BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
The disappearing feral cats of Astoria were the main topic of discussion during Tuesday’s monthly Community Board 1 meeting.
Mary Witty, an Astoria resident and cat caretaker, said in a span of two weeks, almost an entire colony of cats vanished, leaving her and her neighbors heart-broken and outraged.
She said the seven cats were loved by the neighbors, who would feed them two to three times a day. All of them were neutered and spayed, and had winter shelters where they could escape.
After their disappearance, Witty said they discovered evidence of trapping and attempted poisoning, but as of right now, they do not have proof to show the NYPD.
Witty and several neighbors joined forces to contact the NYPD and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but she claims it has been cumbersome to seek help because the responsibility to respond to animal cruelty was recently shifted from the ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement to the NYPD.
“Animal cruelty cases are being scuttled to the Community Affairs officer, so it’s not being handled by regular officers on the beat,” she said. “There is some advantage to that, but I am not sure if he [the Community Affairs officer] is an investigator or is as effective as a detective.”
After being pushed back and forth between City agencies, they became frustrated and took matters into their own hands by creating Astoria7.org, a website dedicated to tracking the information about the seven missing cats.
The next step Witty said they will take is sending out a mailer to Astoria residents explaining the repercussions of animal cruelty and then they want to work to broaden the status of feral cats.
“We can also work to broaden the status of feral cats because they are not wildlife or property,” she said. “There is something fundamentally wrong with their status.”
In the future, Witty said she wants to see if a cat caretaker can become official guardians or property owners of their colony of feral cats.
“So that would entitle us to certain rights and if something happens to them, we could then start a more formal investigation,” she said.
Witty said it is also imperative that the NYPD establish a designated law enforcement body staffed by trained people.
Even though Witty said they consider someone to be a prime suspect in the neighborhood, the standards of evidence that are being used in animal cruelty cases are extremely high.
“So it almost makes it impossible to investigate a case because you need a surveillance tape of someone killing an animal, so de facto; there is no prosecution of animal cruelty,” she said.
JoAnne Bogvich, who grew up in Astoria, said she knows a neighbor who had been threatening to poison the cats, but right now she does not have “absolute proof.”
“The people who hate cats rather take matters into their own hands,” she said. “I can’t sleep at night because I think of the little face, Simba. She was so sweet.”
Evon Handras, director of administration from the Liaison Feral Cat Initiative of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, said a community relations workshop on March 4 will take place at the ASPCA Midtown administrative offices to improve neighborhood relations and to relay information about the needs of community cats and the benefits of the program, Trap-Neuter-Return.
Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Tsakhuja13.