“The general impression was that I had gone totally crazy,” says Stu, one of the titular subjects of Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence’s documentary. A NYC Fire Department radio technician, he is referring to his habit of getting up in the middle of the night to feed stray cats in his Brooklyn neighborhood. He’s one of the figures dedicated to helping the city’s population of homeless cats, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, who are profiled in The Cat Rescuers, a film which should prove catnip to feline lovers.
Since the city is largely unwilling or unable to address the problem with the seriousness and resources it deserves, a small army of volunteers, many belonging the organization Brooklyn Animal Action, have taken it upon themselves to devote their free time to trapping feral and abandoned cats. The goal is to have them spayed or neutered and to have as many as possible placed for adoption. Needless to say, it’s a Sisyphean task, considering the frequency with which the animals breed and the volume of kittens produced.
“Life’s gonna be better for you,” coos Sassee, the most charismatic of the doc’s human subjects, as she traps a cat that clearly doesn’t want to be caught. Sassee, who says that she spends $500 a month out of her own pocket for such expenses as kitty litter (she adopts many of the cats herself), uses guerrilla tactics in her pursuit. In one scene, she sits in her car, waiting to pull a string to trigger a metal trap in which cat food has been placed as bait. “Damn, I think she noticed me,” she says of one of her wary prey. “I should have worn a wig.” When the cats do get trapped, they almost always react with wild panic and fear as the rescuers patiently attempt to calm them down.
The documentary isn’t shy about tugging at the heartstrings. It features excerpts from a shelter’s “Kill List” showing pictures and descriptions of cats that it was forced to euthanize. There’s also a scene in which a decent-seeming man brings his healthy 12-year-old cat in for adoption. He’s told that the likelihood is that the cat is too old and won’t be adopted and is asked to sign a form acknowledging that it may be put to sleep. He expresses some concern, but doesn’t hesitate to put his signature on it.
Claire and Tara, who have demanding full-time jobs but spend many hours a week attempting to rescue cats, have adopted many of those they’ve taken off the streets. The latter has 20 former strays living with her in her one-bedroom apartment, and worries about being given the derisive label “cat lady.” So does Sassee, who says, “‘Cat woman,’ I don’t mind. Or ‘cat chick.’ But not ‘cat lady’!”
The Cat Rescuers can sometimes feel manipulative, with its endless shots of adorable felines calmly and happily responding to being petted and embraced. If you believe the film, there are no stray cats wandering the streets who are aggressive and uninterested in human attention. It’s an understandable approach considering the cause the documentary is championing, but it nonetheless seems unrealistic. That’s not to say, of course, that you won’t feel the urge to rush out to an animal shelter immediately after viewing it.
Production company: 24 Cats Per Second
Distributor: Balcony Releasing
Directors-producers-directors of photography: Rob Fruchtman, Steven Lawrence
Executive producers: Amelia Hughes, Jonathan Hughes
Editor: Rob Fruchtman
Composer: Hahn Rowe