By Annie Blachley and Erik Badia
In a cruel twist on the predator versus prey theme, cats—the usual predators—have become the hunted. The hunter? The Federal Aviation Administration. This on-again, off-again chase is on hold for now, giving the cats some time, but no one knows for low long.
Th e Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to round up and remove undomesticated cats and kittens at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport in Jamaica, Queens, in summer 2007. The program targeted unneutered feral cats that survived after escaping during travel or being abandoned by owners. On Nov. 28, 2007, A. Harvey DeGraw, FAA safety and standards manager, sent the Authority a confirmation letter stating, “A feral cat colony in the airport environment is not acceptable and needs to be removed prior to an incident happening and not after the fact.”
After the Authority, a federal agency, delegated an undisclosed contractor to remove the animals, airport workers feeding the cats notified the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The program sparked protestfrom the HSUS, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and local animal rights organizations, who insisted that feral cats relocated to shelters were facing a death sentence.
Several organizations offered trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs—at no cost—to sterilize the felines, then reintroduce them. That would return them to the airport, but this is better than the current method, asserts Patrick Kwan, HSUS New York State director. He estimates that fewer than 100 cats have been captured since 2007—“nothing compared to the amount of animals being bred there.” The ASPCA’s Aimee Hartmann, director of Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinics, agrees that TNR is the most effective, humane way of dealing with overpopulation: “If we were just to remove them…more cats are going to come.” TNR has substantially reduced the number of feral cats at Rikers Island and Fresh Kills Landfill, according to the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals.
The JFK cat round-up ceased after widespread protest, but resumed this Memorial Day. In a July 11 letter to the FAA, the Port Authority asked if it could use the TNR method. On July 15, the FAA’s DeGraw replied: “Your request for a third party to conduct a pilot program to...trap, neuter and return (TNR) is denied since it still allows for a feral cat colony on the airport.”
When asked if the trapping/removal program is continuing, Port Authority spokesman Pasquale DiFulco told the Press, “Not now.” When informed of Rikers Island’s TNR program, FAA spokesman Jim Peters responded, “Whatever the City of New York is doing at Rikers Island is independent” of FAA policy. He added, “ The letter [DeGraw’s denial of the TNR request] speaks for itself,” saying the FAA “probably has long-established policies on wildlife removal” but he doesn’t know about new ones.
The HSUS’ Kwan believes that TNR would remove the threat to aircraft. He explains, “ They are around the marshland…nowhere near the runways.” Because cats are natural predators of rodents, he adds, “rats, mice and birds are not exactly hovering around cat colonies.”
As for the future, Kwan says he is unaware of any cats being adopted through the HSUS or ASPCA, explaining that adult feral cats have almost zero chance at adoption. Hartmann concurs: “ There’s really not a whole lot of room for adoptability there,” adding that “it’s best to just leave them where they are, because the only other option is to euthanize them.”