The Curious Case of The Disappearing Cats

Little Blackie sometimes perches on a windowsill, looking towards the street, as if looking for something. The two-and-a-half-year-old kitty recently lost her mother, her brother, her sister, and her friends. They were some of 60 cats, mostly stray but some free-roaming pets, that neighbors say have gone missing in the Astoria-Ditmars area in Queens since December.

These seven, plus Little Blackie, made up a feral cat colony that Mary Witty, a resident of Astoria since 2000, along with a few neighbors, had been feeding and sheltering. Some of the cats had been under their care since 2008, according to Witty.

What started out as a search for a few missing cats has become a larger project, with Witty and her sister Michelle, also from the neighborhood, spearheading an effort to seek help from community leaders and the local NYPD precinct to try to solve the mystery of the missing cats.

It all started after Witty created a website and a Facebook page  for her own missing cats. After that, she says, she received many comments from neighbors, saying that their feral cat colonies had also gone missing in recent months. When she saw that the problem seemed more widespread, Witty says, she began collecting information on all the cases. She has has counted approximately 60 cats missing so far. She says about 30 to 40 people have reported missing cats, and have been showing up to meetings.

“We had suspicions about a particular neighbor due to past hostility and complaints,” Witty said, although she said she did not suspect anything at first because being feral cats they had once before gone away and come back.

“When the first one disappeared, we actually thought she was stuck in a garage or something. That’s a pretty common occurrence,” she said. “I really wasn’t imagining the worst.”

It wasn’t until all but one of her colony had disappeared, and after she heard of all the other stories through the Facebook page, did Witty and concerned residents begin to harbor suspicions of foul play, such as poisoning or trapping. When a large number of cats go missing, it is worrisome, she said. “Were they taken for dog fighting? Were they taken for animal testing? Were they taken for consumption?” Witty said. “There are all these very scary things that possibly could have happened.”

Halftermeyer_Missing cats_600

Black and White, one of the 60 missing cats in Astoria, and her kitten. (Image courtesy of Mary Witty.)

The group has faced a bureaucratic runaround, though, according to Witty. In New York City, as of January 1st, the American Society for the Prevention Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, transferred its role as the lead agency in animal cruelty cases to the New York Police Department. “Now we are the lead agency, we are conducting the investigations and following up with the complaints,” said Deputy Inspector Kevin Maloney of the 114th Precinct.

But Witty said she and her concerned neighbors had made calls and tried to file a complaint with their local precinct, along with making calls to 311 and 911. No calls were returned, she says, and no complaints were followed up. What Witty and the other missing stray cat advocates found out at a February 25 community meeting for the 114th Precinct is that it is extremely difficult to file a complaint about a feral cat, simply because feral cats, by definition, have no official owner.

“Its unique because they’re feral cats, they are stray cats by nature so because they don’t belong to a location there is no complainant, no one owns the cats,” Maloney explained. “Nobody can tell us exactly what happened to the cats. So we don’t know if it was foul play,” he added.

The feral cat feeders would have to take more formal responsibility of the cats, such as ownership, in order to file an official complaint with the police, he explained. “If you told me I have a cat and I let her out today and she never came back, you would be my complainant. I would take a report for you for a missing property. Your property is the cat.”

In addition, because the cats seem to be disappearing without a trace, there simply is no evidence to follow up on. According to Maloney, the deputy, the police had hoped to find security video, which could show cats being abducted, trapped or killed, but have turned up empty handed. “We don’t have a bunch of cats that have turned up dead in at a different location,” Maloney said. “There is no investigative avenue at this point.”

There are rumors of poisoning, but no one is sure. “In our case, we know a neighbor has a trap and she has admitted to having a trap and trapping animals,” Witty said. “But I don’t think she did all of this, there are probably multiple things going on in the neighborhood.”

A group of 30 or so concerned residents has been compiling all the missing feral cat cases from emails and Facebook posts and will be presenting it to “all the powers that be,” according to Witty, which she said includes Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senator Tony Avella, and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Within the next month Witty and other concerned residents say they plan to meet with the Community Board 1 subcommittee for health and hygiene to advocate for a mailing that would inform the community about the laws that protect animals against cruelty. In addition the group will be advocating for a separate unit to be established within NYPD that specializes in animal cruelty cases.

Since losing her family and friends, Little Blackie has become a housecat. Witty does not want to risk losing the last of her colony.

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10 Responses to "The Curious Case of The Disappearing Cats"

  1. Judith  March 4, 2014 at 12:19 am

    Why don’t you try checking with the New York Animal Care and Control Shelter? They have vans going out 24/7 picking up stray cats. How do I know this, because I post the kill lists for this shelter every night. Just about every cat on their dreadful kill lists are stray cats. I heard and you will have to verify if true that they have regular trappers who go out and set traps. Also, a lot of people have been turning in stray cats thinking they are helping, when in fact, they just get them killed. Call the ACC, write, write to the Mayor, do everything you possibly can, but I bet every single one of them has shown up at the NYC ACC, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. Please check it out, and visit there to see if any of the cats in your neighborhood are there.

    Reply
  2. Alana  March 4, 2014 at 9:21 am

    There was an entire colony of cats from the Bronx taken to the ACC and put right on the kill list

    An entire colony of cats – 11 of them – from zip code 10458 was trapped and taken to the ACC by somebody who said he didn’t want them around. Don’t know if the link will work, but this is one of them, a big orange and white tabby.

    TOMASITO A0992670

    https://www.facebook.com/PetsOnDeathRow/photos/a.267273579951148.79236.155925874419253/757784300900071/?type=1&theater

    Some don’t even make it in the door, if they kill them before they get officially admitted they dont get into the system and there are no records – reform the ACC and find your missing kitties.

    Reply
  3. NYDogWhisperer  March 4, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Feral cats should be taken inside and housed, treated, then adopted out. They are not safe on the street, they are always in danger and do not live happy, healthy lives. Start a shelter for them…

    Reply
  4. Janine  March 4, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    NY Dog Whisperer, not all cats WANT to live inside a house. Have you ever tried to put a truly feral cat into a domestic environment? Besides, there are sadly not enough homes for animals who need them to begin with. Most people helping feral cat colonies are also practicing Trap Neuter/Spay and Return, which helps to curb the overpopulation of animals living on the streets and consequently those ending up in shelters. This is awful news and I hope the best to those looking for their colonies…

    Reply
  5. Mary  March 4, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    I live in California, and I signed the anti-ACC petition after reading it (I have a FB friend who just pulled a couple of very lucky cats out of there). What goes on at ACC is barbaric, and I would bet that the commenters above are right.

    Reply
  6. NYC Feral Cat Initiative  March 6, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Correction: Animal Care & Control of NYC (AC&C) DOES NOT pick up any cat unless someone makes the effort to call 311 to report a sick or injured cat that needs help. In that case, AC&C Field Operations officers are dispatched to rescue that animal and bring him/her to the shelter to receive medical attention. Healthy cats are NOT picked up by field operations — that ended years ago.

    In addition, the “Astoria 7” cats were part of a community cat colony managed by volunteers through the humane method of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). They were all spayed or neutered and eartipped (the tip of the left ear is surgically removed when the cat is anesthetized for spay/neuter) for identification. Eartipped cats are not viewed as “strays” in the eyes of AC&C, being that they have or had a caretaker. Whenever an eartipped cat enters an AC&C shelter, a notification email is sent out to Certified TNR Caretakers, including photos of the cat and the zip code where he/she was found, and every effort is made to reunite the cat with his/her caretakers. In addition, if you have lost a cat or cats, I urge you to file a lost cat report on AC&C’s website (www.nycacc.org/LostPet.htm) so their Lost & Found Program volunteers can help make the match should your cats enter the shelter!

    If you feed stray or feral cats and are not familiar with Trap-Neuter-Return, please visit http://www.NYCFeralCat.org to learn more, and then take the next step by attending a TNR certification workshop (www.NYCFeralCat.org/events.htm). Have your cats spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped for identification as part of a managed colony so you don’t have to go to all three AC&C locations to look for your missing cats. In addition to receiving notifications about eartipped cats that end up at AC&C, Certified TNR Caretakers also qualify for free or low-cost spay/neuter, trap loans, cat and trap transportation, and other supportive services in New York City.

    Reply
  7. Chris  March 8, 2014 at 3:54 am

    Those who have lost cats (or lost or found other animals) may want to use the map based free site Helping Lost Pets.com – It can help identify patterns if many animals go missing from areas. You can even sign up to get notified via text/email/Twitter about lost/found animals from a few different areas. The ads can be shared and printed too. It’s even free for shelters to use, and animal and pet related organizations & services can add themselves to the map for free too. Site also links to adoptable pet listings of area shelters and rescues. A very hand resource.

    Reply
  8. Allyson Moyer  January 11, 2016 at 9:15 am

    I recently read an article that PETA was joining hunters to declare “open season” on cats in New York. It’s on The No Kill Advocacy Centers web site…….people suck!

    Reply
  9. Linda M Goldbaum  May 16, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    The NYCACC IS FULL OF CRAP!!! THEY DO SO TRAP CATS.. THEY EVEN TRAP TNR CATS, AND HAVE KILLED THEM. PAUL ZHANG WAS SUPPOSEDLY HIRED TO TRAP CATS, BRING THEM TO THE ACC AND THEN THEY WERE KILLED. JUST LOOK AT THE CAT KILL LIST. THE GONE LIST!!

    Reply

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