Like a feline horror movie, the feral cats of Astoria have been disappearing and the neighborhood cat lovers are sick of it.
“Me and several neighbors around the area would feed a colony of eight feral cats,” said Mary Witty, an Astoria resident and cat caretaker. “Then I started noticing that one was missing, but I figured it was trapped in a garage or something, which is common for this time of year.”
But during the second week, another cat didn’t show up for its daily meal and within two days, seven out of the eight cats have gone missing.
Witty joined forces with her neighbors and created astoria7.org, a website dedicated to tracking down what became of the missing cats.
“When we went on Facebook and Craigslist and created the website, we started getting responses from people in other parts of Astoria who reported that cats had been disappearing in their area as well,” Witty said. “We got complaints from people who were seeing cans of food near their homes that they did not put out there.”
Witty began collecting the cans to have them tested for any toxic additives.
“The most frustrating thing about all of this is that we tried contacting so many different offices and agencies and we just got the royal runaround,” she said.
Witty claims to have spoken with the local precinct who told her to call 911, who in turn told her they wouldn’t take the call.
“There is some evidence of what may have happened to the cats,” Witty said. “We have a neighbor who had been threatening to poison the animals and there was mention of trapping them as well. We checked with the ASPCA but the cats weren’t at their facilities and I’m not entirely optimistic that these neighbors would have done the humane thing and brought the cats to a shelter.”
Witty approached the neighbor who had been making the threats but that person denied having any part in the disappearance of the seven cats.
What’s more, the ASPCA recently transferred responsibility for investigating animal cruelty cases to the NYPD.
Witty has been in touch with Humane Law Enforcement of ASPCA but was told that substantial evidence such as a cat’s body was needed.
“People feel like feral cats are disposable or not important,” Witty said. “I don’t think this is necessarily done all by one person, but there seems to be a rash of people poisoning cats.”
Witty said that feral cats that are not spayed or neutered are often loud and aggressive with one another, which is why they are not welcome in many areas. But Witty had each of the eight cats in the colony fixed.
“They were all quiet cats that didn’t bother anyone,” she said. “That’s rare for feral cats.”
Witty and her family and friends are now advocating for a group within the NYPD exclusively dedicated to humane law enforcement as the NYPD has not been receptive to her complaints.
“I want the city to respond to animal cruelty and respond to reports and complaints,” Witty said. “I shouldn’t be told that they can’t respond to these kind of situations.”
Witty plans to attend a public forum on animal protection issues hosted by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) on Friday as well as the next Community Board 1 meeting to appeal to her neighbors and spearhead an effort to save these animals.
“We are hopefully going to get the option to speak and maybe people will be receptive to the issues that have been going on,” she said. “I’m also writing a letter to Mayor de Blasio and [NYPD Police Commissioner] Bill Bratton.”
For now, Witty has taken in the last remaining cat to protect her from any impending danger.
“She lost her mother, her sister, her brother and her friend, so she’s terrified,” Witty said. “These are feral cats, not strays, so they aren’t used to living in a home. It took me a while to get her inside and it will probably take a couple of years to train her to be a house cat.”
She knows this because several years ago she took in a feral cat and experienced a number of issues house-breaking him.
“It was a lot of work but it’s not impossible,” she said. “I took him in about two years ago and he’s just starting to settle down.”
To people who question Witty and her neighbors’ devotion to the colony, she says that while they aren’t actually pets, they do have a special place in the neighborhood’s hearts.
“These feral cats, they were beloved by a lot of the neighbors in our little alleyway and I want people to realize that they are important. I know it’s going to be a bit of a battle, but I’m prepared to put the work in.”
If you would like to join Witty’s mailing list or have information on the disappearance of the Astoria feral cats, visit astoria7.org.