Here’s the deal: I miss my cat. She’s lived in Texas with my parents ever since I moved to Ridgewood. Now, I’m always looking for ways I can satiate the cat deficit in my life. So, when my friend asked me if I wanted to go see “Kedi,” a documentary about the street cats of Istanbul, Turkey, playing at Syndicated in Bushwick until this Sunday, there was nothing stopping me from replying with a wholehearted yes—and many cat emojis.
But the problem of stray cats hits closer to home for us in Bushwick. Our own streets are full of cats, too. They live in colonies, and, in fact, you probably have a group of them somewhere within a few blocks of your apartment. They earn their keep by helping control the rodent population.
Carissa Aguirre may know this better than anyone. A few years ago, she started A Tail of Two Kitties, a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) cat rescue organization that serves the Ridgewood/Bushwick cat population.
Aguirre started rescuing cats when she noticed a stray in her neighborhood and started feeding it. Soon after, her boyfriend’s niece found a stray kitten in her backyard. Aguirre took in that cat, and still has it today.
“The outside life is not easy for a baby kitten. Even for an adult cat, so I just started looking into it and I found out about TNR online and got certified,” Aguirre said.
She decided to trap cats on her own and became certified in TNR. With TNR, cats are trapped and neutered. If the trapped cats are feral, they are returned to their colonies with a small notch taken out of their left ear to signify they’ve been fixed. If they are friendly cats, they’re sent to foster homes and put up for adoption.
Aguirre’s love of her work shows through her dedication. In addition to trapping cats, getting them fixed, and finding homes for them, Aguirre has her own cat, fosters cats, and provides for two feral cats who’ve taken up residence behind her apartment building.
“By day I’m like a corporate suit and then I come home at night and I’m like this crazy cat lady,” she said.
But really she’s not crazy. Aguirre sees a problem and is doing whatever it takes to be the solution. A Tail of Two Kitties is a one-woman operation, funded by donations—and Aguirre’s own money. She’s had close to 300 cats fixed since she started a few years ago.
Aguirre was nice enough to let me drop in and visit her and the two feral cats she feeds.
As she took me around the back of her apartment, we had barely turned the corner, when one cat peeked out from behind a chainlink fence. As we got closer, both cats had moved into view, anticipating Aguirre’s arrival.
These cats are completely feral. Aguirre doesn’t even pet them, but their bond is undeniable.
“I take care of them. We understand each other,” Aguirre pointed out.
Aguirre emphasized that anyone can be involved in keeping cats safe.
“In New York City,” Aguirre said, “there’s no reason for anybody to not be trapping a cat. That’s what I say. Only because they make everything so easy.”
And it’s important. Because of the overpopulation of cats, many are taken to shelters, and if they aren’t adopted, they’re often euthanized.
According to Aguirre, the most effective step is making sure cats are spayed and neutered. Trapping cats is also something to consider, and becoming TNR certified is free through workshops provided by the NYC Feral Cat Initiative (a partnership between the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC Animals, the ASPCA, and other organizations.) Traps are provided, and the ASPCA will even provide transportation to and from the vet, as well as a one-time spay/neuter and vaccination round. If you can, fostering or adopting cats is another way to help!
Even taking simple steps to put out bowls of water and food, or provide a small shelter for a cat to sleep in can make an impact, Aguirre said.
After talking to Aguirre, one quote from Kedi really made sense: “Without the cat, Istanbul would lose part of its soul.” I think the same sentiment can be applied to Bushwick. Our street cats—and those who care about them—are the essence of our community. And the least we can do is share our space ?
For more information on Aguirre’s organization, A Tail of Two Kitties, be sure to check out their adoption page and Facebook page. Be on the lookout for Meow Day, A Tail of Two Kitties’ adoption day and marketplace event set to take place this fall.
“Kedi” will be running at Syndicated Bar on 40 Bogart St. in Bushwick through Sunday.
Featured image courtesy of Emre Gencer. All other images by Bethany Radcliff for Bushwick Daily.