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December 2, 2014 / Brooklyn news / Williamsburg / The Greatest Story Ever

Empty Cages Collective takes in mangled pets, pests

Homeward bound: Vegans rescue unloved animals — seriously unloved

Freak on a leash: Artist Jake Dibeler of Bushwick is making a “horror-porn” video series for the New York Porn Film Festival. Don’t worry, those are flesh-colored shorts.
for The Brooklyn Paper
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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

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Rufus Leaking from BH says:
“Racism is exactly the same as species-ism,” said Natalia Tasic, a Bensonhurst resident."

How sheltered you are Natalia. What will you be when you grow up?
Dec. 2, 2014, 4:54 pm
JaniceD from Marine Park says:
These modern day uber vegans are the same unique individuals that Mother Nature would have culled in a New York minute in more biologically correct times.
Dec. 2, 2014, 5:19 pm
Johny from Crown Heights says:
Wow! It's crazy to see people hating on these guys already. Its ridiculous to see people there are exclusively negative comments in response to a bunch of people who spend their time taking care of the most helpless animals. I know I do not have the patience to take care of a abandoned/injured tarantula, seagull or whatever, but I am not going to berate them for caring. Normal humans care about animals, and if those who care a lot about animals offend you, then I suppose those who care a lot about people would also offend you. I think those people at the shelter care a lot. I hope they keep doing it regardless of what those other "people" think.
Dec. 2, 2014, 10:01 pm
Jen from Brooklyn says:
Seriously, what are all you haters doing to make the world a better place? Easy to dump on people who are actually doing something. Get off your ass and do something, you worthless pieces of human garbage.
Dec. 3, 2014, 10:47 am
Bob from Brooklyn says:
You don't have to agree with every statement the group makes in order to see and appreciate the value in what it's doing. Thanks for doing this great rescue work, Empty Cages Collective.

What I find upsetting is the number of animals Animal Care and Control euthanizes.
Dec. 3, 2014, 11 am
jfc from na says:
Yay Vegans!!! Join the revolution! http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/step-by-step-guide-how-to-transition-to-vegan-diet/
Dec. 3, 2014, 12:20 pm
JaniceD from Marine Park says:
Cry baby, cry!!! Whah!!!!!!! Snivel snivel
Dec. 3, 2014, 5:18 pm
Walker from Kensington says:
They lost me at "species-ism".
How can you tell if someone is vegan? Don't worry they will tell you.
Self righteous fanaticism is what this sounds like.
If they want to waste their time effort and money rescuing vermin it is a free country.
I will bet however that they would merrily stomp on my right to ride and drive horses in a heart beat calling it slavery and abuse. An insult to all the humans who have been enslaved.
Dec. 3, 2014, 6:53 pm
John from Midtown says:
How anti-progressive is that, Walker from Kensington? If we were to stop our fight to stop slavery and abuse at each instance as to not "insult" its previous victims, then we would never accomplish anything. Some whites who had been enslaved may been been insulted during the fight to free blacks, but it was still the right thing to do. Bottom line is, it is not making our society worse by helping its weakest members- it only strengthens it.
Dec. 4, 2014, 11:40 am

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