The Cats of St. James Church
The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals sounded the alarm in mid-March, with their e-mailed alert titled “Priests Starve Cats at St. James Church; Church Groundskeeper Threatens Poisoning as Next Step.”
A group of eight spayed, neutered and vaccinated feral cats, beloved by their caregivers, had been fed since 2009 on the St. James grounds in lower Manhattan. Would this little group now be starved out? And by priests?
Father Lino Gonsalves, pastor of St. James, had barred the caregivers from the inner sanctum of the property’s courtyard. Gonsalves declined to meet with the Mayor’s Alliance or its Feral Cat Initiative to discuss plans for the cats’ care. “If they want, they can take the cats,” Gonsalves told a Daily News reporter, adding: “These people are destroying our property by putting food all around.”
D esperate to get some food to the cats, the caregivers were leaving some outside the locked gate. If it were true that the church groundskeeper was contemplating poisoning, an immediate resolution was vital.
Father Lino’s assumption that the cats could simply be taken from the property was wrong. Elizabeth Eller, a trap-neuter-return volunteer who had managed the St. James feral cat colony since 2009, explained that there just a ren’t sanctuaries around the city for feral cats. The church, in the most real sense, had been their refuge.
It goes without saying, but let’s say it. Feral cats aren’t the problem. It’s the two-legged individuals who dump cats into the streets.
And if this colony were banished, the priests would deem shunning cats a “solution.” Surely the priests knew better. St. James Church itself had requested the TNR project when several kittens were first noticed in the courtyard. The St. James cats comprised a model of the success of caregiving, for these eight cats had kept their population to that level over three years, since the time kittens were first trapped and adopted at the beginning of the project.
So once again, the community of advocates sprang into action. E-mail alerts went out;
people communicated in droves with St. James officials and the Archdiocese of New York, asking them to agree to a meeting with the Mayor’s Alliance. Friends of
Animals spoke with Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the Archdiocese, and confirmed his support for a meeting, yet other church officials resisted.
The Feral Cat Initiative’s Mike Phillips wrote to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, asking for support. Jane Hoffman, president of the Mayor’s Alliance, said: “As a Roman Catholic, I am saddened and appalled by this attack on eight of God’s little creatures.”
And we at Friends of Animals sent out e-mail alerts through social media, asking our members and supporters to persist. And they did.
Success: Meeting With Church Officials
The Archdiocese of New York figured the lockout of the St. James caregivers was a single-parish issue and they were not going to step in. A thousand calls and e-mails later, M onsignor Kevin Nelan of the Archdiocese and Father Gonsalves agreed to a meeting date with Jane and Mike in March.
And on the first of April, Jane announced some happy news: a two-month agreement with the Parish. “The cats get to stay in the only home they have ever known and we were able to spread the word about TNR as the only effective and humane way to control our community cat population,” she said.
Mike noted that caring for feral cats is a fluid process. A perfect arrangement can be turned upside down overnight, he said: “Any colony on private property needs resourceful caretakers committed for the long haul.”
During the trial period, a feeding station and appropriate shelters for the cats remain in the courtyard. A litter box has been added. And planning for the long term continues.
We’ll keep you posted.
For more information:
Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals
244 Fifth Avenue, Suite R290
New York , NY 10001-7604
Phone: (212) 252-2350 or (212) 330-0033
- Amy Sacks and Lisa L. Colangelo, “ Catfight Over Feral Colony” - Daily News (posted online at NYDailyNews.com, 17 Mar. 2012).