Marine Park Salt Marsh park rangers confiscated more than 50 handmade cat shelters without warning from the Gerritsen Beach stretch of the park last month, much to the frustration of community members.
The shelters were built by Gerritsen Beach residents to serve the large stray cat colony that had resided there over the course of 10 years, using materials purchased with money pooled from cat lovers in the neighborhood.
“Our community spent a lot of time and money building these shelters for feral cats that have taken residence in our community for over 10 years,” a post by resident Tara Green on the NextDoor app reads in part. “They are all spayed and neutered, fed and well cared for. I am personally contacted if there is a sick cat or new cat at this colony so I can trap it and get it the care it needs.”
The Canarsie Courier was unable to get in contact with the rangers who work at the marsh. Some residents said in the comments of the aforementioned post, however, that the rangers were concerned about the cats hunting the squirrels and native birds in the wooded areas of the park.
The shelter-building and trapping practices of the community might actually violate Parks Department codes. Section 1-04-C of the Rules and Regulations prohibits littering, dumping and leaving personal belongings unattended on parkland. Section 1-04-G prohibits unpermitted animal trapping and feeding animals on parkland. According to a Parks Dept. spokesperson, the cat houses violated both of these regulations.
“After receiving complaints about dumping, debris, rotting food and pooling water, the shelters were removed as part of a larger cleanup effort in the area,” Parks spokesperson Chris Clark said.
Residents say the houses were far from “dumped debris” — wood panels were screwed together to make gable roofs, with sheer plastic sheets acting as windowpanes; inside, piles of straw made soft bedding for any cats who dropped by for a nap. The shelters were built with diligence and care.
Calls to the Marine Park Nature Center and Councilwoman Mercedes Narcisse’s office by residents failed to produce the shelters. It’s unclear if they were trashed or if they’re being stored somewhere for future use.
One dedicated cat shelter builder from Marine Park, Marina Breskina, voiced her concern over how the removal of these houses will impact the cats. “Eliminating shelters only will make more cats die from cold,” she said. “It won’t eliminate cats.”
Many community members echoed these concerns.
“They seem so quick to do this,” Gerritsen resident Wanda Halstead commented on the post. “Why don’t they take that energy and use it to help by collecting these poor animals and getting them homes.”
Nearby Flatlands resident Joann Marin added that she thinks the rangers will go even further to remove the colony itself from the park. “Now that they got rid of the shelters, they’re going to want to get rid of the cats,” she said. “Those rangers previously mentioned wanting to trap those cats and bring them to Animal Care and Control.”
While many members of the community have worries about the situation, there have yet to be any formal attempts to remove the cats from the park. This knowledge hasn’t stoked the cat caretakers’ frustration, though.
“People who care about animals, when no one else wants to do it, invested time and money in good cause,” Breskina said. “It is disrespectful what they did. We deserve respect. We live in this community just like people who don’t want these shelters to be there.”