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September 1995
The View from Astoria: Cat and Dog Overpopulation

By Jane Hanley



The cat and dog overpopulation situation in New York City is, by any account, a crisis. Some of the most serious troublespots in the City are in Astoria, Queens. Astoria resident Jane Hanley explains.

Iam one of a large and growing number of Astoria residents who are rescuing cats and dogs from the streets, roofs, basements, alleys, and dumpsters of Astoria. We span all walks of life and professions from corporate officers to artists to teachers. We are fighting a losing battle in trying to educate people, clean up the animals from the street, spay and neuter strays and other people’s pets, and stem the tide of overpopulation in one, or several, beings.

Astoria has developed into a seething dumping ground for unwanted pets and stray animals. There is an extremely high population of homeless animals, and they are developing communities amongst our own. Many were household pets once that outlived their convenience or practicality, and were left to fend for themselves. Well-meaning animal feeders are trying to keep up with their needs, but are simply contributing to the problem by not spaying and neutering the animals. Animal nuisance complaints are up and hundreds of animals are being born each day. Even our city’s euthanization programs cannot stem this reproductive faucet.

Feral Cat Colonies: Thriving in the Shadows
Colonies of feral cats are existing and growing in most alleys, apartment building complex basements, parking lots, and warehouses in Astoria. Some of the densest populations exist around 31st Street and 23rd Road, Crescent Street apartments, 23rd Avenue and 34th Street. Many landlords and apartment building employees are poisoning, clubbing, disposing of litters in dumpsters, and setting dogs on these cat populations. These locations are dirty and unhealthy, and in spite of these odds, cat populations are surviving and growing.

Breeding season of feral cats extends generally from February through October. Female cats breed an average of two or three times a year (four times is not uncommon). Even with a high kitten mortality rate, colonies are increasing at a rate of 30-40% each year. Add to this the high incidence of locals dumping intact household pets in these “colonies” and the colonies can double in size in two years. There are also “store” cats throughout Astoria that breed unchecked in basements and store rooms. (One pizzeria’s employees have left the store cat’s kittens at the parking lot on 31st Street at five weeks old. This relieves the pizzeria of its own overpopulation problem; the rest of Astoria is not so lucky.) Some store cats are not even fed, as the assumption is that they will be more prolific mousers by not feeding them. These animals receive no medical care, are not vaccinated, tested, or altered, and they are located in businesses that serve food. They are usually abandoned as “pets” once they breed.

Dogs: Misery breeds Misery
Growing numbers of pet dogs are being abandoned in Astoria Park, Long Island City factory areas, Ditmars Boulevard, and LaGuardia airport property. Most are large dogs between six months and two years that obviously outgrew someone’s tolerance for inconvenience. Few of these dogs can be rescued by animal rescuers, simply because of the dogs’ size and fear. They run, frightened and confused, until they collapse or are hit by cars.

The explosive situation of Pit Bull overbreeding threatens the public as well as the ill-raised animals themselves. Huge numbers of young men buy poorly-bred Pit Bulls, tout them as weapons, and breed them yet again for profit. They can be seen on 31st Street with the dogs unleashed, to prove their control over the animals. If these owners are asked by the public to leash or control the animal, the dogs act as their response. Today, many Pit Bulls run free at Astoria Park, threatening the public.

Last summer, a Pit Bull was “set” upon a stray cat in Astoria Park in front a park full of people. The cat was dead within seconds, while the dog’s owner and his friends cheered. The on-lookers were horrified, but what was their recourse? Any complaint addressed to the dog’s owner would have resulted in the dog being set on the challenger. Everyone looked the other way.

Pet Stores Contribute to Overpopulation
The pet stores in our neighborhood are selling kittens and puppies bred in squalid surroundings, complete with worms, parasites, blood diseases, and respiratory diseases for $50 to $500 per animal. I can attest to this personally, as I have bought many of them to save them, including an American Eskimo puppy that was held in the store for two weeks in a fish tank. The purchasers of these young animals are not advised of these health problems, and come back in a week or so when the animals are dead to get refunds. Many do not even know to take the animal to a veterinarian.

Pet stores owned by responsible people have recognized the vastness of the animal surplus in New York and are no longer selling kittens and puppies. These stores lend floor space in their stores to adoption centers to display rescued animals for adoption, and adopters buy the supplies for the animals from the store, benefiting all parties. In Astoria, I would gladly settle for stores that did not sell kittens or puppies, and did little else towards overpopulation. They are generally poorly run, animals are in ill health, and they care little for the problems of animal overpopulation, save for where it may profit them.

Why Spay/Neuter Legislation is Necessary
Two out of the three veterinary clinics in Astoria participate in low-cost spay/neuter certificate programs. In spite of this, the numbers of animals spayed and neutered have increased at a marginal percentage. Some pet owners think it’s troublesome to write away and obtain certificates. Many pet owners simply feel that the pet is not worth the money to spay or neuter, or that it is not their responsibility. Others purposely breed and sell the animals in less than optimal conditions and view the animal as a source of income, nothing more. It is to these ends that we need animal overpopulation legislation to speak.

If the number of animals euthanized in NYC last year is about 40,000 with an animal control budget of less than $5 million, we can extrapolate these figures. In the next five years, New York City will spend more than $25 million to kill 200,000 animals — at the very least.
What we know

We must acknowledge that animal care and control in New York City, by any standard, is not working. More cages, more euthanasia, and more facilities are not the solution. To continue animal care and control in New York City, as we now know it, is to throw millions of dollars and animals away. We must look to more financially responsible and enlightened means of control. Please ask your City Councilmember to support Intro. 321, sponsored by Kathryn Freed, which would regulate the spaying and neutering, breeding, and sale of companion animals. Call Friends of Animals for more details: 212-247-8120.

Jane Hanley is an animal activist and rescuer who lives in Astoria, Queens. This article is adapted from a presentation she made to City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, whose district is Astoria, and who will determine whether Intro. 321 will be brought before the City Council.


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