‘The Cat Rescuers’ review: An upbeat, poignant documentary about feline do-gooders in NYC

"The Cat Rescuers," directed by  Rob Fruchtman and Steve Lawrence 
"The Cat Rescuers," directed by  Rob Fruchtman and Steve Lawrence  Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

‘The Cat Rescuers’

Documentary directed by Rob Fruchtman and Steve Lawrence

Unrated | Playing at IFC Center

There’s claws for alarm. There are half a million homeless cats living on the streets of New York City, and the population could get out of control. While city agencies keep their tails between their legs about the problem, a group of feline-friendly vigilantes are on the prowl to keep the fur from flying.

Rob Fruchtman and Steven Lawrence’s lovely documentary “The Cat Rescuers” focuses on four Brooklyn do-gooders who roam from Canarsie to Coney Island with cat food cans in hand and a plan.

The goal is to trap, neuter and return, but also to aid injured kitties and help place them in new homes. A significant percentage of New York’s street cats are former pets abandoned by jerk owners, and being domesticated lowers their chances of survival.

While the four-legged critters are adorable, the humans are the real stars. “He’s the Supahman to deese cats!” a neighbor jokes in heavy Brooklynese about Stu, an FDNY radio technician who is up at the crack of dawn each day to feed and care for legions of devoted cats. Sassee, who lives in public housing with her daughter, stretches her already thin budget to maintain her rounds. Claire, a Bed-Stuy artist, has a home overrun with adopted cats she’s nurturing back to health, and Tara is so committed to rescuing as many cats as possible it risks overtaking her life.

"The Cat Rescuers."
"The Cat Rescuers." Photo Credit: 24 Cats Per Second

If there’s a central conflict in this  breezy documentary it’s how each person needs to come to terms with their own limits, and what an individual can realistically accomplish. Though the film is upbeat, there’s some poignancy, too. How much of this is altruism versus dealing with abandonment trauma, or moving from a drug problem to a new form of addiction?

But aside from psychoanalyzing these people, there’s some adventure, too. Sassee is locked in an game of wits with a particular pregnant feline who will not fall for any of her traps. Her schemes to help her take on near Looney Toons proportions. (Sassee’s heavily-accented witticisms to the camera only add to the Bugs Bunny feel.)

“The Cat Rescuers” offers good tips for how average New Yorkers can help our furry friends, but is also pure catnip for animal-loving audience members. Warning: don’t see this movie with me in the audience unless you don’t mind shouts of “awww!” and “kitty!” and “she’s so cute!”