ASPCA, NYC Agencies and Local Youth Work Together to Help Community Cats

The ASPCA Community Engagement staff recently held a series of workshops for the NYPD’s Law Enforcement Explorers and NYC’s Administration for Children’s Services’ Youth Leadership Council to build something creative and exciting but very beneficial: shelters for community cats. 

At workshops in local libraries and schools, the teams worked together to build nearly 25 community cat shelters for cat caretakers in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Each shelter, made from a 120-quart, heavy-duty plastic cooler, can house up to four cats, and provide a warm and safe space that prevents them from looking for warmth in dangerous places, like the tires of parked cars.

Several Explorers at the 120th Precinct’s workshop in Staten Island reported seeing “a lot” of free-roaming cats in their communities and were glad to help build them homes.

Allison, one of those Explorers, said, “This experience makes me more appreciative of my own cat.”

‘Hard Work Put to Good Use’

The ASPCA and NYPD established a groundbreaking partnership in 2014 to combat animal cruelty. As part of this program, the ASPCA Community Engagement team provides resources to help pet owners and the community maintain a safe and healthy environment for pets. 

The NYPD Explorers program, for youth ages 14 to 20, provides young people with introductions to law enforcement or criminal justice careers by supporting their communities through service projects. The YLC, a program of the Mayor’s office, consists of young people currently and formerly involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice system who participate in planning, policy development and decision-making that impacts their communities. 

The workshops have multiple objectives, including strengthening community ties, teaching valuable skills and teamwork, exposing young people to animal welfare practices and opportunities, and of course, helping local cats and the residents who care for them.

“We stress the importance of caring for these outdoor animals and demonstrating how youth can directly impact this population,” says Matt Goldweber, Senior Program Manager, Community Engagement. “The participants are always happy to witness their hard work become a reality.”

“Teaching others about community cats and TNRM (Trap, Neuter, Return, Monitor) always makes my day,” says Olivia D’Amico, an ASPCA Matchmaker who joined a recent ASPCA/NYPD Explorers workshop in Coney Island. “Community cats are one of my greatest passions, and there’s nothing more heartwarming than having others get excited about helping them.”

Soon after placing the newly built shelters in the Coney Island Precinct’s parking lot, Explorers noticed community cats checking out their new digs. 

“It was extremely rewarding for them to see their hard work put to good use almost instantly,” says Olivia.

Building on Compassion

The workshops usually begin with Luisa Germain, the ASPCA’s bilingual Community Cats Manager, explaining how community cats are identified and cared for, and how TRNM works. 

Community cats are outdoor, unowned, free-roaming cats that can include both feral and friendly strays who stay close to a specific food source, such as a backyard or lot. While feral cats are born and raised outdoors without human contact, strays are usually lost or abandoned pets who are more comfortable around people.

TNRM involves humanely trapping cats and providing them with spay or neuter surgeries and vaccines before returning them to their colony near a food source and a caretaker designated to feed and monitor the cats.

“Cats begin to reproduce at four to six months of age and can have up to three litters a year,” says Luisa. “One un-spayed female can be responsible for 100 to 400 kittens over seven years. TRNM reduces the population and prevents suffering.”

Workshop participants build the shelters by cutting five-inch entrances into the coolers, adding straw for bedding, sealing the lids with duct tape, and safely placing them in pre-approved locations.  

Benefits for Everyone

On May 21, there will be an event open to the public at Martin Van Buren High School in the 105th Precinct in Queens Village. The ASPCA will have adoptable pets on hand and the Community Engagement team will be there as well to answer questions from attendees. The NYPD will also be present with a rock wall and video game van.

We will schedule more Explorers and YLC events this fall! 

Police Officer Dwayneasia Witherspoon, who attended an Explorers event at the 90th Precinct in Brooklyn on March 8, gets satisfaction from helping construct the safe havens for community cats. 

“As a police officer, that’s important to me,” she says.

“Creating cat shelters and being helpful is rewarding,” says Brian, a student who attended an ASPCA/YLC event on March 7 in Brooklyn. “Now I see the impact they have in my community.” 

“Meow,” is all the community cats can say. But if they could express their gratitude for being given new homes by the collaboration of youth, agencies and rescuers, they certainly would.

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