It’s no animal left behind — even rats.
A group of uber-vegans is rescuing animals, including deeply unpopular, near-death creatures such as poisoned rats and maimed pigeons, and nursing them to health in Williamsburg. The goal of the Empty Cages Collective, according to its director, is simple: save as many animals as possible. To make this happen, the volunteers that comprise the organization field calls and dash across the city to respond to tips about, say, a raccoon caught in a barbed-wire fence, or an orphaned kitten crying in the rain, then ferry the distressed critters to the room they rent in a warehouse and set to work finding them homes. They also pick up injured animals that other shelters are planning to kill, going so far as to fly furry friends from out-of-state to spare them from being euthanized.
What keeps them going is their vegan ideology, which views animal rights as a cause on par with the abolition of slavery, one volunteer said.
“Racism is exactly the same as species-ism,” said Natalia Tasic, a Bensonhurst resident.
Most rescue groups only accept cats and dogs, but in pursuit of species equality, the Empty Cages Collective takes all kinds of animals, including at various times seagulls, ducks, tarantulas, rabbits, snakes and guinea pigs. Neighbors sometimes bring injured squirrels and pigeons — the Empty Cages space features an open area for birds to practice flying — and members say that each year they find chickens that escaped the ritual slaughter of Yom Kippur, and that were abandoned after Easter. At least one rat has come from the subway, but they get most of their rodents from laboratories and snake-food breeders.
New Yorkers kill and abandon thousands of animals each year, and shelters are legally allowed to put down healthy ones, such as pit bulls that have been trained to fight, or cats with feline leukemia, which mousers can live with for years but is usually grounds for euthanasia. Empty Cages is doing all it can to stem the tide, said director Jessica Zafonte, a Manhattanite.
“People treat animals like they’re garbage,” said Zafonte. “We are a very high-kill city.”
Most of Empty Cages’ charges are pulled from shelters run by Animal Care and Control of NYC, a private group that gets city money and takes in any and all species, but which euthanized 5,243 cats and dogs and 802 other animals last year, according to its website. Zafonte charges that Animal Care and Control shelters are often overcrowded, causing many animals to fall sick.
In a statement, the group acknowledged the problem, but said it is working to address it through such measures as vaccinating all incoming dogs for canine flu.
An Animal Care and Control spokeswoman stressed that the organization cares for a whole lot more homeless animals than it kills.
“As New York City’s only open-admission shelter, we take in every animal that comes to us,” said Alexandra Silver of Animal Care and Control. “More than 30,000 each year.”
Empty Cages has a no-kill policy, but the tough part is still figuring out which creatures to help, because there is not room in the group’s facilities and its members’ homes for them all.
“It’s really painful. Whichever you select, the ones you don’t are going to die,” Zafonte said. “It’s one of the most heart-wrenching decisions.”
The volunteers try to select the animals that will be easy to get adopted, but they do sometimes shelter animals that are missing eyes and limbs.
“It’s a numbers game,” said Tasic. “But sometimes you cannot say no.”
— with Nathan Tempey