A Story Unfolds, Then Unravels

Cats At Risk As RIOC Shuts Off Water at Southpoint Sanctuary

Updated 2 years ago David Stone
Cats At Risk As RIOC Shuts Off Water at Southpoint Sanctuary

"Contrary to the claims of your sources," writes Public Information Officer Alonza Robertson, "the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation is not shutting off the water for the feral cat sanctuary. What we are doing is asking that the Wildlife Freedom Foundation, Inc. get the water it needs from a different, but nearby source." Sounds easy, doesn't it? Except it isn't truthful.

After fears about the welfare of cats being sheltered on Roosevelt Island reached The Daily from multiple sources, we checked in with RIOC.

"I’ve  heard from multiple sources that action’s being taken by RIOC to deny fresh water to the Southpoint cat sanctuary. A claim attributed to you is that, after seven years, RIOC has discovered some sort of impact on the sprinkler system," we wrote to Parks and Recreation Director Mary Cuneen.

We were also concerned that, in the shadow of the tone-deaf trashing of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, RIOC might have targeted another inconvenient Island institution. Nothing seems impossible in the current environment.

Our inquiry was directed at Cuneen, but following protocol, Alonza Robertson and others were copied.

Robertson's role involves fielding press requests. He typically talks to other employees before creating a unified response. For that reason, his answer quoted above represents what he's been told. If it's not truthful, it's because his sources have not been truthful with him.

Let's deal with "the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation is not shutting off the water for the feral cat sanctuary..." first.

We contacted Rossana Ceruzzi, who heads the group managing the sanctuary. She contradicted RIOC's version. RIOC has already shut off water, "three weeks" ago, according to her.

"I certainly hope RIOC understands the danger the cats will be in without the water, comes to its senses and restores the ​connection," she added.

An editorial comment is necessary here: Shutting off the water supply to a cat sanctuary without establishing an alternative source of supply, is a clearcut case of animal abuse that should be brought to the attention of authorities. Today.

The cat sanctuary has deep roots in the Roosevelt Island community, going back to Island Cats, a group that cared for ferals here for decades, rescuing and adopting them out whenever possible. The first formal sanctuaries started when a popular feral, known as Princess Yin Yang by most residents, died. (My wife and I called her "Q" because we so often found her hanging out by the subway station, observing commuters, when that was our main line.)

Princess Yin Yang was killed by a car while fleeing another cat. Animal lovers soon established sanctuaries where cats could feed and rest while avoiding many dangers in a rapidly growing community.

Putting the sanctuary system and felines that depend on it for survival at risk does not sit well with many residents.

RIOC proposes alternatives.

The second misleading statement in RIOC's response, "What we are doing is asking that the Wildlife Freedom Foundation, Inc. get the water it needs from a different, but nearby source..." is another truth stretcher.

That "nearby source" is the public restroom facility located on the opposite side of the Island, some 150 to 200 feet away, a distance over which sanctuary volunteers would be forced to carry buckets of water to nourish the cats and do sanitary work, it should be noted, without assistance of water pressure. And a tap would still have to be installed.

RIOC suggested two other alternatives, both too strange and impractical for discussion here.

But what caused the State agency to shut off the water to begin with?

According to sources, Parks Director Cuneen, whose work experience before being hired by RIOC was not extensive and restricted to academic settings, complained that the tap used by the sanctuary negatively impacted Southpoint's sprinkler system. 

Here's what Robertson wrote after internal discussions: "That tap, according to experts, was causing substantial plumbing issues."

Asked to describe "substantial plumbing issues" and to provide contact information for the "experts" cited, RIOC's story changed.

"When they tapped into the irrigation system they never disconnected their hose or nozzle, which caused significant flooding and waste water issues. It was like running a faucet on full blast all day long," Robertson said.

The "experts" disappeared, no longer needed, since this version didn't require them. Anyone can observe "significant flooding" and "waste water issues." These are both dodgy, squishy terms that don't mean anything specific. They are at best judgment calls by the observer.

Ceruzzi disagreed when asked to comment.

"The water hose has been always operated by a nozzle and so it cannot be 'left running.' And even so, my volunteers use the water judiciously as we all should, of course. On April 21st (Cherry Blossoms Festival) the water was turned on in Southpoint. A volunteer realized that there was a tiny hole in the hose that was causing a little spilling," she conceded. "Not flooding!"

Why not keep it simple, working with the sanctuary to make sure volunteers better control the water supply, instead of the draconian measure of shutting off the water?

"Well, according to the information I have received, that has been tried to no avail," answered Robertson. Italics ours.

Maybe someone needs to try harder.

Whats seems like a fixable situation is blowing up into a potential tragedy, its troubles augmented by RIOC's chronically hiring lightly qualified or unqualified personnel and turning them lose on the community with little oversight. The continuous shading of RIOC's official story and leadership's unwillingness to step in as an emergency reaches the horizon makes it also puzzling.

We'll leave the last word to Ceruzzi on behalf of the cats, who may be victims of a turf battle between government and community.

"This is truly a very frustrating situation and very dangerous from the perspective of the cats' safety," she writes.

And, we'd like to add, editorially again, totally unnecessary.

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