, said that the site was a toxic landfill overgrown with weeds. “It’s true, we’re not putting out Kibbles ’n Bits for anyone, but the memorial is an ecological sanctuary in its own right, with gulls and crabs and cormorants calling our riparian shoreline home,” he said.


Barbara Garber, left, and Rebecca Wolf brought food and fresh water to a colony of cats on Orchard Street in Long Island City, Queens.

Karsten Moran for The New York Times

New Yorkers have long cared for strays, in alleys, bodegas and even some of the most rarefied addresses — for many years, a courtyard of the San Remo on Central Park West housed as many as 75 cats. Many of those underwent a practice known as trap-neuter-return. Since the passage of Local Law 59 by the City Council in 2012, that has been the sanctioned method for dealing with the city’s wild cats.

That method has been in practice for years at a colony of two dozen cats at a lot on 37th Street near 11th Avenue in Manhattan. Like so many parcels in and around Hudson Yards, this one is now poised to become part of a 1,005-foot, $3 billion office tower being developed by Tishman Speyer, the real estate firm that controls the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center.

When Corey Johnson, the local councilman, was contacted by the colony’s caretakers, he immediately turned to Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a pro-business group. Those were not the connections he was after, though. She is also a cat fancier.

“I was showing off my new cat at the State of the City last year, and Kathy overheard and immediately took out her phone to show off hers,” Mr. Johnson recalled.


From left, Ms. Wolf, Ms. Glick-Guarneri, Ms. Garber and Rita Verma on Purves Street in Queens. Eight cats in the area disappeared or died within two weeks.

Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Ms. Wylde estimates she has rescued as many as 100 cats. A longtime friend of the Speyers, she arranged a meeting between them and the colony caretakers, and they are working to find a new home for the cats — a challenge given the booming development on the West Side.

Ms. Wylde would prefer the city establish a feral cat sanctuary.

“A lot of people’s knee-jerk reaction is just, ‘Oh, get them off the streets and find them a good home,’” Ms. Wylde said. “As people working in welfare know, it’s hard enough to find homes for homeless people nowadays.”

In Long Island City, where Tishman Speyer is building three apartment towers, things have been less tame. When the developer started work on the towers last year, it received permission from the city to turn the end of Orchard Street into a staging area. Some 16 cats under Ms. Garber and Ms. Wolf’s care lived there. They were soon joined by generators, pumps, pipes, hoses and heavy machinery, which crushed most of the cat shelters.

Ms. Garber has since moved the cats under a metal staircase across from the site, but only about half a dozen remain.

The city issued three violations to the contractor last week, after a reporter contacted the Buildings Department about whether work on the street was allowed. Two of the violations — insufficient pedestrian protections and having a generator too close to a fire hydrant — were deemed Class 1, or immediately hazardous.

Tishman Speyer declined to comment.

Ms. Garber and Ms. Wolf are still trying to find out what happened on Dutch Kills Street. The Police Department has concluded its investigation without a culprit because Mama and Blacky were disposed of before a necropsy could be performed.

Phone calls to the offices of the Rabsky Group, the Brooklyn-based developer of the Halo LIC, were not returned. A man who answered a cellphone number listed on building documents under the name Rafael Rabinowitz, a member of the firm, said he was not Rafael Rabinowitz.

“I don’t know anything about any dead cats,” the man said. “I’m not involved in any of this stuff.”

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