When most people move into a house and find that the place came with a colony of feral cats, they’d probably just shrug their shoulders and ignore the problem. But not Steve Lawrence.
“My wife Helen and I got involved with [trap-neuter-return] because of a problem on the block where we had just moved in,” Steve said. “There were easily 40 cats that had not been spayed or neutered, and they were being fed by neighbors who love animals but weren’t aware they were supporting a population explosion.”
After a hungry mother cat and her kittens showed up in the Lawrences’ backyard, they decided to take action and reached out for assistance. It was then that they learned about TNR and began educating their neighbors.
Steve, an award-winning filmmaker, decided that in addition to getting his colony spayed and neutered, the best thing he could do to help solve the problem was to use his talents and make a documentary that would hopefully raise awareness about the street cat problem and about the wisest and most humane solution —TNR.
“I’m not a great shooter,” said Steve, “so I wanted to find a collaborator who was, and who also cared a lot about the subject. By chance, one of the rescuers Helen and I contacted had a cat-loving friend, Rob Fruchtman, who is a terrific cameraman and also a brilliant editor and director.”
Steve said it took all of 10 minutes to convince Rob to partner with him to make the film. “He loves cats and immediately understood that this is an important story,” he said of Rob.
“After one meeting we decided to make The Cat Rescuers, sharing the producing and directing work.”
The documentary follows the stories of four of the many street-smart individuals who squeeze their TNR and rescue work in around their full-time jobs and other commitments. They decided to focus on Brooklyn because the street cat problem is so large there and because Steve, a Brooklyn resident himself, knows many of the neighborhoods.
“Our first step was to connect with animal rescue groups and vets and ask for their recommendations,” Rob said. “Steve was also meeting people through the TNR work he and Helen were doing — that’s how we knew [film subjects] Tara and Claire. A few months into the research, we met Sassee and knew right away we wanted to work with her. Sassee introduced us to Stu. There were others we filmed with and considered, but in the end we settled on Sassee, Claire, Tara, and Stu.”
Latonya “Sassee” Walker is a single mom who will hop in her car any time of day or night to rescue a cat. She even gave up a promising career as a rapper to devote herself to her rescue work. Now employed full-time as an expert legal investigator, she and her daughter, Nijah, devote most of their free time to helping cats. “Don’t talk about it, be about it,” she likes to say.
Claire Corey is an award-winning artist and full-time employee in the advertising and graphic design department at a major art museum in New York. After moving to Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood in 2005, she discovered hundreds of sick and starving cats, saw the need for rescues, and became a founding member of Brooklyn Animal Action, which has coordinated foster care and successful adoptions of more than 1,000 cats in the last decade.
Stuart “Stu” Siet is an electronics engineer who works full time maintaining radio communications for New York City’s Fire Department. His rescue career started when he came across a scrawny feral cat and rescued him. When he realized his neighborhood was overflowing with street cats, he converted his office garage into a shelter and began feeding the cats he couldn’t accommodate. His rescue activities take him over three square miles in Brooklyn’s Borough Park and Kensington neighborhoods every morning.
Tara Green is an elder health care administrator who lives in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood. While working at a senior center in Manhattan Beach, she discovered a colony of feral cats and rescued them. Then she began to notice how many were roaming Bay Ridge. She got certified in TNR and became affiliated with Brooklyn Animal Action, a volunteer rescue group based in the Park Slope neighborhood.
“It’s hard to say if things have gotten better” in the grand scheme of things, Steve said, “but there are certainly cases, like our block in Bay Ridge, where you can see the difference when TNR is effectively implemented.”
“One positive step is that the Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, has agreed to host a rescue summit with all the local rescue groups,” Rob said. “The goal is to figure out a borough-wide plan to support TNR, which would be a great step forward. Our rescuers will be there, and we’ll be filming the meeting.”
“Rescuing cats requires the same kind of dedication, resourcefulness, patience, and compassion that we see in people who devote themselves to human rights work or to being first responders to natural disasters,” Steve said. “Yes, the focus is on animals, but it comes from the same deep impulse to care for living creatures. As Gandhi said, ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’”
“Who knew that following cats and the people who love them could be so much fun?” Rob said.
The filmmakers have been funding production of The Cat Rescuers with their own money up to this point, but in order to finish the film they need to raise more, so they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising the project completion funds.
“We are also offering some great rewards — everything from fun T-shirts and tote bags to private screenings, consultations with health coaches, art, and more,” Rob said.
To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign and make a pledge to support The Cat Rescuers, visit HelpTheCatRescuers.com.