Help Your Local Strays: They’re Starving During COVID-19 Lockdown

Years ago I worked with a guy who started a food pantry from scratch.

This man, a retired software engineer, approached the biggest restaurants, bakeries and food distributors in the area, asking them to donate their leftover/unused food so his pantry could distribute it to the poor.

Many obliged, but they all had the same request: “Don’t tell anyone we’re participating,” they told him.

The request wasn’t prompted by humility. These businesses didn’t want the public to know how much food they waste, and they waste a lot of perfectly good food, a dirty little secret of the restaurant, hospitality and food industries.

The reason I bring this up is because there’s another demographic that depends on the food those businesses toss out: Stray cats.

Stray Cat
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With restaurants shuttered because of the Coronavirus, stray cats are going hungry and dying for lack of the scraps they scavenge from rubbish bins, dumpsters and sidewalks. It’s happening here in New York, across the United States, and in countries like Turkey, India, Greece and Morocco.

For animals who already live difficult lives, the pandemic made things worse.

“The strays have no means of feeding themselves as all offices, restaurants [and] roadside eateries are closed,” an animal rights activist in India told the environmental news site Mongabay, in a story headlined ‘Slim pickings for strays and pets during COVID-19 lockdown.’

Cats aren’t the only animals suffering. One particularly dramatic example was caught on video in a Thai city where thousands of long-tailed macaques live and depend on food given to them by tourists.

Hundreds of starving monkeys stopped traffic in a chaotic brawl over a single piece of food, shrieking, clawing and pushing each other aside to get at it.

As if things weren’t bad enough, stray cats are now competing with former house pets for the little food available.

In India, where bad actors have been spreading false information about COVID-19, animal rights activists are finding abandoned pets — including pedigreed cats and dogs — on the streets after their caretakers abandoned them.

“A lot of this is happening because of misinformation that went viral earlier about pets being carriers of the virus in China. It turned out to be fake, of course, but a lot of damage has been done now,” People For Animals’ Vikram Kochhar told Quartz.

Much of the damage has been done on social media, where conspiracy theories and rumors about contracting COVID-19 from animals are rampant. In China, where pet owners abandoned cats and dogs en masse during the first wave of Coronavirus, some social media users on Mandarin-language platforms called for the “extermination” of cats after a pair of studies conducted by Chinese research labs suggested cats are susceptible to catching the virus.

It isn’t easy to combat waves of viral misinformation, even as health authorities across the world stress cats cannot transmit the virus to humans.

Stray Cat
Credit: Animal Bliss

In Greece, abandoned pets — many with their collars still on — are following strays to food sources, especially in larger cities like Athens.

“We are seeing an increase in the numbers of cats in areas where we feed, some appear to have been abandoned, while others have roamed far from their usual spots in search of food,” animal welfare advocate Serafina Avramidou told Barron’s.

In feline-loving Turkey, where taking care of street cats is considered a cooperative responsibility, the central government has told local officials to make sure strays are well fed and taken care of. By making it a government responsibility, their thinking goes, citizens who normally care for the cats will be much more likely to stay inside during the pandemic.

“There are lots of cats on the side streets where there are only closed businesses,” a Turkish Twitter user wrote. “I haven’t seen food anywhere for days. The cats are running after us [looking for food].”

In Istanbul, Muazzez Turan fed some 300 stray cats daily before the pandemic, but said she’s had to stay home: Not only has her country been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, but she has pre-existing medical problems that make her susceptible to complications should she contract the virus.

Still, she said, her mind “was always with the cats,” and she told Turkish news agency Anadolu that she was relieved to hear the strays hadn’t been forgotten.

“I will sleep peacefully for the first time today,” Turan said.

LaTonya Walker of Brooklyn feeds a stray in Canarsie. Credit: 24 Cats Per Second

Here in New York, some animal lovers are picking up the slack for closed restaurants as well as at-risk people who normally feed strays.

Among them is Latonya Walker, who told the New York Post she normally spends $600 a month feeding several colonies of strays but expects her costs this month will be “way more since there’s less restaurant garbage they can eat from, and more hungry cats walking around.”

“The cats have no clue what’s going on because nothing has changed for them,” Walker said. “It’s not in my DNA to see a cat suffering and not do anything about it. I’m equipped to make a cat’s life better, so I’m going to.”

10 thoughts on “Help Your Local Strays: They’re Starving During COVID-19 Lockdown”

  1. Really sad to hear 😦

    My neighborhood is filled mainly with dog lovers (barely see any stray cats) but they are being fed daily by groups of animal lovers. They know where to get their meals from (right outside my next door neighbor’s house) but I can imagine how much harder it would be in other districts that don’t have organized groups of animal lovers :/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If you don’t mind me asking Ajeya, are you in India or the US? A friend in India told me life for strays in her city is really difficult because of all the dogs, who often become aggressive and attack cats. She rescued a beautiful white cat who died defending her kittens from a dog, which was a really sad story. She kept one kitten and placed the others in good homes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve been based in India for some time now (brought up in Singapore but traveled a lot when I was younger). A lot of my extended family live in the US though.

        In most cities here in India, life is terrible for stray dogs and even worse for cats. There are dedicated cat lovers in my city but most cats are kept indoors for their own safety. Sadly, a lot of them get killed by stray dogs 😦

        I kept a rescued cat (Aki) once but it was for just a short time. There were so many stray dogs around and he almost got killed twice when he escaped outside to explore. A lot of them are very aggressive and I had to find him a new home because I truly feared for his safety. Plus I knew I wouldn’t be able to bear it if anything happened to him 😦


      2. You did the right thing with Aki, especially if he was determined to get back outside. I’m no stray expert, but I’ve read enough stories about how hard it is to get them to stay inside that I know it’s a huge challenge.

        As for Singapore, I never realized how beautiful it is until watching this season of Westworld, which is primarily set there. The urban architecture is a great backdrop for a futuristic city, although probably less so for people who are familiar with it IRL. Still, it looks awesome.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. PS: I still have a few pics of Aki but I don’t think I can post them in the comments here. If you’d like, I’ll share them with you on Quora in the morning.

        Even though I had him for a short while, I still miss him. I get attached to my pets really fast. Heck, I had a baby squirrel for just a day and night before managing to reunite him with his mother and I still miss him 😀


  2. The architecture is lovely indeed and it does have a futuristic feel to it. A very safe and clean place to live in but also really expensive. It’s sad what is happening right now with the Covid outbreak. So many foreign workers tested positive and had to be quarantined although the government is doing whatever they can to help them.

    Lots of animal lovers there and practically every housing block has at least 3 cats living in the void decks below (very well-fed Garfield types 😀 )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If any country can be trusted to make sure strays don’t starve, it’s probably Singapore. There’s also that sense of social responsibility in Asian societies, which we don’t have here, not to the same degree. That is working against us in this pandemic. Things will certainly change because of this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I certainly hope that situation continues because the news from there is really worrying; with exponential rises in new cases each day and stricter measures being imposed (no leaving the house unless it is to buy essentials) 😦

        Liked by 1 person

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