P.J. McKosky stopped sorting the laundry of 60-something cats for a quick break in the back of Blackbird Parlour Cafe. As the 28-year-old cofounder of Empty Cages Collective drank his coffee with soy, one of the volunteers for his animal advocacy organization was carting two cats to the veterinarian. Another was rescuing a mother and her litter from being euthanized at Animal Care and Control. A third was feeding felines back at the shelter, all while McKosky sat drinking his coffee, searching for words to answer the question, “Why cats?”
“Ethics,” “justice,” and “responsibility” came to his mind, but ultimately McKosky, who began his activist lifework as a 12-year-old volunteer for a Pennsylvania wildlife rescue center, settled on “compassion.”
“Compassion isn’t a finite resource,” he suggests. “Compassion goes around. The more you do it, the better at it you are. In our community, in our world, if animals are treated with compassion, inevitably, humans will be treated better.”
Since opening in December 2007, ECC has placed over 100 stray cats in adoptive homes. The group has trapped, neutered, and returned over 1,000 feral cats—cats too wild to be pets—to established colonies. But despite such efforts, cats are mating madly in the streets. Brooklyn’s on the eve of kitty season and activists are sterilizing those they can before the spring peak. “The dent we make, we will never fully see or feel,” said ECC volunteer Phoebe Jonas. “We just know it’s there. We might have 40 kittens, but it may have been 80.”
Initially, Jonas did not want to volunteer. The green-eyed 38-year-old Manhattan native was willing to donate money, but she didn’t want to see any difficult realities. However, after assisting in trappings and personally carrying cats to new homes for the past year, Jonas now shares her own heart-tugging stories of cat rescue—like the one about Kate the orange tabby. Kate was rescued on Oscar night, hence her name. The night she was trapped, Kate delivered six kittens—kittens Jonas does not believe would have survived the 50 mile-per-hour winds in the parking lot where Kate was caught. “There’s anxiety in doing what we’re doing. We’re not going to save every cat,” Jonas said. “When you have those moments when you’re just in the nick of time, you think, alright, this one worked out.”
She spoke standing next to seven cages during a recent adoption event at NYC Pet Supplies off Bedford Avenue. Underneath Frisbees and rubber chew toys, between racks of rawhide munchies and organic dog biscuits, nine cats were on display. Construction paper clippings introduced cats such as Abbie, who was found in Bushwick; Ocean, a cat diagnosed with FIV (the feline version of AIDS); and Archie, another case rescued from euthanasia, a star dotting the “i” in his name.
“We’re not a typical mom-and-pop animal shelter,” said McKosky, explaining why ECC allocates funds to cats diagnosed with FIV or feline leukemia, rather than strictly covering the less-expensive cost to neuter more cats. “We are animal rights activists. We think animals are worthy of consideration as individuals.”
Donations were spent on Bob, a black cat found on a windowsill in need of a tail amputation. Money was paid for calico Donna to have a malignant tumor removed from her mammary glands. Such choices emphasize ECC’s identity as “no-kill” advocates.
“If you think of Bob, some might say it’s easy to kill him,” McKosky continued. “But if the city would institute a high-volume, low-cost, accessible spay and neuter program to the public, we would be preventing animals like Bob needing help to begin with.”
ECC will not disclose the address of their shelter to avoid more animals being dropped off at their space than their resources can accommodate.
For further information, please call (800) 880-2684, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.emptycagescollective.wordpress.com.
Photos by Bess Adler: Rescued cat, Rabina, at Empty Cages adoption event; Volunteer Jessie Bruah with rescued cat Archie who needs a home.