A Haven For New York City’s Homeless Cats

Life in a feral cat colony in Morningside Park, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

1. As of spring 2013, there are anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million feral cats living on the streets of New York City.


According to the nonprofit Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

Two feral cats in Morningside Park.

3. A small percentage of that population, no more than a few dozen cats, make their home in Morningside Park, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan near Columbia University.

Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

The magnificent Cathedral of Saint John the Divine overlooks the southwest corner of the park.

4. Walking the grounds of the park, if you look carefully, you’ll see cats everywhere. Though they tend to cluster in two large colonies: one near the pond, the other near a school at the northern tip of the park.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 — park map via maps.google.com

5. There’s a relatively diverse variety of cats hanging around.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

6. Black cats

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

7. White cats

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

8. Tuxedo cats

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

9. Little darlings

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

10. Old grumps

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

11. Hunters

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

That’s a frog it’s chewing on.

12. Alpha males

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

13. Affectionate cats

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

14. Aggressive types

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

Little white feral cat hissing at a nearby cat. When there’s food around, some cats are testier than others.

15. Anomalies

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

A white odd-eyed cat walking through the daffodils.

16. Some of the cats sleep in shelters erected in a few enclosed areas around the park.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

17. Others have been known to seek refuge in small caves along the rugged cliffs that stretch across Morningside Park’s west side.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

Especially when it’s cold out.

18. Although when it’s warmer outside, a nice soft log will do.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

19. As with any group of ferals, populations vary widely. One site estimates there may be more than 70 cats living in Morningside Park.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

Via Bloomberg, “They are adept at hiding and they are adept at reproducing … TWO CATS can produce 62 CATS in just two years.”

20. Trap-Neuter-Return programs help keep feral cat populations in check — though it’s unknown how many of the cats in Morningside Park have been dealt with.

© Harry Shuldman Photography / Via Flickr: hshuldman

The one-eyed feral cat pictured above has its right ear tipped, to help identify it as having been spayed or neutered and vaccinated as part of a Trap-Neuter-Return program.

21. The vast majority of cats in the park were likely born there, descendants of stray cats — domesticated felines that at one point or another were either lost or abandoned.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

22. Cats aren’t the only descendants of abandoned pets in the park. There’s a thriving population of abandoned pet turtles in Morningside Park pond.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

Almost all of these are red-eared sliders, a species native to the South. They’re either descendants of abandoned pets or first-generation orphans — and many of them may have been living in the park quite a while. Red-eared sliders have a lifespan between 50–100 years.

23. Feral cats are ruthless hunters of small birds and rodents in the park…

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

I was taking pictures of these two cats when a bird flew overhead and they both looked up at the exact same time.

24. …though people in the neighborhood also come by to feed them regularly.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

25. Feeding feral cats in New York City is perfectly legal.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

It is illegal to feed feral cats in some towns and cities throughout the U.S. — though as groups like the Humane Society point out, feeding bans don’t really do much to curb feral populations anway.

26. Leaving food out may attract unwanted visitors, though…

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

A hungry raccoon about to hop the fence near the pond in Morningside Park.

27. I think he likes cat food even more than cats.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

28. In the background, a white-gray feral cat watches as a raccoon eats all the food.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

29. This group cautiously watches the bushes after the raccoon darted off.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

30. If you see these cats in the park, try to respect their privacy. They are adorable, but timid. Regular visitors rarely get closer than 10–15 feet from them.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

31. There are feral cats in alleyways, construction sites, abandoned buildings, warehouses, parking lots, etc. all over New York City. In some ways, the ferals in Morningside Park are the lucky ones.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

32. A small but devoted (and mostly anonymous) cadre of caring neighbors stop by regularly to feed them, check on their living conditions, even bring them medicine.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

33. If you want to learn more about New York City’s feral cat population, and ways you can help, here’s a good place to start.

© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman
© Harry Shuldman 2013 / Via Flickr: hshuldman

Harry Shuldman is a freelance writer & photographer. To see more of his photos of feral cats in Morningside Park, click here. Follow him on Twitter at @HarryShuldman.

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