Feral cats are keeping New York City’s infamous rats in check.
The NYC Feral Cat Initiative is training about 6000 volunteers to trap members of wild cat colonies that have become a nuisance or been threatened by construction, then spay or neuter and vaccinate them with the goal of returning them to their home territories. To the delight of the ferals, some end up in areas suffering from significant rat infestations.
Feline rat patrols keep watch over city delis and bodegas, car dealerships and the grounds of a Greenwich Village church. Four cats roam the loading dock at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where food deliveries and garbage have attracted rodents for years.
“We used to hire exterminators, but nature has a better solution,” said Rebecca Marshall, the sustainability manager at the center. “And cats don’t cost anything.”
The program is run through the privately funded Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters. It estimates as many as half a million feral and stray cats roam New York’s five boroughs.
Many of the animals are displaced as a result of New York’s development, with new construction creating perilous conditions for resident cats.
One colony of two dozen cats living in a lot on Manhattan’s West Side are about to be displaced by construction on a new $3 billion office tower. A City Council member is working with residents and developers to make sure the felines are rehomed in a safe location.
The Javits Center’s quartet of cats — Sylvester, Alfreda, Mama Cat and Ginger — were lured to its 56 loading docks about two years ago with pet food brought by animal-loving employees.
Experts say that although cats are predators, they are more likely to repel rodents via their scent and scat than have them for lunch.
“A mother rat will never give birth near a predator because the cats would eat the babies,” said Jane Hoffman, president of the mayor’s alliance.
The cat population is controlled through spaying and neutering, provided free of charge by the Humane Society of New York and the ASPCA. In most cases, adoption is out of the question for unsocialize feral cats because they can’t be domesticated.
Thanks to the volunteers, says Marshall, “we’re protecting wildlife in the city, and the cats get a second chance at life.”