Roosevelt Islanders

In the News: Rossana Ceruzzi Is "Crazy"

Updated 1 year ago David Stone
WFF Southpoint Feeding Station
WFF Southpoint Feeding Station

On a July day, nearly eight years ago, Dick Lutz asked me to do a story about a Roosevelt Island woman who worked with vets to provide pro bono care for local animals. I tracked down Rossana Ceruzzi through an internet search. Her story was fascinating, still is. I remembered that when a RIOC official, justifying an attempt to eradicate the cat sanctuary from Southpoint, passed her off as "crazy," which, of course, everyone knows she is.

At the time, I found it amusing that googling brought me to a familiar location, that of the publication asking me to write the article - the Main Street WIRE, where an antiquated website required reading a 16 page PDF in search of my target.

A few days, a phone call or two and several emails later, I'm leaning against the seawall behind Goldwater Hospital when I get my first glimpse of Rossana Ceruzzi. It's unusually cool and cloudy, and she's riding down under the Queensboro Bridge on a bicycle with a bag of medical supplies she's persuaded a vet to give her, gratis, along with instructions on how to use them properly.

I tag along, camera clicking away, as she approaches a goose resting in grass in need of mowing on the farthest south lawn before the Loop Road. The goose has a wound that needs dressing and Ceruzzi's earned her trust.

A Canadian Goose in need... is likely to get help from WFF.
A Canadian Goose in need... is likely to get help from WFF.

But before she can do her work, she approaches a groundskeeper who's mowing nearby.

Unlike the image created of Ceruzzi as difficult, she works well, patiently with even strangers. She persuades the man with a large mower to hold off long enough for her to care for the bird, to keep her from being spooked.

After, I walk with her on the opposite side of her bike, in the direction of Starbucks.

She's cared for this goose for a week or so - I don't remember that detail - she tells me, and she'll stick with it until the bird's well enough to rejoin her mate and their flock.

Ceruzzi also talks about caring for squirrels, cats, dogs, other birds, even a possum. For this, she receives no monetary awards at all. Love for animals, a trait she acquired growing up in Italy.

So, yes, of course she's crazy. She's crazy like a good number of people who add value to life here, pitching in without pay, passionate about making Roosevelt Island a better, more fair and decent place to live:

Lynne Shinozaki

Mary Coleman

Dave Evans

Judy Berdy

Wendy Hersh

...and all the others who show up to help as volunteers. We have a lot of them.

Ceruzzi is also a Common Council representative.

Over the years...

I run into Ceruzzi. She's usually on her bike, medicines in hand, off on her animal care rounds.

Some years after my article appeared in the WIRE, she tells me that the much respected and relied upon Island Cats has been absorbed into a new nonprofit she's started: the Wildlife Freedom Foundation.

More work and responsibility and, quickly, success. Soon multiple sanctuaries provide shelter, food and health care for 60 cats along with a motley population of other feral and abandoned animals.


Which is why seeing RIOC pull out some of the same tactics they used to drive the Roosevelt Island Youth Program out business is a serious concern.

A real squirrel, not just someone who acts with as much common sense.
A real squirrel, not just someone who acts with as much common sense.

Step one, RIOC tries to make operations difficult. With RIYP, they failed to maintain the building it was housed in, then stood by while the program took flack for it.

A month ago, RIOC bizarrely threatened to begin charging WFF for using City water, water they would later claim is contaminated and unfit for drinking, for animals or people. Why pull a tactic like this out if not to nudge the sanctuary out of Southpoint? (Charging for City water is illegal, in any case, unless an individual meter is set up.)

Which is another RIOC strategy - disguise your real motive, deny you're doing what it eventually becomes clear you were trying to do all along.

Ceruzzi asks Parks Director Mary Cuneen if she plans to charge other Island nonprofits, like the garden club, for water. "No," she says. "You'd be the first."

No need to ask why.

When WFF stayed put, RIOC escalated, accusing them of creating "substantial plumbing issues,""water wastage" and, finally, of using contaminated water at the sanctuary, water RIOC contaminates but, until last week, never told anyone.

Except for the contaminated water, which may or may not be - RIOC refuses to answer - every accusation thrown at WFF has been shown to be bogus. 

Reinforcing suspicion that RIOC's real motive is to force WFF's cat sanctuary out, when their claims turn out to be invalid or exaggerated, the State agency makes no effort at amends nor does it work to reach an agreement. 

RIOC unilaterally shut off the water, with no alternative at hand and no warning beforehand, at the moment when it became most needed for the health of the animals

But it gets worse.

Just as they did with Charlie DeFino when they couldn't push his Youth Program out legitimately, RIOC launches a campaign to damage Ceruzzi's reputation, taking attention away from the real issues.

With DeFino, they leaned on some dubious characters to slander him with unsubstantiated allegations. One accuser was notorious for walking around the Island, chain-smoking while pregnant. Another, a second nicotine addict, was known to leave her children alone in the family apartment while she went out on Main Street to smoke and gossip. Neither thought DeFino was fit to be with kids.

And RIOC embraced them.

Now, RIOC's trashing Ceruzzi, telling all who will listen that she's crazy, unreasonable, using this tactic to avoid dealing with the phony obstacles to the sanctuary's survival they created.

If it sounds Trump-like, it is. Deflect attention away from your own misdeeds as the President's done with Crooked Hilary, Lyin' Ted, etc.

Mud kicks backward. RIOC may not be good at it, but you can't say they're not consistent.


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