Advocacy group fights for Whitestone cat colony

Le Cats on the water volunteers care for Whitestone feral cat colonies using trap-neuter-release practices.
Photo Courtesy Le Cats on the Water.
By Gina Martinez

A Whitestone cat advocacy group is fighting to be able to relocate a feral cat colony.

Le Cats on the Water, a non-profit organization based in northeast Queens, said it is “heartbroken” that a 20-year-old cat colony will be relocated by the New York city Department of Transportation. DOT said it will work with the Department of Health but has not named an animal organization that will supervise the relocation and has not provided the local group with any details as to where the new colony will be set up.

Le Cats has asked to move the colony, which houses six cats, less then an acre away on 12th Avenue from the current location at 9th Avenue and Totten Street. The group has offered to pay to clean the small lot of garbage and to make a gate on the chain-link fence for feeders to feed the cats at no cost to the taxpayers or DOT, but its requests have been denied by DOT.

Le Cats has placed the blame on state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who they say has silenced them and as a result the cats, most of which are old, will be relocated to a spot where they will not be able to survive.

Avella called the Le Cats charity a scam and said he is not the bully but that Pam Greco, president of Le Cats, and her husband Phillip have been stalling the cleanup of the area for over 20 years and have used the colony as a way to stop the city or state from taking action. Avella said he is a well-known animal advocate and he has spoken to a number of experts about trapping and neutering and they all have told him that if Le Cats was doing what they said they were, the cats would not still be there.

“This goes back to my days in City Council,” he said. “The Grecos have bullied, threatened and lied to people anytime they try to clean the area up. I’ve put a stop to their bullying. The plan to clean up the wetland is moving ahead and they’re unhappy because this is their little kingdom.”

Le Cats reached out to a feline expert, Carole Wilbourn, who said the displacement of the cats could be a death sentence. Wilbourn, a cat therapist, said because cats have a “homing ability” which involves their scent, visuals determination and memory, destroying their home for the last 20 years would displace them.

“These colony cats, being feral with inborn, unflappable determination and focus, their M.O. would be survival. This survival would be “home” and they could die in their pursuit. My feeling is that it is imperative to keep this colony intact.”

”We are not allowed to give our opinion or fight for our colony by this ruthless politician,” Pam Greco said. “Will he give our well-maintained houses that we scraped and saved for to this group or throw in garbage? I have to ask, where is the heart in New York?”

The cat colony is being moved to make way for a community garden. DOT has said the cats live at the far end of the tidal coastal wetlands on the shoreline, which needs to be remediated to maintain water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce the impact of flooding. In a letter to Le Cats, DOT told them relocating the feral cat colony would be necessary to preserve the shoreline.

“The landscaper performing the work at this location is being given a community garden license to renovate the property as well as clear out any invasive vegetation,” DOT wrote in its letter. “This will provide necessary remediation of the site, while also preserving the integrity of the shoreline. The Department of Sanitation will assist in this effort by removing debris and abandoned structures. Furthermore, the Department of Health will be collaborating with DOT to find a new home for the cats currently occupying the property.”

As far as the future of the colony, a DOT spokeswoman said it is still in the process of reviewing options with all stakeholders.

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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