The uncertain future of New York City’s cats during pandemic

Lisa Scroggins, the founder of Little Wanderers, a rescue organisation under pressure, but remaining successful during the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, is nervous about the future of feral and indeed domestic cats in the city.

Skeeter! You are so cute! He’s adopted. Little Wanderers said: Just two days ago this 10 week old boy kitten lived underneath cars in an outdoor parking lot in Inwood (Northern Manhattan). Now he’s neutered and vetted and an adorable boy kitten looking forward a new home. Photo: Little Wanderers.

She said that climbing unemployment rates are affecting the prospects for domestic cats in homes, never mind the health and welfare of feral cats. Cat owners who struggle with the cost of caring for a cat can no longer visit low-cost facilities because they are closed and no longer take them to shelters to surrender their cats because they are closed also.

Little Wanderers usually relies upon the ASPCA to spay and neuter rescue and community cats because the service they provide is free for rescue groups. But both the ASPCA and ACC (Animal Care Center of NYC) have halted spay neuter services because new regulations, social distancing and a shortage of medical supplies has made it impossible for them to function normally.

ASPCA normally provides tens of thousands of spay-neuter surgeries for cats annually and their closure has had a dramatically negative effect. Little Wanderers use Faithful Friends Animal Hospital but their veterinary bills have increased by 57%. They rely upon donations for everything from cat food to emergency amputations. They successfully use their Instagram pages to raise funds.

There’s a real pressure on people like Lisa Scroggins who herself, living in a studio apartment in Manhattan, looks after seven dogs and five cats. It’s extraordinary. She is massively dedicated and she can’t turn the animals away. One of her volunteers shares her home with 11 cats. They are reaching capacity. These are the heroic ladies of Little Wanderers.

Will Zweigart, the founder of Flatbush Cats is equally concerned about the future of New York’s cats. They, too, have a successful Instagram account. The success of cat rescue and feral cat population control in New York depends upon a balance between many not-for-profit organisations, humane societies, volunteers and animal shelters. Reportedly1 half of that network is currently closed due to Covid-19. If the pandemic affects these organisations through to summer and beyond hundreds of kittens will become adult breeding cats which will undermine years of hard work in controlling and managing feral cat populations.

We going to have to stop doing anything else and just care for hundreds and hundreds of kittens. That is a crisis – Zweigart.

He believes that the situation regarding feral cat populations in New York mirrors the human healthcare problem. He says that there is unnecessary suffering and high cost because basic services are not provided. With respect to cats, the basic services that he is referring to is TNR performed by small not-for-profit organisations and a vast army of volunteers.

There is one positive effect of the coronavirus pandemic which is that there has been more adoptions than unusual and applications to be foster carers. There is a fear, however, that some of these adoptions will end up in relinquishments after the pandemic is over or has subsided. This is because some adoptions are by people who want the assistance of a companion animal during these difficult times. They may give up on their companion animals when things return to normal. Will life return to normal?

1. The Guardian newspaper online.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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