Photo credit: The Cat Rescuers

A group of feline-loving activists from Brooklyn, who have set out to aid NYCs street cats, are at the center of a new documentary, “The Cat Rescuers.”

According to directors Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence, there are at least 500,000 abandoned and feral cats in the city– tens of thousands in Brooklyn, where the problem has exploded and is largely ignored.

The documentary follows Latonya Sassee Walker, Claire Corey in Bed-Stuy, Stuart Siet and Tara Green on a rescue mission. Their goal? To catch feral cats, get them fixed, and return them to their colonies or have them placed up for adoption.

These trap-neuter-return (TNR) activists are all volunteers with full-time jobs, who go on their missions often very early in the morning, after work, late into the night and on weekends.

Sassee Walker. Photo credit: The Cat Rescuers

Among them is Sassee, a street-wise former rapper-turned-legal investigator, who lives in Canarsie with her daughter and who hops in her car any time of day or night to rescue a cat. Claire is an award-winning painter who when she isnt saving kitties in Bed-Stuy– works full-time in the advertising and graphic design department at a major art museum.

The sweet-natured electronics engineer Stu starts his day at 3:00am to hit the streets of Kensington and Borough Park, feeding the street cats of his neighborhood. And Gerritsen Beach resident Tara completes the quartet: The big-hearted nurse and health care administrator does not shy away from the toughest rescues and makes sure every last cat she saves gets adopted.

All of them devote their free time to saving feline lives, said Fruchtman and Lawrence. Theyre all unpaid volunteers, like almost all the rescuers in NYC. Tara and Claire get veterinary costs covered through the Brooklyn Animal Action, but Sassee and Stu are independent, paying out of their own pockets. Between vet fees, food and litter, gas for their cars, this can run $400,00-500,00 a month.

Claire Corey. Photo credit: The Cat Rescuers

Lawrence was inspired to make the film when he and his wife Helen moved to a new home in Brooklyn, which came complete with its own colony of feral, un-neutered cats. Facing a feline population explosion, they had to figure out what to do.

We started to learn about TNR, and then Helen met Tara at a local street fair where she had a booth for Brooklyn Animal Action, said Lawrence. Tara and Claire [two of the featured cat rescuers] became our mentors. Their expertise and dedication were impressive and inspiring. As I became aware of the scope of the street cat problem in NYC and the general ignorance about TNR, I started thinking there should be a  documentary about it.

In 2014, he teamed up with fellow documentary maker and cat lover Fruchtman to begin what would become a four-year-journey. In October 2018, they premiered the film at the Hamptons International Film Festival where they won the Zelda Penzel Giving Voice to the Voiceless Award for the best film about animal rights.

Since the beginning of July, the film has been playing at the IFC, and come November, it will also be available via Amazon and iTunes.

Stu Siet. Photo credit: The Cat Rescuers

The documentary is not only a tribute to the resilience and humor the four cat rescuers display in the face of their challenging task, also it shows how it also changes their own lives.

Their reward is the satisfaction they get from helping cats that otherwise will starve or freeze to death, or die miserably from injuries or illnesses, Lawrence said. They are simply people who care deeply about animals and treat them with the same respect and generosity they treat humans.

The two filmmakers hope viewers will gain a deeper understanding of the city’s feral cat crisis and decide to become part of the solution.

We hope viewers will walk away from the film with an appreciation for how big the street cat problem is, but knowing theres a solution – TNR –  and they can be part of it,” said Lawrence. Viewers can do their part by getting trained in TNR through Neighborhood Cats or the Feral Cat Initiative.

“Cats are part of our lives. They are embedded in our psyches its no coincidence that the number one category on Youtube is cat videos – over 2 million of them! They share our city and deserve our kindness and respect,” Fruchtman said.

Cat lovers still have a shot to catch the Cat Rescuers on the big screen at the IFC Center in Manhattan until August 1.

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