No one knows for sure how many feral cats there are in New York City. The people who trap, neuter, and release them—a process known in the animal-rescue world as TNR—are a motley crew of passionate volunteers. This is the story of how whistleblowers and social media outrage dragged the work of Farhana Haq, a controversial TNR advocate and founder of the group Cats of Meow York, into the spotlight:

Sofia had only been part of Cats of Meow York for a few weeks before she found her first dead cat—a mother who grew sicker and sicker after her kittens were all adopted out. In the months since, she said, several more cats have died, including a pair of black kittens. 

“I called Farhana and I asked her if she could come down and check up on them,” Sofia recalled of those kittens, shortly before they passed. “She said that she had a Zoom meeting, and she would come right after. Hours passed by and she never came.” Since then, she said she’s seen the way the cats are disposed of by Haq and other Cats of Meow York members—in black plastic trash bags, dumped with the rest of the garbage at the foot of Haq’s front porch stairs.

Bethenny told me she thought being a part of Cats of Meow York was a great career opportunity when she joined the team. Now, she told me that she worries her experience will “stain” her life forever. Bethenny also said that Haq was often difficult to reach, and that Haq often sent her children, ages 11 and 14, downstairs to administer medicine to the cats in her stead, which raised alarm bells. 

Both Sofia and Bethenny were concerned about the cleanliness of the basement. “There’s no ventilation at all,” Sofia said. “It’s a biohazard. The cats—and even us—are getting sick.” She told me she regularly hears complaints from volunteers who spend extended periods of time in the holding space. When we spoke, she had a red, circular welt on her, which she suspected was ringworm. Bethenny, who has asthma, said she routinely had to use her inhaler after clearing out overflowing litter boxes. The first few weeks she worked at the rescue, she said she had migraines, her throat was sore, and her voice was so scratchy and strained she could barely speak. “It always felt like it was an allergy attack with an asthma attack on top of it,” she s