Volume 22, Number 14 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Aug. 14 - 20, 2009
Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert
Rich Brotman (top left) holds one of the Goldman “Blackberries,” flanked by Arlo, a deaf white cat discovered at the South Ferry subway construction site a few years ago, and Bumper, a dog rescued after Hurricane Katrina. Silkey (bottom left), who helps direct traffic near the Goldman Sachs construction site, helped take care of the mother cat before the kittens were rescued by Brotman. The cat and kittens spent most of their time in this narrow area inside the tower.
Kittens born inside Wall Street’s biggest lion
Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
Two of the “BlackBerry” kittens who were born recently in the Goldman Sachs building under construction in Battery Park City. They and two of their siblings are up for adoption. The mother and a fifth kitten are missing.
By Julie Shapiro
The first tenant of the new Goldman Sachs tower paid no rent and signed no lease when she moved in this spring.
Pregnant with quintuplets, she commandeered just a few square feet of space in the 43-story skyscraper that is nearing completion. It was not the prime real estate with river views, but rather an alcove tucked between two sheets of plywood at the tower’s base.
There, unnoticed by the international banking firm, the black cat built a bed of newspaper and cardboard boxes. At the end of June, when her new home was ready, she brought five inky black kittens into a noisy world of jackhammers and backhoes.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” said Silkey, a traffic flagger for the Goldman site, who discovered the kittens. Silkey, who goes by a single name, noticed the pregnant cat trotting across Murray St. this spring and started feeding her before the kittens were born. Local workers asked Silkey about the cat and soon several people were taking turns buying food.
“A lot of people here love cats,” Silkey said as she waved cars down Murray St. this week. “You don’t want to see nothing happen to them.”
Silkey and others cared for the cat and kittens as best they could, but they soon called the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, who in turn called in the experts: Rich and Patti Brotman.
The Brotmans have been rescuing cats in Battery Park City for over 15 years, and they formed an animal search and rescue unit after 9/11 with the neighborhood’s Community Emergency Response Team.
For the past several Saturdays, Rich Brotman, 54, has been rising at dawn to put sardine-baited traps near the black cat’s makeshift home, across from Applebee’s on the west side of the Goldman site. He has caught four of the kittens so far, and now they are living in a large cage in his Gateway Plaza apartment, where they are slowly getting used to being indoors among people. Soon, Brotman hopes to find adoptive families for the kittens.
Brotman trapped the mother as well, but he released her back into the neighborhood after getting her neutered because she was too feral to make a good pet. Brotman initially heard from workers that there were as many as eight kittens in the litter, but the count could have been exaggerated or several kittens may have died shortly after being born, as Brotman only counted five.
After being released, the mother reunited with her last remaining confirmed kitten, and about a week ago they disappeared from the Goldman site.
That means the spectacle that captivated Silkey and dozens of others is now likely over. One construction worker grinned as he described watching the still-pregnant cat weave around excavated pits and heaps of materials, dodging the heavy machinery.
“We just stopped and looked at each other,” the worker said, shaking his head.
Now, the four rescued kittens are far removed from the dust and grime of the construction site. On a recent sweltering afternoon, they rested quietly in a cage in the Brotmans’ cool apartment, their eyes large and watchful.
“They’re scared still,” Brotman said as he reached in to stroke them. “They’re not lap cats yet.”
The kitten with the roundest face — they don’t yet have names, but Brotman nicknamed them “the BlackBerries” — allowed Brotman to pick him up briefly, but he soon scrabbled at the bars of his cage, eager to get back inside. One of the less friendly kittens still hisses occasionally, but Brotman said they all just need more human contact. Brotman plays a lot of Grateful Dead music for the kittens, especially the album “American Beauty.”
“It relaxes them,” he said.
The Brotmans rescued the kittens just in time — if they are still stray when they are seven weeks old, it’s hard to ever turn them into friendly pets, Brotman said.
Cats on construction sites are nothing new, and Brotman said the construction is actually what brings strays to the neighborhood — just as it has for the past 20 years. Sometimes construction workers dump cats at the sites to keep the rats at bay. Other times, cats find the sites on their own, drawn to the temporary shelter and scraps of food from the workers.
The city has more strays than usual this summer, partly because of the mild winter, Brotman said. Also, the poor economy means that more people abandon pets they can no longer afford.
Despite the economy, Brotman hopes he’ll be able to find homes for the four kittens, and he is also seeking donations because each kitten needs about $300 worth of veterinary care.
For now, the kittens fit right into the Brotmans’ one-bedroom apartment, a menagerie of former strays. There’s Bumper, the Chihuahua-spaniel-dachshund mix Brotman rescued after Hurricane Katrina. There’s Freebo, a Yorkie that the Brotmans had planned to keep only temporarily after a nonprofit found him on the streets of Brooklyn.
And there are a few more felines, including the alpha male of the apartment, a deaf, white cat named Arlo who was discovered by construction workers rebuilding the South Ferry subway station several years ago. Brotman, who works in video editing, was reluctant to give an exact number of pets he owns because he wasn’t sure if so many were allowed. Linda Belfer, president of Gateway’s tenant association, said she didn’t know of any limits on cats, and the complex’s owner did not comment.
In addition to the live cats and dogs that peek out from inside bookshelves and from behind the couch in the Brotmans’ apartment, dozens of others stare down from the walls in the form of photos, artwork and figurines. The Brotmans work assiduously to keep the apartment clean, but it still has the unmistakable odor of pets. The couple has no children.
“Animals are more on our level,” Brotman said.
The Brotmans started rescuing stray cats in the early ’90s, when Battery Park City was one big construction site. In 1994, large cat colonies sprung up in South Cove and where Stuyvesant High School would later be built. The Brotmans worked with nonprofits and the B.P.C. Authority to feed the cats, give them veterinary care and find homes for them.
Ever since then, “People call us whenever there’s an animal issue,” Brotman said. After 9/11, the Brotmans and others received formal Federal Emergency Management Agency training, and now they teach people with pets about preparing for disasters. In 2007, they helped rescue animals when 90 West St. flooded across the street from the World Trade Center.
Because of the ongoing construction in the neighborhood and at the W.T.C., Brotman said, “I don’t think we’ll ever be out of business.”
For more information about adopting one of the Goldman kittens, call Rich and Patti Brotman at 212-912-0607 or e-mail them at RBrotPaw@aol.com.