Cat Rescuers Lose Only Affordable Clinic in Queens

Many neighborhoods in Queens are home to colonies of feral cats.

Article and photos by Priya Thakur

There is more to the trending “Cat Distribution System” meme than a gray tabby cat suddenly appearing at your front door. There are about 60 to 100 million homeless cats in the United States— and New York City is no exception to the overpopulation of these wandering felines. For those trying to help control that growth, some neighborhoods are more challenging than others.

For the past three years, Diana Alvarez has been dedicated to getting feral and community cats trapped, neutered, and returned (TNR) or adopted hoping to minimize the amount of kittens being born in neighborhoods across Queens. As a Senior Vice President Treasury Sales Manager at a commercial bank in New York City, she also independently rescues cats to secure limited appointments with ASPCA’s free to low cost spay/neutering services. 

But now the ASPCA’s Glendale clinic— the only free spay and neuter facility in Queens for animal rescuers— has permanently closed down. 

Alvarez used to have a 20- to 25-minute drive to the clinic from her home in Bayside, Queens. But since the closure of the Glendale location on Sept. 1, she now spends up to an hour and a half, with her husband driving, to get to a clinic in Brooklyn. Without ASPCA’s public assistance spay and neuter service, the surgery can cost up to $500 per cat at private vets.

Diana Alvarez (right, pointing) picked up seven cats and one dog post-surgery at Brooklyn’s clinic.

“Having the ASPCA providing these services, always, for me at least, has been a blessing. I think other cities, other states in the country don’t have the ASPCA help that we do get in New York City,” said Alvarez.

Rescuers like Alvarez and Paul The Cat Guy, an Instagram personality with nearly 90,000 followers, received an email in August stating that Glendale’s clinic will be permanently closing due to veterinary staff shortages. Like Alvarez, many are dealing with the challenge of trapping feral cats in Queens to then spay or neuter them at Brooklyn or Bronx’s Community Veterinary Clinic.

Alvarez has visited the ASPCA’s Brooklyn clinic twice so far. Their schedule for drop offs and pickups is hard for animal rescuers balancing a nine-to-five job. Dog and cat drop off and pickup in Queens were previously 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Alvarez, who has to commute to Manhattan by 8:30 a.m. for work, struggles with Brooklyn’s 8 a.m. drop off and 4 p.m. pick up time.

“Because we pay out of our pockets, you can’t call out or tell your boss ‘Hey, I gotta go to the clinic.’ Then you don’t get paid,” said Alvarez.

PuppyKittyNYC, a volunteer-based cat centric rescue organization in Middle Village, Queens, also pivoted to Brooklyn when the ASPCA Glendale clinic, which was five minutes from their shelter, closed.

“It’s been a very big blow to us,” said Meagan Licari, President of PuppyKittyNYC (PKNYC). “It’s more stressful for the animals, it’s more stressful for us, the timing is off, it’s double the price, it’s really really horrible.”

According to the Humane Society, unspayed female cats can have multiple litters each year and unneutered male cats will roam farther distances, increasing their likelihood of getting hit by cars. “To effectively reduce the population, approximately 80% of the cats in the focus area (or community) need to be TNRd.”

Rescuers in Queens have to travel to Brooklyn for spaying and neutering services after the ASPCA’s Glendale clinic closed in September.

PKNYC mainly focuses on medical cases for sick and injured cats who need private veterinary care. They take in roughly 50 homeless cats a month, paying hundreds of dollars “per healthy cat.” Licari manages PKNYC’s Instagram page to share cats’ rescue stories and requests for adopters, fosters, volunteers and donations.

Like Alvarez, the commute from Queens to Brooklyn is difficult for Licari and PKNYC volunteers. She says the trip is adding as much as two and a half hours to their days, and most of their volunteers have other jobs. “There are absolutely zero spay/neuter clinics in Queens, zero,” she said.

Licari believes the city needs to be more supportive of individual rescuers like herself and organizations by giving out more funds. “The city is not able to handle the problem, so they need to start providing more resources,” she said.

The ASPCA stated in a press release that the closing and lease expiration of its Glendale clinic was a “timely factor” amid the current national veterinary workforce shortage. 

They added that ASPCA is “committed” to addressing this issue by “identifying short and long-term solutions” and expanding their services at the Brooklyn clinic to support spay and neuter needs.

After serving an estimated 10,000 dogs and cats each year at their Glendale location since 2011, ASPCA said in its press release that it will partner with the Animal Care Centers of NYC to open a brand-new facility in Queens in 2024. They will provide subsidized veterinary care, spay/neuter surgeries and vaccinations to homeless dogs and cats being cared for by animal rescue organizations. 

Even when the Glendale location was open, service was still affected for three years after COVID. “It’s been increasingly harder to get appointments,” said Licari. 

The ASPCA said in a news release that it hopes to open a Queens clinic next year.

John Debacker also experienced a clinic in Bayshore that went from serving 50 cats a day to “barely doing” 15 a day. “Rescue became so much harder,” he said, referring to changes that came after 2020 such as clinics shutting down and requiring appointments, something that wasn’t necessary pre-pandemic.

Debacker is a prominent animal rescue worker with 12 years of experience in Long Island and the new Vice President of LICKS, a non-profit organization in Nassau County offering spay and neuter services for community cats. 

“If it’s a colony of stray, feral cats, people shouldn’t be required to pay out of pocket, it should be up to the townships to have free programs. A lot of it relies on homeowners and rescues,” he said.

On emergency calls, Debacker travels to Queens and Brooklyn saving cats stranded on Grand Central Parkway, trapped inside an air conditioning duct, lost on JFK’s runway and in other critical situations. Even if they can’t afford the cats’ vet bills at the moment, he never says “no” to an animal in need and later fundraises through social media.

“We also need more trappers and clinics, actually, a little bit of both. Without the clinics, there’s nowhere to bring the cats.”