LOWER EAST SIDE — Here kitty, kitty.
With thousands of feral cat colonies in New York City, a nonprofit organization is training volunteers how to care for the stigmatized felines through workshops on humanely trapping, fixing and then releasing the animals.
Neighborhood Cats has operated as an educational and support organization since 1999 and is dedicated to ensuring that TNR (trap, neuter, return) — a New York City approved response to feral cat populations — is understood, accepted and practiced in every community.
With its next workshop scheduled for Wednesday night at the Lower East Side's Houston Street Center, Neighborhood Cats will be training a new batch of helpers on how to care for their local cat colonies by providing food, shelter and eventually trapping them for neutering so populations stay orderly and in low numbers.
"Nobody wants the cats to be in that [outdoor] environment," said executive director Susan Richmond, who has worked in animal welfare for more than 25 years. "In a perfect world, they would be at home on the couch. But the fact of the matter is, there are cats on the street."
The advantages of TNR are twofold for feral cat colonies, Richmond explained. Not only are the cats, both male and female, prevented from reproducing, the attributes that make them the bane of neighbors' existence — like mewing for a mate — are reined in.
"They return to their colonies, and they tend to be very quiet and invisible to their neighbors," Richmond said.
Currently, Neighborhood Cats has a database including hundreds of volunteers caring for about 1,500 colonies across the city.
At the workshops, volunteers learn how to coax cats into traps by conditioning them through a regular feeding schedule, before luring them in with, say, a fragrant tin of tuna.
"When it is time to trap, you withhold the food for about a day before so they are hungry," said Richmond, of the technique Neighborhood Cats teaches all over the city and nation. "A well-fed cat is less inclined to go into a trap."
Collapsible cages or homemade traps are then employed to ensnare the cats before they are taken to clinics run by organizations like the ASPCA, where a spay or neuter jobs costs only $5.
Once the cats have recovered, they are released back into the street, where the colony caretaker continues to feed and provide shelter for the animals.
"It is an absolutely rewarding but demanding commitment," Richmond said. "They visit their colonies every day."
In 1999, Meredith Weiss got involved in Neighborhood Cats when she found herself feeding about 50 cats in multiple colonies surrounding the South Street Seaport near where she worked.
"I think people care about anything or any person that we consider disadvantaged," she said of her philosophy, which developed into a $50-a-week cat-feeding habit.
While the first colony she started taking care of is no longer there — Weiss moved the cats when construction work began in the area — she can still remember some of the names she gave them.
"There was a big male cat who was gray, so he was Smokey. His girlfriend who had the kittens, her name was Stella," said Weiss, who eventually became one of four staff members at Neighborhood Cats.
She kept watch over the colony for multiple years, but was always aware that other people might not approve of her patronage.
"There is that stigma surrounding it, especially women who feed cats — that crazy cat lady thing," Weiss said. Late one night, her then-boss stumbled upon Weiss opening cat-food tins on the sidewalk.
"He took it well," she said, "but I was a little embarrassed."
And the cats themselves aren't always viewed as cuddly by their human neighbors.
"It is just a fact of life — there are people that hate cats," said Richmond.
That is why Neighborhood Cats does not reveal the location of colonies, due to previous instances of cats being terrorized, Richmond noted.
"[Neighborhood Cats] is just a whole different area of animal welfare, and a very compelling one," she said.
Neighborhood Cats TNR workshop is at Houston Street Center at 273 the Bowery from 5:30 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $15.