Q: We live on the first and second floors of a brownstone in East Harlem, and we love the backyard. Two buildings over, a neighbor in the second-floor apartment has put a litter box on the fire escape outside their window for community cats to shelter. The neighbor also puts out food for them. In the morning, there are usually half a dozen adult cats lingering around the box and the stairs. Inevitably, they end up roaming in our backyard, peeing, pooping and fighting. The odor in the summer is terrible. We’ve had two female cats give birth in our backyard this year alone. The kittens are cute, their cries not so much. What can we do?
A: Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes to this problem. New York City is home to many free-roaming cats, which can cause headaches for neighbors who have to deal with the noise, smell and waste that go along with them.
Besides creating a nuisance to people, cats who roam freely can damage populations of birds and other wildlife, and the question of how to humanely deal with them is a perplexing one.
Your neighbor is not committing any crimes by feeding stray cats, but there could be violations for waste that isn’t cleaned up. You can file a service request regarding animal waste on private property with the city Health Department.
The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reminds people who feed free-roaming cats to do so in a controlled way, removing food after a limited time period to prevent attracting other animals, as well as cleaning up animal waste. Food should be put away before evening, and no food should be out overnight.
Several local organizations neuter unowned cats and return them to their community, a process known as trap-neuter-return. Cats who have been fixed tend not to engage in fighting or excessive vocalization, and males no longer have odorous urine used to mark territory.
The cat organizations that partner with the city also answer questions from people who are dealing with the same problems that you are. You can reach Bideawee’s Feral Cat Initiative here, or Neighborhood Cats here.
“I like to say that there’s a reason we spay or neuter our pet cats, because otherwise they would be impossible to live with,” said Bryan Kortis, national programs director at Neighborhood Cats, based in Manhattan. “The same is true for cats who live outside.”
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