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Gotham Grandma Places Strays : She's Unofficial Kitten Broker for Lower Manhattan

December 20, 1985|KAY BARTLETT | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Edith Katz is in the cat business. Well, sort of. She's a one-woman rescue squad and cat broker for hundreds of people.

Want a kitten? Call Edie, she'll get you one. Suddenly become allergic to your Siamese? Call Edie. She'll find someone who wants a Siamese. Want a jet-black cat? Don't call Edie. She won't help you unless she knows you or you come with pretty good references.

"People use jet-black cats in some kind of worship services, so I'm always suspicious when someone calls and says they want a jet-black cat," says Katz. "I ask them for their name and number and call them back."

Edie also feeds stray cats, and has the males neutered when she can. She takes obviously pregnant strays into her home--where seven cats she just couldn't give away also live--so she can more easily feed the kittens and tame them to be given away.

She pays the expenses out of her own pocket, but won't say how much it costs.

"You can't count the cost of love," says the 56-year-old mother of two and grandmother of two.

It all started almost eight years ago, when she moved from Brooklyn to a new apartment complex in lower Manhattan, close to the Hudson River. The land all around her was vacant, awaiting development, and had quite a cat population.

One day Edie saw a sign announcing that poison was being used to get "super rat."

Food Instead of Poison

"It was up to me to keep those cats' bellies full, so they wouldn't eat the poison," she says. "Each night I put more food down and more food disappeared.

"One day I counted 53 cats, and that's when I decided the entire West Side should be spayed."

She started catching the females and taking them to a low-cost pet care center.

As the neighborhood was developed, she moved the feeding station from one open lot to another. Now she's down to feeding two tom cats she can't catch on the school parking lot next to her apartment.

She's also kept busy outwitting the groundskeepers, who do not like her feeding the cats, even though she has permission from the school.

"They just hate cats," she says. So Edie gets up before the crack of dawn and has the first feeding out by 5 a.m. The groundskeepers don't come until 6:15. She feeds them again at night when the keepers have left.

"I just get endless calls," she says. "I get calls from someone who knows someone. It's been very rewarding. I still keep in touch with people I gave cats to."

Katz puts up about five signs when she has a cat to give away--one where she works as a key punch operator, others at a bank, a pet food shop, a supermarket and a health food store.

Parties for Cat 'Fools'

Every April 1, she gives a cat people party at her home. Usually about 50 people show up, most of them strangers. They chat about cats.

"Anyone who was not a cat person would have a horrible time," she says. "But we have a great time proving we're all April fools about our cats."

She's also met an interesting assortment of characters, such as the street person who called himself "Mr. Z."

"Mr. Z would build himself a little cardboard estate on one of the vacant lots and he would find rusted old cans he would give me to feed the cats," she recalls. "He would also clip coupons for me from newspapers and magazines.

"They're building Shearson (American Express office tower) now on his old estate."

She's had some odd requests. A man called saying he was interested in a gray cat. Katz took his number, and the next time she found a gray kitten, she called him.

He asked her to bring it over. (She not only delivers adoptees, she provides a little starter kit.) When she got there, she discovered he had a gray poodle.

"He asked me if they were the same color," she remembers. "It was then I realized he was blind. I asked why he had so specifically wanted a gray cat, since he couldn't see it. He said he thought they would go well together."

A Happy Match

They did. They're living happily ever after.

"All of my customers are happy customers," she says. "I've taken a few back, but it was almost always due to allergies people didn't know they had."

Some potential customers do change their minds.

A mother brought her son to look at a kitten, not yet weaned. They decided they liked the kitten, but Edie decided it would not be a good life for the kitten.

"The kid was so rough and his mother didn't discipline him at all," she says. "I told them I would call them when the kitten was ready. Instead, I called them back and said the kitten died. I got him a better home."

Katz says there is a whole network of cat people throughout Manhattan who do the same thing in their neighborhoods. They are all wonderful people except one, she says.

"There is one woman who pretends she will take unwanted cats and find homes for them, but I know she sells them for (use in laboratory) research," she said.

Although she feeds only the two tom cats now, Katz is never short of kittens. People drop off litters in front of her apartment building.

"People know I'm here and that I'll take care of them," she says. "That's OK. It's better than dumping them somewhere else.

Takes Homeless Kittens

"I took a kitten away from some kids just the other day. It was so young--maybe less than three weeks old--it had to be bottle-fed. It was so cute, I knew I had to get it a home right away." And she did.

Her seventh cat, Belle, is a recent addition. Belle had been one of the wild population, all of whom had names, even when there were 53 of them.

"Even though they lived outside, they were all my pets," she said. "I used to spend an hour a day in the mornings, petting those who wanted to come up and be petted. They all knew me."

Katz got worried about Belle's survival and even though she had been a street cat, she's adjusting nicely to domesticity.

"She took to the good life right away," Katz says. "She took to the bed and the sofa as though she was born to them."

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