NYPD Explorers Come to the Aid of Community Cats with Help from the ASPCA

February 7, 2018

Like any other felines, community cats often depend on human assistance to survive, especially in the cold weather months. Coming to their aid now are some new heroes: NYPD Law Enforcement Explorers—young men and women ages 14 to 20, who perform community service projects and are preparing for careers in law enforcement. 

On January 27, equipped with a few tools and a lot of elbow grease, the Explorers joined the ASPCA’s Community Engagement team for a special session with the NYC Feral Cat Initiative to build outdoor, cold-weather enclosures for feral cat colonies in the South Bronx. 

The collaboration began when the ASPCA’s Erin Earley, Director of Community Engagement, and Isadora (Isa) Peraza-Martinez, Community Engagement Coordinator, addressed ways to support outdoor cats beyond traditional trap-neuter-return (TNR) work. Isa had learned about the Explorers program through NYPD Officer John Davis at a Community Council meeting, so she proposed the idea of a workshop.

“We wanted a creative, hands-on activity to offer these young pillars of the community who want to help animals,” explained Erin. 

“Anytime you can get youth involved with animals, it’s a win-win situation,” added Officer Davis, who serves as Explorer Coordinator for Transit District 11. 

Erin also enlisted the help of Kathleen O’Malley, Director of TNR Education for the NYC Feral Cat Initiative, a program from the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. The Initiative supports individuals and organizations who help stray and feral cats—who are collectively known as “community cats”—and perform TNR as a way to humanely reduce community cat populations. The initiative also offers a series of workshops for cat caretakers. 

Kathleen O'Malley watches as Moses Onwukanjo cuts an entrance for a cat

Kathleen O’Malley watches as NYPD Explorer Moses Onwukanjo cuts an entrance into the front just large enough for a cat.

“Cats are everywhere, and winter has kicked in, so this was a perfect opportunity,” said Police Officer Catherine H. Klyde, who attended the workshop and was recently recognized by the ASPCA for her animal rescue work

Using box cutters, industrial tape and various tools, Explorers like 16-year-old Angelica Ramos, 17-year-old Jesinowska Lagos-Monclus and 14-year-old Moses Onwukanjo set about converting insulated polyethylene coolers into winter shelters for the community’s feral felines. They were assisted by NYPD Officers Davis and Rhonda Pinder; Auxiliary Officers Vincent Sepulveda and Will Fortuna; the ASPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement Liaison, Paul Mayr, and Community Engagement Coordinator Marika Azoff; as well as Erin and Isa.

Jesinowska, who serves as Sergeant for the Explorers post at Transit District 11 and comes from a family of animal lovers, called the endeavor “uplifting.”

“We’re humans living in the animals’ world,” she says. “We took their territory and made it ours. They can’t help themselves. So I like giving back; it’s nice.” 

“You obviously want every cat to have a home and be nurtured,” says Officer Klyde, who has eight rescued cats and a dog at home, some found during her work shifts and others adopted from shelters. “But if cats are in a colony with a steady feeder, it’s the next best thing.”

Will Fortuna and Vincent Sepulveda working a cat shelter

Auxiliary Police Officers Will Fortuna, left, and Vincent Sepulveda working on a cat shelter.

As the sounds of drills and saws filled the air at the Betances Community Center, the Explorers re-purposed ten 100-quart coolers—purchased by the ASPCA—in about an hour. They cut a small square hole into the front of each cooler for an entrance, covered the raw edges with thick tape and then filled the interior of the coolers with several layers of straw.

Cat shelter being filled with straw

Kathleen O'Malley finishing the cat shelters

Top: Completed cat shelters are filled with several layers of straw for extra warmth. Bottom: Kathleen O’Malley puts the finishing touches on completed cat shelters. 

Once the cat shelters were completed, the Explorers, alongside ASPCA and NYPD liaisons, placed them in four nearby cat colonies.

The workshop group taking the cat shelters to the cat colony

Will Fortuna, NYPD Auxiliary Officer (left) and Kathleen O’Malley lead the workshop group to the site of a cat colony where the new shelters will be placed.

Monica McKenzie, a colony caretaker who has been feeding cats in her neighborhood for nearly ten years, explained how her colony’s initial population of four cats quickly grew until they were all spayed and neutered. Today, there are six cats in her colony—all spayed and ear-tipped—and she shares responsibility for them with a friend. She welcomed the new shelters, as her existing ones were old and worn. 

“They’re going to be much warmer,” she said, as she and Kathleen positioned the entrance sides of the shelters away from the wind. 

a cat from the bronx cat colony

One of six cats living at the colony and cared for by Monica McKenzie. All cats have been spayed and neutered, vaccinated, and are fed daily.

“It was a productive day; another example of how the partnership between the ASPCA and NYPD is helping our community’s animals,” said Erin.

“It starts with something simple—like one little workshop,” added Officer Klyde. “But the ultimate impact is much bigger.”

For information on workshops for cat caretakers: http://animalalliancenyc.org/feralcats/

For information on joining the NYPD Law Enforcement Explorers: http://nypdnews.com/2015/05/nypd-law-enforcement-explorer-program/