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Bensonhurst livery cab station fixes feral cats

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Finally, a car service that keeps stray cats from delivering kittens!

The Bensonhurst black car station spays and neuters stray cats two days a week. The owner of Big Apple Car has dedicated an office in her Bath Avenue base — and the building’s entire basement — to the cause of fixing feral felines.

But don’t worry, the procedure isn’t done in transit.

“We actually have a surgery room here and an adoption center downstairs — the office is fully equipped,” said owner Diana Clemente.

Local cat-control group Ferals in Peril facilitates the project. Trappers drop strays off at the station on Sundays and Mondays, vets sterilize the adorable animals, and the trappers can even pick them up the same day, Clemente said. Most feral cats aren’t socialized enough to be adopted, so they are released after getting the birth-control procedure and necessary shots. But the building’s basement serves as a recovery room and temporary home for adoptable kitties.

Having all that space is a blessing, said Peter Szalaiko of Ferals in Peril.

“One of the biggest problems in this business is post-op recovery space,” he said.

Szalaiko started Ferals in Peril with his wife Denise in 1995, he said. Now his nephew volunteers in the Big Apple Car basement, cleaning up after the cats and socializing them for adoption. But hanging out with a gaggle of adorable cats all day is more work than play, the nephew said.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Alex Olynyk. “There’s a lot of cleaning to do. And when people come to look at the cats, they’re expecting them to jump in their arms and start purring.”

In the past three years, Big Apple Car has given nearly 9,000 feral felines the old snip-snip, according to Clemente, helping to hold down the stay population.

“Do you realize how many cats have not been born because of that?” She said. “And still, it’s like spitting in the ocean.”

And the folk who drop off the feral fuzz balls aren’t your typical cat fanatics, Szalaiko said

“The majority of people who bring cats here are people from various communities who want to control the level of feral cats in their immediate areas,” he said.

Ferals in Peril raised $19,000 to outfit the facility, Szalaiko said. The Toby Project, a cat-care organization started by Manhattan vet Andrew Kaplan, pays the vets for their time. The group collects donations and small vaccination fees to pay for supplies, and the rent is free, Szalaiko said. Ferals in Peril also trying to get its paws on a $10,000 grant from the Bruce Geary Foundation to fund surgeries, he said.

The genital re-jiggering is free, and trappers pay $20 for inoculations, but they often get much more bang for their buck, Szalaiko said.

“This is a one-shot deal — these are cats off the street, and this is their one chance to get the care they need — so we try to diagnose whatever may be going on with them at the time and take care of it here,” he said. “Those services at a regular vet would range anywhere form $400-500.”

The operation has kept some cats permanently as pets, but Clemente stressed that her office is not a animal shelter where people can dump unwanted pets.

“People know we do good deeds for cats, and so far we’ve had two dumps, but we don’t want people leaving them here,” she said.

Clemente used to care for a feral colony herself, but the adorable animals’ plights were an emotional overload, so she put unused space in her building to use instead, she said.

“I can’t feed them any more — I get too emotional,” she said. “So I wanted to help in my own way.”

Anyone interested in donating time or money to Ferals in Peril can call (917) 808–1231.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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