Cats leave paw prints on our hearts. And watching co-directors Steve Lawrence and Rob Fruchtman’s tear-inducing documentary will touch yours, whether you’re feline-crazy or just like to watch people doing extraordinary things.
“The Cat Rescuers,” screening next Tuesday at the Vineyard Haven library, introduces us to a handful of remarkable Brooklynites who have dedicated time, money, and an enormous amount of emotional fortitude to trapping, neutering, and returning — or adopting out — feral city cats. They devote their days and nights to rescuing abandoned or homeless kittens and cats. Of course, the animals pull at our heartstrings, but these people are equally inspiring. Their love and commitment to making a difference in cats’ and kittens’ lives and to affecting social change concerning the environment, local laws, and public policy is remarkable.
The expression “It’s like herding cats” couldn’t be more apt in the challenges these indefatigable volunteers face when trying to capture the skittish felines. Let’s just say that food’s a big motivator, and you’ll see how it’s used to lure these cats out from hiding.
We meet and get to know each rescuer intimately. We see how they trap and care for stray cats (again, there’s a lot of cat food involved), and hear about why they do what they do. They scour the borough’s streets, alleys, abandoned buildings, and housing projects in all sorts of weather and at all different times of day. They bring the little ones into their home for them to convalesce if they need medical care. Their work is secondary to how they make a living, and sometimes puts stress on their close relationships.
Lawrence came to his subject by accident. When he and his wife Helen moved into a house in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, in 2013, they discovered, he says, “It came with a colony of feral cats looking to be fed. None of them had been spayed or neutered! We love cats (we had two indoors), but were torn; we knew if we fed them, they’d keep coming back. After a couple of days of one momma cat and three kittens staring at us through our back door, we succumbed.”
They discovered that their whole block was full of ferals that were being fed by neighbors and, of course, were procreating. “So we were facing a population explosion, and had to figure out what to do,” he says. “By chance Helen met Tara Green, one of the rescuers in the film, at a local street fair where she was representing Brooklyn Animal Action (BAA) and talking up trap-neuter-return (TNR). We got trained in TNR, and met Claire Corey of BAA, who is also in the film. She helped find foster homes for the three kittens from our backyard.”
When Lawrence learned that there are an estimated 500,000 street cats in New York City, he says, “I started thinking about making a film about the problem from the perspective of the amazing volunteers who hit the streets of Brooklyn night and day to save feline lives. Almost no one on our block knew about TNR, so I figured that was the case citywide.”
Through a number of key connections among the rescue community, Lawrence ended up working with Rob Fruchtman, and a match was made.
“Steve and I met, and we hit it off. Like him, I love cats, and I thought we could make a really interesting and much-needed film that hadn’t been done before,” Fruchtman says. “Both of us have made documentaries that deal with human rights issues, but never animal rights, so this was something new for both of us. In the spring of 2014, we began to choose our subjects.”
The folks at the BAA led them to other rescuers, and they raved about a woman named Latonya Walker, whose nickname is “Sassee.” “We met Sassee and were knocked out. When you see the film, you’ll understand why,” Lawrence said.
How did “The Cat Rescuers” get from the back streets of Brooklyn to Martha’s Vineyard? It showed up on the Facebook feed of Vineyard Haven library’s program planner Anne McDonough, who thought it would be a good community-interest film. As a longtime cat lover herself and parent to three adult rescue cats, McDonough hopes that this moving documentary will encourage volunteers to work with Kym Cyr of Second Chance Animal Rescue to learn the trap, neuter, and release process that will directly help the Island’s feral population. Cyr will be at the event, and plans to bring along some adoptable kitties.
“The Cat Rescuers” will screen at the Vineyard Haven library on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 7 pm, and co-producer Steve Lawrence will be present for the Q and A.