Ditmas Park Neighbors Rally To Save Benji, The Homeless Cat

Benji the Cat. (Photo via Dahlia Schweitzer)

DITMAS PARK – In the midst of chaos and politics, neighbors got together to save a sick cat from dying on a Brooklyn street earlier this week.

It all began about four days ago when a neighbor posted a photo of a sick-looking cat in the Ditmas Park Facebook group. They asked if anybody from the group would be able to take the cat to an emergency vet, as they could not do it themselves. The cat was lying on the sidewalk on Newkirk Avenue by the building across from P.S. 217. About three hours later, 43-year-old Dahlia Schweitzer came across the post and asked if there were any updates. She thought maybe someone had taken the cat to the vet. But, the cat—now named Benji— was still there.

“I was horrified that the cat was still suffering, no one had done anything yet,” Schweitzer told us. “I’m new to the area, so I had no idea whom to call or where to go, but I couldn’t just put my phone down and forget about poor sad Benji, so blind and alone and helpless.”

Someone then posted that they bought the cat some food and the cat kept banging his head on the fence as he was blind. That is when Schweitzer knew she had to help. Schweitzer moved to New York from Los Angeles a year ago and to Ditmas Park back in July. As she was new to the area, she didn’t know what vet or rescue place she would take the cat to. So she started asking around in the group. A volunteer at Sean Casey Animal Rescue reached out and recommended a vet who would be able to see Benji on a Sunday. And in a matter of minutes, Schweitzer and her girlfriend drove out to pick up the kitty.

When they got there, Benji was lying in a corner of the park with his head buried in his paw and was being watched by a parent and a child. “He looked like he was dying,” Schweitzer recalled. Her girlfriend then walked straight to Benji and picked him up. As they were walking to the car, the kids from the playground ran up to ask them where they were taking the cat. They explained that they were taking Benji to the vet because he was sick. The kids then touched Benji as if to say goodbye.

Benji the Cat. (Photo via Dahlia)

They then drove to the vet, where a volunteer from Sean Casey Animal Rescue agreed to meet them. After an hour of waiting, the vet finally saw the cat and recommended that they put him down. According to the vet, the cat was probably a couple of days away from death, was severely anemic from all the fleas, dehydrated, and emaciated.

“So Jennifer (from Sean Casey) and I were like HELL NO YOU ARE NOT PUTTING THIS CAT DOWN,” Schweitzer said. “I said, the cat could ‘just’ be malnourished and dehydrated. We aren’t putting a cat down for that.”

The vet then gave Benji a flea bath, hooked him up to an IV, and gave him antibiotics, nutrients, and fluids. Benji was to stay at the vet overnight, and Schweitzer went home and updated the group on Benji.

“I went home, worried Benji wouldn’t make it through the night,” she said. “Not only did Benji make it through the night, but he tried to tear the IV out, so the vet had to remove it. I thought that was a sign of spunk!”

Suzanne Rath, a Ditmas Park neighbor, had been following the post and updates. She wanted to help and so she set up a GoFundMe page for Benji. In a matter of hours, neighbors donated over $1,000 to help cover the vet costs. Rath even went by to see how Benji was doing herself.

“I’m an animal lover. I financially support a few rescue organizations here in the city. There was this poor animal who was suffering, and many, many people in the thread were saying how they couldn’t take the cat but wanted to help financially. I was one of those too, so I just did it,” Rath said.  “It’s a bit time consuming but other than that it wasn’t that big a deal, especially considering what I wished I could do but can’t. In light of the great need, this is so little.”

Benji and Dahlia. (Photo via Dahlia, with permission)

The following day, Schweitzer and her girlfriend went back to the vet and bought Benji salmon and canned cat food, which Benji devoured. By Tuesday, the vet said Benji was alright to go home. The results of the tests came back great and there were no signs of anything wrong. On Wednesday evening, Schweitzer brought him home and he has been there ever since. Schweitzer is constantly updating the FB page with photos and news of Benji. Neighbors are fully invested and are calling her a hero.

“Dahlia is the real [hero] though, she really stepped up to the plate, immediately! It was her amazing work that allowed this good thing to happen. And all the people who contributed are also heroes,” Rath said. “None of this could have happened without all of these amazing people! I honestly don’t feel like I did that much, as far as effort goes. The need was there, there were people who wanted to help, I wanted to help too. So I did it.”

Rescuing animals is nothing new for Schweitzer. When she was in Los Angeles, she was heavily involved with animal rescue work. And through that work, she rescued a cat and a dog, both whom she loves dearly. She has fostered many animals, including her own pet, pulling them from shelters and getting them healthy until they find their forever homes.

“I hate to see anyone—animal or person— suffering. But animals are especially vulnerable because they can’t speak up, they can’t help themselves,” she said. “I can’t look away when an animal is in pain.

Benji is now doing fine at home. He is a big black cat with reddish highlights. He is around six-years-old but acts like an old man, Schweitzer explained. He has been eating on his own (and sometimes standing up on his own as well), and he is beginning to clean himself. The kitty is still weak and exhausted, so he’s mostly sleeping. And he’s very thin, so Schweitzer ordered him some high-calorie nutritional supplements. Right now, she’s anxiously waiting for him to use the litter box.

“He purrs as soon as I pet him. He loves being pet,” she said. “He has lots of opinions on things so if I take away his food so that he doesn’t eat too much, he growls a little, sort of quietly (he won’t bite me, he’s just letting me know he’s grumpy).”

Schweitzer is currently taking it one day at a time. Her girlfriend is considering keeping Benji, and both of them love him dearly. But if a good home steps up where he will be adored, then they are willing to have him adopted.

“It’s always scary with rescues when they are so weak because you brace yourself for something to happen. I’ve had fosters die on me. But hopefully, Benji is out of the woods and on the road to recovery and I’m just being a worrier,” Schweitzer said. “People really rallied to help Benji. I’ve helped rescues before in LA and I’ve never experienced anything like the unity of the Ditmas Park community.”

The GoFundMe is still looking for donations to cover Benji’s medical costs and funds until he gets better. You can donate here.

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Zainab Iqbal

Zainab is a staff reporter at Bklyner who sometimes writes poetry in her free time || zainab@bklyner.com

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