- Real Estate
- Under Cover
- Special Editorial
- In Pictures
BY SERGEI KLEBNIKOV | “Where have the Broome St. Alley Cats gone?” reads a flier posted by local residents of the Amalgamated Dwellings building complex. The flier calls for help as the last elderly cats of what used to be an established feral cat colony pass away.
The “Broome St. Alley” cats, reportedly one of the oldest and most successfully managed such colonies in New York City, has come to an end. A large number of cats used to populate the alley — which runs next to Luther Gulick Playground — spilling over into the Amalgamated Dwellings basement and the neighboring Hillman Housing complex’s grounds.
Using a trap-neuter-and-release program, locals had been caring for the cats for decades. However, after adopting out friendly felines, only several elderly ones were left — too old to be moved, and living in a basement of the Amalgamated Dwellings.
“There has been a cat colony established here for a long time,” said Janet Jensen, a local resident who took care of the cats. “When I first moved in years ago, there were 40 cats in the alley and park.”
Ellen Renstrom has been tending to the animals for almost 10 years. She pointed out that it was indeed a “registered colony” for many years, since the feral cats were vaccinated and had microchips implanted in their ears.
However, after the cats’ entrance to the basement was blocked off due to a potentially serious rat infestation, the remaining elderly critters had nowhere to go, according to several residents who were taking care of them. This issue had fueled prior disagreements about the animals between a few residents and the development’s board of trustees.
Requesting anonymity, a member of the Amalgamated Dwellings board of trustees explained the board’s decision on closing the basement vents. Last February, he said, after a dead cat and several dead rats were discovered in the vents, a wildlife expert was brought in to check the building and found that there was a rat infestation. With animal laws forbidding the extermination of rats with cats inside the basement, he said, the board gave residents “every opportunity to relocate the cats.”
However, he added, “We never gave residents permission to use the building for them.”
The board member said that they “didn’t end any colony,” and were acting by order of the rodent control expert to prevent a looming rat infestation. Originally, he said, the board and property manager were against removing the cats. But after waiting a couple of months, it was noticed that rats were getting into the building, and the decision was made to close the vents.
The board also cited complaints about the cats that were received by a few shareholders in the buildings. Besides the issue of fear of a rat infestation, there were complaints about some of the cats carrying diseases. One of the worst cases, the board member pointed out, is that outdoor cats are “the primary hosts” of taxoplasmosis, a disease estimated to infect almost 30 percent of humans worldwide, according to a March 21 New York Times article headlined, “The Evil of the Outdoor Cat.”
Taxoplasmosis, according to the article, produces lifelong parasitic cysts in the brain, and although usually asymptomatic, can be linked to neurological impairments, depression, blindness and birth defects.
Brooke Myers, another local resident, started taking care of the cats many years ago after constantly seeing them outside her first-floor window. She said the complaints led to “bad feeling between neighbors” and an “uptight scene.”
A petition, “on behalf of Amalgamated Cats,” was even started by several local residents. The Amalgamated Dwellings board received 22 signatures. The board, along with property manager A.M Katz Real Estate, sent out an e-mail to all of the petitioners to explain the reasons behind their decision, mainly citing the cats as a health hazard. At that point, most of the cat advocates “deserted the cause or apologized,” the board member claimed.
However, Myers said, “People got screamed at and threatened” for signing the petition.
“They could have at least left the shelters,” said Renstrom. She explained that makeshift cat shelters, provided by Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, were repeatedly removed by the board.
Jensen added that after the vents were boarded up, the elderly cats “had no real shelter anymore.” However, the pro-cat residents agreed that A.M Katz tried to remove the animals “in a humane way,” and pointed out that they were just acting on the board’s orders.
The Amalgamated board downplayed the whole affair. The board member reiterated that they had nothing against the cats, and their removal was necessary for the health and safety of the building’s shareholders.
Currently, out of the three elderly cats that remained several months ago, two are dead and one is missing, also presumed dead. The local residents who have been taking care of the cats for so many years were sad to see all of them gone.
“There probably won’t be cats in the building ever again, and a lot of people are very sad about that,” said Myers.
“The colony came to an unfortunate and sad end,” Jensen said.
“The cats didn’t need to die this way,” Renstrom said. “It’s a loss for the neighborhood.”