On a windy evening, a woman packs the basket on the front of her bicycle full of supplies and heads out along the sidewalk paths of Roosevelt Island. She rides along and calls out, “Panda! Regis! Juliette!” and so on. From the bushes, 22 cats jump out and trot along behind her down the path.
She comes to a stop, pulls out cans of Friskies from her basket, and begins to feed the cats.
It’s the routine of Rossana Ceruzzi, president of the Wildlife Freedom Foundation. She spends her days caring for abandoned animals on Roosevelt Island, and specifically cats.
“We have about 75 cats on the island right now that we care for,” Ceruzzi says.
There are four shelters on the island, the largest one housing 22 cats. Ceruzzi, along with her 15 volunteers, takes care of feeding and providing medical care for the cats.
David Riccardi-Zhu, a volunteer for the past two years, says,“You’re out there sometimes to feed the cats and it’s 14 degrees.”
After moving to New York in 2000, Ceruzzi noticed an abundance of stray cats on Roosevelt Island.
“I exited the subway to look at an apartment and the first thing I saw was three cats sitting in the station,” she says. “As I walked around more, I realized I had discovered this kingdom of cats and I could see they were not feral at all.”
Ceruzzi began feeding the cats, as well as building houses out of Styrofoam boxes to keep the cats warm during the winter. Ceruzzi eventually joined forces with another animal advocate to create the Island Cats organization, which began in 2005.
Ceruzzi later also founded the Wildlife Freedom Foundation (WFF), which broadened the focus to the protection of all wildlife on the island, rather than just cats. Ceruzzi says that Island Cats was dissolved two years ago and ultimately became a part of WFF.
“We have cats, geese, squirrels, raccoons, possums, and are recently even getting some brown bats,” Ceruzzi says.
While most of the animals are wild, besides the cats, there are four geese that Ceruzzi and her team care for, because they can no longer fly. Ceruzzi says the animals on the island are friendly and get along well together.
“The animals are all very sweet,” she says. “In nature, they would not attack you unless you attack them.”
Riccardi-Zhu explains how volunteering has been a highlight for him.
“It’s a really amazing thing to do,” he says. “Sometimes work can be stressful, but coming out here and being with the animals and being outdoors does good to your soul.”
Ceruzzi says her biggest goal is to build a larger and nicer shelter to house the animals during the winter. For now, though, she thinks the cats are happy and she loves taking care of them.
“To me, they are all my pets,” she said. “I love them all.”