Exploding population of street cats prompts need for charitable clinic for spay/neuter services

Flatbush Cats, nonprofit rescue group, provides ‘equitable pet ownership’

September 1, 2023 Beth Eisgrau-Heller
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When Will Zweigart and his partner Divya Anantharaman moved to Brooklyn, they were struck by the sheer number of street cats living in their Flatbush neighborhood. And so, Flatbush Cats was born.

Since 2017, the nonprofit has employed trap–neuter–return (TNR) methods and has offered foster and adoption programs to reduce the stray cat population in Flatbush. Other volunteers continue to care for colonies of ferals who have been TNR’ed. Today, it has a network of over 250 passionate volunteers and a robust social media presence. Their videos tug on viewers’ heartstrings by highlighting individual cats’ transformative journeys and those who love and care for them.

From left to right: Celebrity cat behavioralist Jackson Galaxy, City Councilmember Justin Brennan, Entertainer and Brooklynite Rosie Perez, Flatbush Cats Executive Boardmember Divya Anantharaman, Flatbush Cats Founder and Executive Director Will Zweigart, City Councilwoman Farrah Louis, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and President, Flatbush Nostrand Junction BID Kenneth Mbonu. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

On Aug. 21, Flatbush Cats celebrated the opening of Flatbush Vet, located at 1460 Flatbush Avenue. The cat-loving crowd included Animal Planet personality and cat behavioralist Jackson Galaxy, a.k.a. “The Cat Daddy,” Rosie Perez, Artist Eric Haze, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, City Councilman Justin Brannan, and Councilwoman Farrah Louis, veterinary professionals, veterinary staff, rescuers, donors, and volunteers.

From left to right, Executive Board members Divya Anantharaman, Artist Eric Haze, and Entertainer Rozie Perez. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

During his remarks, Zweigart beamed, “We’re going to be delivering more than 7,500 high-quality spay/neuter surgeries every single year. [This clinic will] allow us to double our TNR and rescue operations so we can continue to help more cats…As more families can enjoy access to this basic veterinary care that every single pet deserves, we will have fewer cats born outside.”

Flatbush Cats Executive Director Will Zweigart celebrates the opening of Flatbush Vet, a high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter and wellness veterinary clinic. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

Jackson Galaxy teared up during his remarks, mirroring the importance of affordable veterinary care and the concept of dignity. “Money should not be the thing that prevents you from [having] a life with animals.” Adding, “It’s also the cats themselves…whether they’re friendlies or ferals or somewhere in between. It’s time to bring them out of the shadows. And that’s what this organization brings to those cats. Dignity.”

Celebrity cat behavioralist Jackson Galaxy told the Eagle, “I’m here because Flatbush Vet is an amazing achievement by an amazing group…It’s a one-of-a-kind event, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

Always animated and heartfelt, Rosie Perez also became emotional when explaining why she became involved with the organization. “I wish [Flatbush Cats] were around when I was a kid, a kid from Brooklyn who grew up in abject poverty, who didn’t even THINK about having an animal because of the cost involved. And so [Flatbush Cats] just touched my heart in a very, very deep way.”

To get a sense of how novel the Flatbush Vet really is, all one needed to do was listen. When asked how she came to work at the clinic, Lead Veterinary Technician Leslie Lewis explained, “I was so absolutely floored by the fact that [Will] didn’t have a background in Veterinary Medicine, and he saw a problem. And he took the initiative and said, ‘I’m gonna fix that.’ … when the opportunity came up to be a part of that team, how could I say no.”

Flatbush Cats’ Wellness Veterinarian Dr. Kai Small, DVM (left), and Lead Veterinary Technician (right) Leslie Lewis. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

Lori Bierbrier, DVM, the Senior Medical Director of Community Medicine at the ASPCA, attended the event with her teenage daughter. “I am so impressed with everything that Flatbush Cats have done to address the problem of the need for so much spay/neuter. There’s only so much that any one organization can do. So for them to step up and create their own solution is just fantastic.” Lindsay Branch, formerly of the Brooklyn Cat Cafe, is the Rescue Program Manager. “I was so excited about being a part of Flatbush Cats because I get to help the cats in my own community and the people in my own community who care about them.”

Councilman Justin Brennan, a longtime animal rights activist (and former “punk-rock/hard-core kid”) who succeeded in establishing the NYC Mayor’s Office of Animal Welfare, believes NYC should be subsidizing the rescue efforts of groups like Flatbush Cats. “[Councilwoman] Farrah [Louis] and I fought really hard in this last budget, in the chaos of the budget. It came down to the wire. We fought to make a first investment in Flatbush Cats.” Together, they presented the organization with a “big game-show check” for $150,000.

City Councilmember animal activist Justin Brennan during his remarks at the opening of Flatbush Vet. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

Brennan and Louis’ grand gesture only underscored the need for more funds. Earlier in the proceedings, Zweigart pleaded, “As you can see this facility is beautiful. And we’re almost there. But we haven’t reached our fundraising goal. Thank you for helping us move upstream and save thousands of lives every single year for the next several decades. Folks are watching all around the world because we need this everywhere.”

Flatbush Vet is expected to open in the next few weeks officially. If you’d like to make a donation, visit www.flatbushcats.org.

Shockingly, 50% of U.S. households can no longer afford vet care. Shelters have been at a breaking point for years. Worse, cats reproduce at astounding rates. A female, or Queen, can reach sexual maturity at as young as four months. With a gestation period of just over two months, she can have as many as four litters per year, each averaging four to six kittens. NYC has an estimated 500,000 feral cats. According to Flatbush Cats’ website, NYC saw a 25% increase in pet surrenders in 2022 alone. The problem is Sisyphean, so Zweigart began to think bigger.

Disclosure: Beth Eisgrau-Heller has two cats, Roxie and Squeeze, each rescued by Flatbush Cats.

Flatbush Cats volunteers Olivia Damico (left) and Emily Young (right). Olivia is a TNR expert and edits Flatbush Cats’ social media videos. Emily is a neighborhood cat colony caregiver. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
Shy rescue cat Small Moritz peers cautiously from an enclosure at Flatbush Vet. His ear has been “tipped” to indicate he has been previously trapped and neutered. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller
Flatbush Cats still seeks donations to reach their fundraising goal. Photo by Beth Eisgrau-Heller

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