Check out any backyard in Brooklyn, New York, and it's clear the borough is home to more than its 2.6 million human residents. It's also home to stray, friendly, and feral cats — thousands of them — and a dedicated group of volunteers who take care of them.
Heidi Systo is one of the thousands of those volunteers, or cat rescuers, trained in TNRM, which stands for trap, neuter, return, and monitor. It's a humane and effective form of population control that entails trapping stray cats and spaying or neutering them. Feral cats are returned to where they were found and fed by a caretaker. Friendly cats or kittens are socialized, then adopted.
"TNR is necessary because in a lot of cities, and definitely in New York City, we have an overpopulation problem of cats. It's a human-made problem. Cats are not native to the streets of New York. It's a problem that we created by being negligent," Systo said.
Free or low-cost TNRM is offered by a number of organizations, including the ASPCA, which also offers low-cost spay and neuter services and trap rental to volunteers.
"High-intensity trap, neuter, return. and monitor ... will result in the best impact, and over time, that should reduce the population of that colony by half, like 50 percent, over time," said Isa Martinez, community cats outreach manager at the ASPCA.
In spite of the size of stray populations, cats are not meant to live in the streets — and life outside can be difficult and painful, often leading to an early death. That sad reality is what motivates Systo, along with her friends and fellow volunteers, to continue help, despite all the time and money invested.
"If I am the difference between [a cat] living on the street and dying an early death, versus, you know, being indoors, being loved and happy and warm for the rest of its life — that I get a lot out of," Systo said.