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Feral Cat Colony May be Forced to Relocate by Greenpoint High-Rises

By Meredith Hoffman | April 30, 2012 6:45am
Two of the colony members took a break from munching on their free meal.
Two of the colony members took a break from munching on their free meal.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

WILLIAMSBURG — Esmerelda the feral cat has unfettered views of the East River from a giant waterfront lot in Greenpoint — but her paradise might be about to come to an end thanks to another development.

After years of basking in the sun, a colony of feral cats that flocked to the vacant lot on India Street may be forced to relocate to make room for a trio of high-rise apartment buildings, according to longtime caretaker Tory Bond.

Bond said a man claiming to own the property approached her at the site last week and told her she would have to find the cats a new home in the next six months — not an easy task for wild felines in an urban terrain.

“I have no choice but to move the colony,” said Bond, who said the man did not tell her his name. “If I don’t, he’ll call the city and the city will have them euthanized within three days.”

Bond said the man told her they plan to demolish one old building at the spot and begin the process of building three 39-story towers with 460 apartment units.

A managing member of the development company Stiles LLC, which owns the land, denied Bond's claim.

"I have no idea when or if we're going to start construction . . . we have to get approval by the city," said the manager Jonathan Bernstein. "I haven't asked anybody to clear any cats—I don't know who she's talking to."

The development team unveiled plans to build towers in 2009, according to reports by the Wall Street Journal.

"It's going to change the tone and tenor of India Street, this is a quiet neighborhood," said Bond. "But most of all I'm worried about the cats."

The East River cat colony is housed in boxes on city property at the end of India Street, where Bond brings them food each morning, and another volunteer feeds them each night.

But the cats roam all over the gated lot owned by Stiles Realty, and local cat lovers said if Stiles forces them out the developer should build them a new home.

"If these developers can afford a 39-story tower why don't they put it in their budget and build a shelter for the cats?" said Kristen Bretz, a cat-tattooed manager at the nearby Hair Metal salon. " You can't just move them — they're not going to understand a memo."

Relocating the riverside cluster is an almost impossible feat, experts said.

The animals would have to be kept in a giant pen at their new spot for three weeks in hopes of getting them to adjust to the new environment, according to Mike Phillips, Community Outreach Coordinator for the NYC Feral Cat Initiative of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals.

Once released, there would still be a danger that the cats might try to return to their old home,  Phillips said.

"We never know what a cat is thinking — they might come out of the pen and say 'I hate this place,'" Phillips said.

Feral cats — the offspring of domesticated cats that end up on the street — are particularly finicky, since they revert to their wild natural ways, Phillips said.

The felines shun human contact but still need to be fed by people. They also need to be neutered, to prevent a massive litter that could increase the population from 2 to 60 in a short time.

Bond, who is certified by the ASPCA to trap, neuter and release stray animals, said she has sterilized and released all the strays she oversees. But she fears she may not be able to protect them against the new changes.

Four cats from her colony have already died in the past month due to unknown causes, Bond said. And even if the furry creatures are allowed to stay, work on the site could threaten their safety.

"They'll be in jeopardy with the truck traffic, the cranes and the construction," said Bond, noting that one of the cats had her legs and pelvis crushed by a truck during the East River Ferry pier construction last year.

But some neighbors feel less sympathy than annoyance for the feral cats and their caretaker — and they understand why the developer would give the felines the boot.

"There's cat mess all in my garbage, it smells, it stinks—it's not right," said Vishnu Ramlall, who lives next door to another cat colony Bond tends on India Street by Franklin Street.

"My sisters can't come visit me because of the cats—my sister gets all swollen up and she can't breathe," Ramlall's sister Jackie Ramlall, 75, lamented. "The cats jump the fence and jump in my yard. They're killing my plants."

Bond maintained that she takes good care of the kittens and cleans the block, and emphasized the vulnerability of the strays.

"I'm really afraid," she said, "my cats are going to get hurt."