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Out of the Cage! The Blog of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals

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TNR volunteer Alexie Lewis stepped in to arrange veterinary care and new homes for her neighbor's 28 cats when he suddenly passed away. (Photo by Meredith Weiss)

TNR volunteer Alexie Lewis stepped in to arrange veterinary care and new homes for her neighbor's 28 cats when he suddenly passed away.

Photo by Meredith Weiss

Out of the Cage! (Holiday 2008)

The Good Neighbor: How Caring Collaboration Saved the Lives of 28 Cats

by Meredith Weiss, NYC Feral Cat Initiative / Neighborhood Cats

We've all heard the adage "life is unpredictable," yet many of us know it only as a saying. We stride ahead, day after day, year after year, with little to shake up our routines or expectations. But sometimes, on any ordinary day and, by definition, without warning, the unpredictable strikes. This is a true tale of such an experience.

Alexie Lewis, a long-time resident of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and professor of music at Brooklyn College, lives with her husband, several happy-go-lucky rescued cats, and one very sweet rescued dog in a beautiful apartment overlooking the sparkling waters of The Narrows. Alexie has been active for years as a volunteer at the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (BARC) shelter in Williamsburg, where she learned how to handle animals often under stress, and with Neighborhood Cats, where she learned how to practice the TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) method of managing stray and feral cats. With TNR, feral cats are trapped, neutered, vaccinated for rabies, eartipped, and returned to their colony where they're provided with food and shelter.

Along with several volunteers, Dr. Susan Whittred and veterinary assistant Andrea Castro performed a day-long house call to vaccinate, FIV/FeLV test, and assess the health of each cat. (Photo by Meredith Weiss)

Along with several volunteers, Dr. Susan Whittred and veterinary assistant Andrea Castro performed a day-long house call to vaccinate, FIV/FeLV test, and assess the health of each cat.

Photo by Meredith Weiss

Dr. Sak, a neighbor, and his many cats benefitted from Alexie's commitment to reduce the feral populations when she trapped them for neutering on the ASPCA Mobile Clinic. Proponents of TNR urge the return of feral cats to their colony after sterilization, but some of these cats were only a little shy and Dr. Sak, who lived alone in a large house, opted to keep them as pets. Then, one October evening, he called Alexie with the simple complaint of "feeling poorly" and asked her to drive him to the hospital. Of course, she did. The next morning, suddenly and sadly, he died.

After that shock wore off Alexie remembered his cats; how many were there, what would happen to them?

With trepidation she entered the house — just a couple of cats in sight. But Alexie knew very well there were many more, and so the search began, with twice-daily visits to clean and set traps in the nooks and crannies of the three-story home, which was filled to the rafters with everything one could imagine saving, and then some! With their caretaker gone, the cats were scared, confused, and hunkered down; it was at least two weeks before all 28 cats were caught and sequestered in a single room.

But that was only Step One! Through networking with the members of the NYC Feral Cat Initiative and Neighborhood Cats, cages and crates were rounded up to confine and monitor the cats before Step Two could be tackled.

Step Two: Assessing and caring for the cats until a solution could be found. For this task, Alexie was assisted by several local residents also involved with TNR, but Dr. Sak had no relatives living in the USA, and the brunt of the work fell on Alexie.

Step Three and beyond: Where could the cats go, how would they get there, who would vet them? With more perseverance and networking, Alexie found a sanctuary out of state to accept 18 cats! Once they were ready, the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals arranged transportation. The BARC shelter took in three of the more social cats, and the remaining friendly felines were also put up for adoption. However, before any cat could go anywhere, each had to be tested for FIV/FeLV and vaccinated for rabies and FVRCP. Janell Granier, Director of Programs for the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, solved that hurdle by contacting Susan Whittred, DVM, of the Patricia H. Ladew Foundation, a Long Island-based Alliance Participating Organization and sanctuary dedicated to serving ownerless cats in need.

With the help of the vet staff and several volunteers, Alexie Lewis was able to save the lives of her neighbor's cats and prepare them for adoption or feral cat sanctuary placement. (Photo by Meredith Weiss)

With the help of the vet staff and several volunteers, Alexie Lewis was able to save the lives of her neighbor's cats and prepare them for adoption or feral cat sanctuary placement.

Photo by Meredith Weiss

Dr. Whittred and her amazing veterinary assistant, Andrea Castro, drove from Oyster Bay to Bay Ridge. With expert competency and lots of TLC, the day-long vetting process was underway, one cat at a time, with Alexie and volunteers pitching in. Despite a bit of recalcitrant protestation here and there, everyone agreed that the patients were real troopers — nary a whisker out of place! The two-month ordeal was drawing to a close; all the cats had a clean bill of health and a place to go, except for a bonded pair of males, Eric and Derek. The very compassionate Dr. Whittred, who had already committed to taking the charming characters Alex and Mason, generously offered sanctuary to the inseparable boys as well! Thank you — what a relief! Finally, just in time for Christmas, Alexie will get her life back and 28 cats will move on to a future they wouldn't have had without her.

Please consider life's unpredictability and think about planning for the welfare of your beloved pets after you're gone. As much as we may wish it were so, we can't all expect to have such a very, very good neighbor.

See related article in this issue on planning for your pets, featuring 2nd Chance 4 Pets, an organization dedicated to helping pet owners plan for the lifetime care of their pets in the event the pet owner can no longer do so.

 

Meredith WeissAbout the Author

Meredith Weiss is the TNR Director for the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, and she has been a Board Member of Neighborhood Cats since 2000. She is widely recognized for her compelling photographs of feral cats that have appeared in Cat Fancy, The New York Times, and Newsday, among other publications. She has received a Certificate of Excellence and a Muse Medallion from the Cat Writers Association for her color photography series that appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of the ASPCA's Animal Watch.