BROOKLYN – There are over 500,000 cats living in NYC, with the majority of them calling Brooklyn their home.
“It’s a total uphill battle. If every cat has six kittens and every kitten has six kittens, there’s never going to be enough homes for all of them,” Corey, one of the cat rescuers featured in the documentary said. “There’s a lot of people who rant and rave and say how horrible Animal Care Center (ACC) is, but ACC isn’t the problem. We’re the problem. Humans not being responsible and not getting their animals spayed and neutered, we’re the problem.”
Four years ago, Filmmakers Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence decided to make a documentary about Brooklynites who spend their time rescuing cats. It was personal for Lawrence.
Lawrence and his wife had moved to a new house in Bay Ridge, and soon realized they had inherited an entire colony of cats.
“We had to figure out what to do,” Lawrence said. They started contacting people they knew from the veterinary community to get advice, and were told to trap the cats and get them neutered. Tara Green, a cat rescuer, soon became their advisor and taught them about Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).
“We decided we would tell the story of the street cat problem in NYC through the experiences of rescuers who perform TNR every day,” Lawrence said, to educate both about the issue and the humane solution TNR offers.
Here’s how TNR works. First, the cat must be trapped safely. After that is done, the cat is brought over to a clinic where it is neutered. And then it is brought back and released in the same neighborhood.
“Many landlords do try to poison cats. Obviously, we have a soft spot for cats. But simply feeding them doesn’t solve the problem,” Fruchtman said. “You can’t do mass extermination on cats the way you can with rats. Our human connection to cats is so strong. Cats are also very smart.”
“And rats are, too. That’s why we can’t get rid of rats either,” Fruchtman laughed.
By spaying and neutering cats you stop them from reproducing, allowing to keep the cat population in check. TNR actually works. Over a two year period, Lawrence and his wife (mostly his wife, he admits) performed TNR on over 35 (!) cats. As a result, there have been no new kittens on their block.
“You can have a tremendous impact and humanely control the cat population that way,” Lawrence said.
The documentary, “The Cat Rescuers” follows four cat rescuers across ten neighborhoods in Brooklyn – Latonya “Sassee” Walker, Claire Corey, Stuart Siet, and Tara Green.
Sassee is the kind of woman who would be willing to spend months trying to trap just one cat. She lives in Canarsie but travels across the borough.
“I spend easily $300 a month on cat food and litter. And when I say easily, I’m sure I hit $500 a lot. But there are so many animals, what are we going to do?”
As much as the documentary shows the rescuers trapping and neutering cats, it also delves into their personal lives. We meet Sassee’s daughter and Claire’s husband, all while following Siet at three in the morning as he feeds cats in Boro Park.
“Sure, there are cats all across NYC, but we wanted to make Brooklyn our canvas,” Fruchtman said. “It’s such a diverse borough. There are so many different kinds of neighborhoods. But whether it’s a wealthy neighborhood, or a working-class neighborhood, or the projects, they are all dealing with this problem.”
Both of the experienced filmmakers spent three to four years following the lives of the rescuers and admit that they are more aware of cats now than they were before. “You can’t not be aware,” Fruchtman said.
“This film is not just for people who love cats and animals. It’s for people who have made a commitment to a cause; something that they deeply believe in that makes a difference,” Lawrence said. “People are needed to do this kind of volunteer and activism.”
“These rescuers are unsung heroes. Their work would be invisible and only known to people in their neighborhoods if not for this film,” he continued. “Now, the kind of work they’re doing is going to be known to a larger audience. W hope this film would raise awareness of the street cat problem in cities around the world.”