Strays cats are different than the usual city pests. Roaches are scary and move quickly and generally are a sign of a dirty building. Mice leave little pieces of excrement behind and need to be caught (and killed). Cats, on the other hand, don’t come inside and for some people, myself included, are a fuzzy reminder of the cuteness that exists in the world. On Gates Avenue on the southeast end of Clinton Hill, where I live, there are a few neighborhood strays. Some are notorious, like scary big gray, as I call him (or her). SBG has no ears and some of the gnarliest fur I’ve seen on an alley cat. SBG can be seen crossing Gates Ave. between Franklin and Classon all the time. He/she often hangs in front of buildings and in the big church parking lot on the middle of the block, if you want to come take a peek.
This pretty black and white cat, pictured, is also a regular. While scary big gray terrorizes the neighborhood, (he walks down the block like he/she owns it), this pretty spotted cat prefers to lounge.
Wandering around Clinton Hill, I found that people’s perceptions of the neighborhood cats were pretty similar. If the cat doesn’t bother me, why would I bother the cat?
(Of course, there was some dissension. One person called cats a “hazard” while another mentioned the importance of capturing and spaying feral cats so that they don’t reproduce, which in the wild, happens constantly.)
Sandra Pigott has lived on Ryerson St. for more than 15 years. Her block has three abandoned lots, which for cats is as appealing as a freshly opened can of Friskies. See the picture below of two of the adjacent lots. Ms. Pigott said a whole “family” of cats lives on the block.
“There’s a black and white, what do you call, a tuxedo cat, there’s big black, who is always on my deck, there’s a gray and white one and a little orange and white one,” she said, adding that three black kittens had also been around lately.
A group of cats that travels and lives together is called a colony. According to the New York City Feral Cat Initiative there are “tens of thousands” of cats living in the wilds of NYC.
Ms. Pigott said the neighbors tried to get rid of the cats a few years ago but then they realized that if the cats were gone, the rats came.
“We have our own free exterminators,” she said.
Some residents, including Jason Corace, hardly ever see cats.
“I’ve lived here for seven years and I can’t remember seeing a stray,” he said.
The majority of cats seen live in close proximity with abandoned lots, which means there are more cats on the outskirts of the neighborhood than on the interior, more "desirable" blocks.
In one lot on Franklin Avenue, near Lexington Ave., pictured, there is a lot that serves as a home for a popular neighborhood cat, Brooklyn.
One resident of more than 10 years who lives on the block, Melvin Sinclair, said Brooklyn was a friendly tiger cat that “everyone” knew.
Unfortunately for me, Brooklyn was nowhere to be found. But evidence of his existence was. (See the picture below.)
On the corner of Grand Ave. and Gates Ave., I was speaking with another resident, Charles Anokam, who has lived in Clinton Hill for six years. Just as he was telling me that the only time he sees cats is at night, a black cat with white legs bolted across the street. Like any good New Yorker, the cat was fast and wove in and out of the oncoming traffic like a pro.
Mr. Anokam laughed and said that stray cats were just a part of life.
If you have any good cat stories leave them in the comments!