Twice a month, we'll introduce you to one of Maddie's Pet Forum Founding Members. Today's featured member is Bryan Kortis with Neighborhood Cats in New York City.
New York City
Founding Member Spotlight Interview
Tell us about you and your history in animal welfare.
BK: I grew up in the Northeast and moved to New York City soon after graduating law school (I attended the University of California, Berkeley). I worked remotely for a law firm in San Francisco as a criminal appellate attorney and also part-time as a real estate salesperson in Manhattan. In the middle of it all, I spent a year abroad, buying a round-the-world airfare ticket in Amsterdam, spending time in Europe, India, Nepal, Thailand and Australia. When I satisfied the travel bug, I returned to Manhattan and found work as a video director/editor/cameraman for a small production company that specialized in creating Internet content for Japanese audiences. That gig ended with 9/11, after which I spent a year filming the attack's aftermath, culminating in a feature-length documentary (WTC Uncut) that is now in the collections of the Museum of the Moving Image, Harvard Film Archives, NYU University and others.
I got my start in animal welfare when I was walking by an empty lot near where I lived on the Upper West Side and discovered a colony of 30 intact cats and kittens. By then I had become vegan and studied meditation in-depth and I felt compelled to try to address the situation. I teamed up with a couple of neighbors and we decided to try TNR. At the time, 1999, there were no TNR services in NYC and the issue of feral cats was not on anyone's radar despite the presence of at least tens of thousands of them on the City's streets. The project was a success and we soon formed Neighborhood Cats and began practicing and advocating for TNR throughout New York. We worked with government agencies, hospitals, condo complexes and at the same time offered training to local residents. In the ensuing years, this led to a broad grassroots movement that has resulted in the acceptance of TNR, a host of free services and thousands of volunteer caretakers.
We took what we learned and packaged it so others would benefit. I authored the Neighborhood Cats TNR Handbook, directed a video on How to Perform a Mass Trapping, directed a pro-TNR video for HSUS, wrote a guide for HSUS and later PetSmart Charities on community TNR programs, presented at conferences throughout the country, developed the Cat Stats colony database system and helped create and administer the Neighborhood Cats website. Everything was based on direct experience working with the cats, having now trapped thousands of them myself and worked with numerous communities on their programs. Currently Neighborhood Cats has in-the-field programs in NYC, Jersey City and Livingston, NJ, and the Island of Maui in Hawaii. We continue to develop educational materials and, in collaboration with Tomahawk Live Trap, new equipment.
What are you most proud of in your career?
BK: I'm most proud of advancing both the acceptance and effectiveness of Trap-Neuter-Return as a way of managing community cats. Neighborhood Cats pioneered or invented mass trapping, targeted TNR, the first mass-produced drop trap, training workshops for the public and more.
Name something related to shelters and animal welfare that you are super passionate about and want others to learn about?
BK: I guess needless to say my passion is for community cats. They are among the hardest animals for shelters and other animal welfare agencies to work with and so have often been ignored or under-resourced. It's been gratifying to see how that has changed in recent years as more and more of the field realizes their importance to solving cat overpopulation, and learns there are effective ways to address them.
Tell us something about yourself people might be surprised to learn
BK: I'm allergic to cats (really!)
Who is your “animal welfare crush"?
BK: I'm going to go with Dr. @Julie Levy , who I have had the privilege of working with at times. Dr. Levy, co-founder of the Million Cat Challenge, is one of the most effective and yet selfless advocates for community cats and cats in general. Her commitment to the truth as a scientist combined with her passion for saving lives has helped our cause immeasurably.
Thanks for the interview, Bryan! Have a question for him? Leave them in the comments below and be sure to watch the video he directed on How To Perform a Mass Trapping and save a copy of the Neighborhood Cats TNR Handbook.
Additional Community Cat Resources:
Neighborhood Cats TNR Handbook (attached to discussion)