Astoria strays survive on kindness of strangers

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The front porch of Gloria Morrison’s 38th Street home in Astoria is lined with bowls of cat food and adorned with stickers announcing her as a friend to the animals.

But her devotion to the stray cats that constantly wander her residential street is most strongly affirmed by the furry felines themselves, which roam her porch as if it were their castle, waiting eagerly at the appointed times for food to be scooped into their bowls.

“When I retired, I became very aware of the cats around and looking for food,” said Morrison, who is over 70 years old and quit working two decades as a legal secretary. “But I never realized I would end up feeding almost the whole neighborhood.”

Although the community board has received no complaints, Morrison said she struggles with neighbors dismayed by the cats congregating in the area.

An abundant stray cat population is very visible on the streets of Astoria, where countless numbers of kittens and adult cats dart beneath cars and into yards, creating a home wherever they can find shelter. Neighbors say they often yowl.

“I am told we have an inordinate number of stray cats,” said Anne Parks Donovan, an Astoria resident who runs a cat rescue program called Francis’s Friends with Lenore Yash of Woodside and Brenda Chiarello of Astoria. “They’re visible here. You see them crossing the streets.”

Nobody who works with the animals can definitely say how Astoria’s stray cat population reached its current level, nor can they even give a ballpark figure for how many cats live on the streets.

“I don’t know how it got started here,” Donovan said. “One could say that because people do feed them, they multiply.”

Others theorize that because so many people feed cats in the area, pet owners from around the city who no longer want their cats ultimately release them in Astoria with the knowledge the animals will get assistance.

Animal workers do agree that people like Morrison are largely responsible for the cats’ survival. But whether the Gloria Morrisons are ultimately helping or hurting the neighborhood’s stray cats by providing abundant food without cutting off their ability to reproduce depends on whom you ask.

In addition to the seven cats living in her house – all of which she rescued from the street – Morrison regularly feeds three cats in the back of her house and eight more on her front porch.

But with age she has lost her ability to catch the cats and bring them to the veterinarian to be spayed or neutered – procedures that terminate the animals’ ability to reproduce and thus help to curb the area’s stray cat population.

For the rescuers who are desperate for volunteers to help them care for the cats, people like Gloria Morrison provide an invaluable service by helping the current lot survive on the streets.

“We would be totally overwhelmed if it weren’t for all the courageous and generous individuals who go out and feed cats,” said Donovan, who rescues cats and places them in foster homes until a permanent adoption can be arranged. “You cannot imagine how many people in Astoria feed cats and take them in.”

Although Donovan calls such people heroes, other rescuers are not so enthusiastic.

Calla Fricke runs a shelter in the Dutch Kills area of Long Island City through an organization called I Love Animals Inc. The small two-story house shelters nearly 100 cats that sleep in small beds made from boxes and roam undisturbed throughout the space, which is theirs alone and has no human occupants.

“Cats go where they are fed,” Fricke said. “The terrible thing is people think that feeding cats is a kind thing to do. Getting them neutered is the kind thing to do.”

Donovan said her organization is desperately seeking assistance with that task.

“The most important thing needed in Astoria is a spay-neuter and release program,” Donovan said. “We can organize, and we can get it done free. But what we need is volunteers – for trapping and housing them.”

Once the cats have received proper veterinary care, they may be rereleased into the streets – where they will no longer reproduce – or placed into foster care for eventual adoption by people interested in caring for and living with cats.

The website for Francis’ Friends – – lists photographs of many of the cats currently available for adoption.

For Donovan and the countless others who live with cats that once roamed the streets, the rewards are vast.

“I like to say that we take what’s become trash around us – living trash – and turn it into someone’s treasure,” Donovan said. “These little guys are just the throwaways of the world, and you turn them into somebody’s treasure.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown at 229-0300 ext. 154 or by e-mail at

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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Reader feedback

linda z from manhatten says:
Spaying and neutering is the most humane action one can do for the animals. Blessings to all the stray workers and vets who give time, effort, and resources to help these beautiful creatures.. strays cannot survive without our help, and the costs are enormous. Please help these angels with donations. Lz
Sept. 5, 2014, 3:22 pm
linda z from manhatten says:
Costs for spaying and neutering are enormous but most important. Please help these stray workers with donations. Their efforts are never ending and are physically and emotionally draining. They are truly angels of mercy.
Sept. 5, 2014, 3:57 pm

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