Feral felines deployed in NYC war on rats

Verena Dobnik, AP writer

Multitudes of feral cats roam New York City’s concrete jungle. Thanks to a new program, their health needs are being addressed and some now even have a job: They’re helping curb the city’s rat population.

A group of volunteers trained by the NYC Feral Cat Initiative traps wild cat colonies that have become a nuisance or been threatened by construction, then spays or neuters and vaccinates them. The goal is to return them to their home territory, but some end up in areas rife with rats.

Feline rat patrols keep watch over city delis, bodegas, car dealerships and even the grounds of a Greenwich Village church. Four cats roam the loading dock at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where food deliveries and garbage have drawn rodents for years.

“We used to hire exterminators, but nature has a better solution,” said Rebecca Marshall, the sustainability manager at the 1.8-million-square-foot center. “And cats don’t cost anything.”

About 6,000 volunteers have completed workshops where they’ve learned proper ways to trap cats.

The program is run through the privately funded Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters.

Cat life on the street

The alliance estimates as many as half a million feral and stray cats roam New York’s five boroughs.

The life of a street cat is a tough one. Some are former pets, abandoned by owners. Plenty die of disease and malnutrition or are hit by vehicles. Others ingest poisoned cat food — set deliberately to get rid of them, cat advocates say.

Many of the animals are displaced as a result of New York’s development. New construction creates perilous conditions for cats that once inhabited the city’s nooks and crannies, vacant lots, decaying factories and empty warehouses.

One colony of two dozen cats living in a lot on Manhattan’s West Side are about to be displaced by construction on a new $3 billion office tower. A city council member is working with residents and developers to make sure the creatures are moved to a safe location.

The Javits Center’s quartet of cats — Sylvester, Alfreda, Mama Cat and Ginger — were lured to its 56 loading docks about two years ago with pet food brought by animal-loving employees. On a recent fall morning, Sylvester stationed himself next to a commercial truck, ready to pounce if needed.

The cats are predators but don’t necessarily kill rats. Instead, experts say the feline scent and droppings repel the rodents.

“A mother rat will never give birth near a predator because the cats would eat the babies,” said Jane Hoffman, president of the mayor’s alliance.

The cat population is controlled through spaying and neutering, provided free of charge by the Humane Society of New York and the ASPCA. In most cases, adoption is out of the question for feral cats because they are just too wild to be domesticated.

Thanks to the volunteers, says Marshall, “we’re protecting wildlife in the city and the cats get a second chance at life.”

Teens win MIT grant to stop hot-car deaths

A team of Atlanta high school students won a $10,000 MIT grant to find a way to prevent children and pets from dying in hot cars.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the students at the Drew Charter School plan to design a device that will sense when a child or pet is in a car after the driver has exited and, after a short period, alert the driver, bystanders and police.

Shelter offers night-drop to keep strays warm

Night-drop kennels give stray animals a warm place to spend the night in Anchorage, Alaska.

People who find animals after hours but cannot take them home can leave them in heated kennels behind Anchorage Animal Care and Control. The kennels have water access and the doors lock behind the animals.

103 animals euthanized in sanctuary investigation

Two women face felony charges after investigators say they found more than 400 animals in unsanitary conditions at a Nevada sanctuary operated from a home, including a coyote “running wild” inside the house and an owl and fox locked in a bathroom.

More than 100 of the domestic and wild animals discovered on the property had to be euthanized, authorities said.

An arrest warrant described the situation at the four-bedroom home as an extreme case of animal hoarding.

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