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Plan to Keep Coyotes at Bay Is Starving Astoria Cat Colony, Caretaker Says

 Some of the feral cats who live at the Bowery Bay Water Treatment Plant in Astoria.
Some of the feral cats who live at the Bowery Bay Water Treatment Plant in Astoria.
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Paul Santell

ASTORIA — The city's efforts to keep coyotes from a wastewater treatment facility in Queens is threatening about two dozen feral cats who also call the site home, a local caretaker said.

Astoria animal advocate Paul Santell has cared for a colony of about 25 strays at the Bowery Bay plant near the East River for two years, getting the animals neutered and vaccinated and helping to feed them.

But the city will no longer allow him and others to leave food for the felines after an increased number of coyote sightings in the area caused concern that they're being attracted by the cats' meals.

Santell says it's the feral animals that will be paying the price.

The ban went into place Tuesday, meaning the cats have gone days without their regular meals, according to Santell.

"Because of the coyotes, the cats are suffering," he said. "The cats are starving."

A spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection, which operates the plant, confirmed the food ban, saying it's being done in order to comply with instructions from city and state wildlife experts.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation's tips for preventing issues with coyotes include avoiding leaving food outside, according to the agency.

"The cat food is absolutely an attractant for all kinds of wildlife — raccoons, skunks and coyotes," said Chris Nagy, director of research and land management for the conservation group Mainut River Gorge, where he specializes in coyote colonization.

"It's bad ecology to feed feral cats. You're not doing them many favors. It's just keeping them there and dependent."

But Santell said his role is to manage the feral colony, where he's been practicing the trap, neuter and return (TNR) method to keep their population numbers down.

In the last two years, he said he's had nearly all of the animals neutered, reducing the group from about 50 cats to the two dozen that live at the site now. He's also gotten several of them adopted.

Cats at Bowery bay

"The cats were there first," he said, adding that workers at the plant welcome the animals because they help keep the area's rat population down.

He argues that there are food-related businesses in the area that are also a draw for the coyotes, and that banning the cats' food won't keep them away.

"The coyotes should be trapped and humanely relocated somewhere," he said.

A pack of coyotes that's taken up residence in a newly built parking lot at nearby LaGuardia Airport are slated to be trapped and euthanized after repeated attempts to get them to leave the area have failed, according to a statement from the Port Authority.

"The coyotes pose a potential threat to our employees and members of the community, including children who use nearby baseball fields," the agency said.

Animal advocates and elected officials were planning to rally Friday against the decision to euthanize the animals, according to a press release.

Santell feels that plan fails both the coyotes and the cats. An online petition to save the Bowery Bay cats had gathered more than 1,500 signatures Friday, just a day after it launched.

"Every day that goes by, the cats are not eating there," he said.