Photo courtesy Mary Witty
By Bill Parry

Stray cats are disappearing in Astoria and city services are not helping to solve the mystery.

Mary Witty, an NYU administrator, lives in the Ditmars section of Astoria where she and several neighbors on 24th Street have looked after a colony of eight strays since 2008. “Four of them slept in my backyard and a retired couple would let the kittens warm up in their kitchen,” Witty said.

Apparently not all the neighbors feel the same way toward the felines.

Witty knows of one neighbor who has complained to others, sprayed animal repellent and even built a fence to keep the cats from her yard. Another neighbor was shocked to discover two open cans of tuna topped with antifreeze with its distinctive blue color. Last month, all but one of the cats in Witty’s colony disappeared without a trace.

“Had she come to me with her complaint we could’ve opened some kind of dialogue,” Witty said. “I might have explained to her that poisoning cats is a felony.”

She set up a website (astoria7.org) and Facebook page (astoria7) to gather information about what had happened to the missing cats and, according to feedback, the problem is spreading.

“We are getting reports of more cats disappearing,” Witty said. “One lady lost 10 and there was a colony of 11 on 14th Street that’s now down to four.”T

To compound the problem, city agencies and the NYPD have refused to help Witty because she said there is no evidence of wrongdoing, no dead bodies.

“All I get is the royal runaround. I thought I was getting somewhere with the ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Unit, but that was discontinued on Jan. 1 and its duties were transferred to the NYPD, which I think will be a disaster for animals,” Witty said.

The ASPCA said the department is not closed, but the majority of enforcement has been transferred because the Police Department has more manpower.

“The change — given NYPD’s tens of thousands of officers across 77 precincts — will allow for the swift and effective response to animal abuse complaints and subsequently expedite the ASPCA’s rescue and treatment of abused animals,” spokesman Bret Hopman said.

One elected official is aware of the problem and is doing something about it.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said, “What’s the NYPD going to do? They’ve got plenty of things to worry about and no specialized training.

He added, “In the long run it might be a good thing, but in the short term it’s going to be a real problem,” he said.

Avella has scheduled a public forum on animal protection issues in the state of New York. That meeting was scheduled for this Friday in the Senate Hearing Room at 250 Broadway in Manhattan.

Witty and a growing number of people who have lost their cats will take their issues to Community Board 1’s monthly meeting Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Witty has raised the reward money for information on her lost cats to $5,000 on her website.

“Many are offering to donate money to raise the reward, but I’m not doing this to raise money, I’m just want justice for the cats — at the very least an investigation,” she said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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