One woman’s efforts to help have neighbors divided
New York Times, Sunday City section, August 15, 2004
It’s hard to miss the eight or nine dogs in Claire Angelica’s apartment in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. They yap and jump and are in danger of being stepped on. But the cats emerge Cheshire-like from nowhere: a black one slides off a kitchen cabinet, a white one materializes near the sink, and a fluffy calico stirs behind the coffee maker.
The phenomenon is an eerie echo of Ms. Angelica’s travels in the neighborhood. Wherever she goes, cats also seem to just appear, or to disappear, depending on whether one believes her admirers or the critics whose claims are surfacing in publications like Time Out New York.
For the last decade, Ms. Angelica, who has a shock of spiky dark red hair, has run a one-woman animal rescue and population-control service from her home on Wyckoff Street. By her own account, she has taken in hundreds of stray cats and dogs, had them neutered by local veterinarians, nursed the sick ones to health, and turned them back to the street or to adoptive homes. Lost animals, she said, are returned to their owners, if possible.
Lisa Bowstead of Cobble Hill is one of Ms. Angelica’s fans. Ms. Bowstead adopted a kitten from Ms. Angelica three years ago. The cat’s hips had been shattered, probably by a passing car, and a concerned neighbor brought the cat to Ms. Angelica, who in turn took it to a vet. “I’m sure if he had been brought to the A.S.P.C.A., he would have been euthanized,” Ms. Bowstead said.
Steve Hart, who lives on Warren Street, is another fan. “I have on more than one occasion seen Claire trooping across Wyckoff Street through the driving, freezing rain of March, portaging a cat or dog to the vet at her own expense to make sure she’s O.K.,” he said. Over the years, the Hoyt Street Association, a neighborhood group, has given Ms. Angelica several hundred dollars to support her efforts, and an animal clinic in Park Slope gives her discounts.
But Deborah Gilfillan, who had two of her cats go missing a year ago, is not an admirer. She said the cats originally belonged to her daughter, who suffered from a heart ailment and died at age 10. “The cats grew up with my daughter,” Ms. Gilfillan said. “Everybody knew they were my cats. They had been sitting out there for years.”
Ms. Gilfillan blames Ms. Angelica for their disappearance, and after Ms. Angelica was spotted in her yard the other day, Ms. Gilfillan posted accusatory notices, describing an “old Caucasian woman” who takes people’s cats and “gives them away to others after her cutting them up.”
“Elderly? How dare they?” Ms. Angelica, who admitted to being 50-ish, joked in response. More to the point, she insisted that she had not taken any cats from Ms. Gilfillan’s block, adding that she could usually tell a cared-for pet by its condition. But, she added: “Could I make a mistake? Of course.”