The Cat Rescuers

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Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Cat Rescuers
"There's a lot of interesting psychology to explore here."

The population of feral and stray cats in the US is approximately 70 million. Like humans, they're not evenly distributed. They know that there's a better living to be made in the cities, and few cities offer a lifestyle like New York. So they go downtown, and there they meet other cats. Big toms patrol the alleys. Unspayed females give birth to litter after litter, three to five kittens a time. At six months old, those kittens start having kittens of their own. New York has a cat problem.

How can this be solved? The problem, volunteers agree, is not that there are feral cats - they're very useful for keeping down the rodent population - but that there are so many, meaning that they're often in fights, they struggle to get enough food and they frequently become ill. Females also suffer health problems due to having too many pregnancies. The solution is to catch, neuter or spay and then release. Sometimes it's easy. A fair number of the cats are former pets abandoned by their owners and their lack of street smarts makes them easy to catch. Others - generally the better looking ones, since they know how to take care of themselves - are much more of a challenge.

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Rob Fruchtman and Steve Lawrence's documentary follows the people who volunteer to help the cats. Some of the work for Brooklyn Animal Action; others are doing it on their own, even out of their own pockets. They have a variety of reasons. One was hooked on it by her mother and is carrying on the family tradition. Another befriended but failed to save a stray who subsequently died, and simply can't bear to fail others. One lost a partner in horrific circumstances and was then adopted by two cats who helped her heal and got her off drugs. They put up with hostility and ridicule from members of the public who just don't get it, but others consider them heroes.

There are a lot of very cute cats in this film, making it seem like a natural online hit. Viewers should be aware that not all of their stories have happy endings - the rescuers have very limited funds and some of the cats are too seriously injured, ill or too frail to save. Some former pets scrub up well and succeed in being adopted. Other cats get medical care and are then able to resume their outdoor lives. Some volunteers feed them, going out to prearranged spots under bushes or by gaps in fences to open tins of tuna.

How do they cope with the seemingly endless task? How do they keep on giving so much when the city isn't willing to invest in a free spay and neuter service that might solve the problem in mere months? There's a lot of interesting psychology to explore here. It's drawn out through interviews with contrasting characters. Because they're going about their work with the cats as they talk, there's always something visually interesting to keep the viewer engaged, and nobody here is lacking in personality. Their stories and situations vary from the totally unexpected to things every animal lover will relate to.

These disparate narratives are drawn together with incisive editing to create a film which, though perhaps a little over long, remains interesting throughout. There's a lot more to the story than you might expect and its diverse feline characters join the human ones in making their presence felt.

Reviewed on: 14 Nov 2018
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Volunteer rescuers who help feral and abandoned cats in Brooklyn.

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DOC NYC 2018

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