Amongst the millions of channels and videos that live on YouTube is Vet Ranch. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Veterinarians post videos of themselves rehabilitating animals, rescuing them, putting them up for adoption, and of course, performing (usually) high-risk surgeries to save an animal’s life. There is a wide range of animals highlighted, not just the typical domestic pets.
The reason Vet Ranch is brought up is that it is all I could think about while watching the documentary The Cat Rescuers. Following a handful of animal activists who are trying to help save and maintain feral cat colony sizes in New York City. As directed by Rob Fruchtman and Steve Lawrence, the movie often comes across as a highly polished YouTube video. Which begs the question, what exactly does The Cat Rescuers bring to the table not covered by channels like Vet Ranch and organizations such as the ASPCA?
Before we find an answer to that question (if it exists), let’s get into specifics. Latonya ‘Sassee’ Walker, with help from friends and her daughter, traps feral cats roaming New York City. She sets up food inside a portable cage, and once the cat enters the device, she pulls a string and ensnares them. Then she takes the cat (or cats, depending on the productivity and size of the trap) to a veterinarian’s office. The felines get checked over and once spayed/ neutered are either put up for adoption, released back into the streets, or go home with Sassee.
“…animal activists who are trying to help save and maintain feral cat colony sizes in New York City…”
Stuart was out early one morning and saw a whole clowder huddled underneath a few parked cars. He rushed back inside his home and brought out some cat food. Now, he feeds them every morning and helps control the stray population. Claire is a happily married woman, who noticed a stray hanging out near her house. One night she noticed that the cat was not acting like its usual self and took it to the animal hospital. It was too late for that cat, but Claire resolved to take action sooner rather than later from then on.
Tara is a former drug addict whose friend brought her two male cats to take care of one night. That act put Tara on the path towards cat rescue. Now she cares for eight former strays herself and tries to get as many others adopted as she can. Brooklyn Animal Action and the Mayor’s Alliance For NYC’s Animals are both groups who want to help control the cat colony sizes while getting the animals cared for (and hopefully into forever homes).
As alluded to earlier, on a technical level, The Cat Rescuers is very basic. Competent, but the directors fail to enliven the situations with a sense of urgency or dramatic intensity. Partially, this is due to an absolute lack of citations for the statistics they use to make their case. A few times it is a vet or other expert stating such things, so that is fine. However, the onscreen text is employed to convey large swaths of numbers about the feral cat populations, and no sources are cited. So instead of being engaged with what is happening, the viewer is trying to suss how these numbers came to be. Official government surveys? Expert opinions? Who knows?
“…much more aimed at getting its audience to feel motivated to action.”
However, while the cinematography is dull at best, the documentary is much more aimed at getting its audience to feel motivated to action. This aspect of the film works better overall than the technical side of things but is still not without its downsides. Tara’s backstory and how she got into the rescue game is not revealed until one hour in, give or take. Stuart’s story is filled in as soon as the audience is introduced to him, but he is the least active in terms of population control (beyond feeding and reassuring the animals). As such, he is the least interesting story of the film.
Making up for that though is Sassee and her daughter. I hesitate to call her the main person, but her arc is revealed throughout the entire film. It culminates in a lovely, somewhat solemn moment, for her that The Cat Rescuers nails perfectly. The last 20-minutes of the entire one hour and twenty-seven minute run time really work and successfully make the case that as much as the humans rescue the cats, it is also vice versa. It is just too bad that the first hour does not reach those same heights.
The Cat Rescuers highlights essential work being done, for free, by dedicated and interesting people. It also calls its audience to action via cat controlling yourself or supporting organizations that will get the stray felines cared for and adopted. Noble goals to be sure, but it does little to separate itself from the same well-meaning channels on YouTube. Add on its structural issues, understanding and rooting for the humans at the heart of the film is tricky. Well-intentioned but not well made.
The Cat Rescuers (2019) Directed by Rob Fruchtman, Steve Lawrence. Starring Claire Corey, Latonya ‘Sassee’ Walker, Stuart Siet, Tara Green.
5 out of 10 Cats