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Volunteers rescue Ravenswood cats from crawl spaces

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Setting traps and sporting Hazmat suits, volunteers from the Bellerose-based SaveKitty Foundation have been rescuing cats trapped in the crawl spaces at the Ravenswood Houses in Long Island City. The cats had been caught underneath the buildings by accident because the New York City Housing Authority sealed up the crawl spaces, SaveKitty President Debi Romano said.

“There’s still more in there,” Romano said. “Some could be dead by now. We’re not sure.”

SaveKitty — an animal rescue organization that specializes in trapping cats and other animals, neutering them and then putting them up for adoption — has been removing cats in the sealed crawl spaces for more than a week, Romano said.

She said they were trapped there because NYCHA acted too quickly in closing the last of the crawl spaces. After bringing the issue to the mayor, Romano said SaveKitty has been able to go into the crawl spaces and rescue the cats. Romano said NYCHA has since been accommodating to the needs of SaveKitty.

“NYCHA staff has since been working with SaveKitty to ensure that all the necessary measures are taken to maintain the safety of the cats that have been trapped,” said Myriam Ayala, a spokeswoman for NYCHA.

Ravenswood Houses, a 31-building housing complex at 35th Avenue and 21st Street in Long Island City, has long been a place where feral cats congregate and where people have dumped unwanted cats, Romano said. When SaveKitty first surveyed the housing project in October 2009, it found 300 cats living on the grounds.

“These are stray cats that have lived on the ground for years and they made their homes in the crawl spaces in these buildings,” she said.

Many of the cats were removed from the area before the crawl spaces were sealed. In October 2009, Romano said the mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals contacted SaveKitty on behalf of the Ravenswood Houses to remove the cats, as maintenance workers would get bitten by fleas when they went into the crawl spaces.

Romano said she had hoped the crawl spaces would not be sealed since the cats are a natural rodent control and many would return to the area if removed. Nevertheless, in meetings with NYCHA, the mayor’s alliance and other animal advocate groups, it was decided to seal up the crawl spaces with grating.

“They own them,” Romano said. “They can close the crawl spaces.”

Romano said she had been working with NYCHA since late May to remove the cats after the crawl spaces were closed, but Romano said the last section of the job was rushed, some buildings were sealed up without the cats being removed.

After proving to NYCHA and the mayor’s alliance that cats were still trapped in some of the buildings, SaveKitty received permission Aug. 25 to go in and rescue the remaining cats, Romano said. To do this, they have swept the buildings and put out traps near the crawl spaces and water for the cats to drink.

The cats that have been removed have been sent to animal shelters and are being put up for adoption, Romano said.

She said that as of Monday she is sure cats are still living in one of the buildings and may be in two more.

Romano said SaveKitty is in need of monetary donations for food and medicine for the animals taken out of Ravenswood. Checks for the purpose can be sent to the SaveKitty Foundation at P.O. Box 260096, Bellerose, NY 11426.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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