How far would you go, how much would you imperil yourself to save a colony of feral cats? Would you slither on your stomach through a rat-infested crawl space teeming with roaches, spiders and other creepy crawlers?
I would honestly have to say that no, I probably wouldn’t do that, even if the lives of a few dozen cats were at stake. Which is why a colony of New York City cats were lucky to have an extraordinary advocate in Debi Romano.
Unlike the queasy among us, Romano will do whatever it takes to rescue feral cats.
Romano didn’t flinch when she had to pull on a protective suit and strap on a respirator to navigate the bowels of the New York City Housing Authority’s Ravenswood Houses last week.
Romano spent days in the company of New York City Housing Authority maintenance workers, searching for cats that were trapped in recently sealed crawl spaces in the projects.
“Nothing can shock me,” said Romano, who joked that she saw the walls move and bugs large enough to put a saddle on as she moved through the dank crawl spaces. “Animals have been my passion my whole life.”
As of last week, she had found or freed about a dozen live cats, and also found two dead ones. It wasn’t clear whether those two cats had died because they were sealed within the crawl spaces.
Romano, who runs the SaveKitty Foundation, has been up against the NYCHA for years over its stray cat problem. Hundreds of cats roam the 31-building complex that straddles the Astoria-Long Island City border.
She has offered to start a trap-neuter-release program that many believe would trim the stray cat population. But NYCHA officials have repeatedly declined that offer.
After working with Romano for months to trap the cats and seal the small windows in the crawl space, the Housing Authority hired a contractor to finish the job quickly.
Romano and others warned that cats may be buried alive. The public outcry got the attention of City Hall officials, who ordered NYCHA to work with Romano and find a humane solution.
For the first time, she was allowed to accompany workers as they entered the dank crawl spaces.
“Debi is remarkable in her ability to know what a cat is going to do, where it will go and what it’s thinking,” said Jane Hoffman of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a coalition of animal rescue groups. “A cat is not just going to go into a trap.”
Romano believes that although the crawl spaces will probably be free of cats when she is finished, the problem may not be solved.
“There needs to be a plan,” said Liz Stein, a lawyer who works with SaveKitty. “A worker or a contractor is going to go into these spaces and a cat could go back in and then what will happen?”
Read more: New York Daily News