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Critters of New York

Cat Fight

Altruism gone wrong in New York City’s cat rescue community.

An illustration of feral cats and headlines about rescue cat organizations.

Illustration by Emily Rivlin-Nadler and Hell Gate

In some ways, none of this would have happened—not the springtime morning raid, not the 44 charges of animal neglect—if Holly and Jingle had just been returned to Alicia Harding.

Toward the end of 2018, Harding, a Harlem resident and founder of the cat rescue nonprofit New York City Animal Rescue Girls, was looking for a home for three young cats that were found in a shed in her neighborhood. All three, whom she named Buddy, Holly, and Jingle, needed a temporary, safe place to sleep and an experienced caregiver, so she put out a call for help on her organization's Instagram page. After a few conversations, she thought she'd found the perfect person for the job: a woman named Farhana Haq. Harding had connected with Haq through Instagram, where Haq had for years run a robust cat rescue account called Crazy Cat Fam. 

At first, everything seemed fine—Haq, said Harding, "said all the right things." "She was very communicative. She was interviewing me, and I appreciated that," Harding said. The first sign that something might be off was when Haq asked for money to take the trio of cats in—something Harding says she'd never done before. "I felt bad for her because she was doing her own cat stuff, and she cried poverty and had kids and all that, so I did give her money," Harding said—$150 a month, before she switched to buying Haq food through the pet supply delivery service Chewy.

Buddy was returned to Harding's care a few months later at the beginning of 2019—but for more than a year, the two women were unable to set a time for Harding to pick up Holly and Jingle, which Harding said set off major "alarm bells." "I'm not sure why you're not getting back to me," Harding texted Haq in March 2019. "Hi Farhana, I haven't heard from you in a while and I've been reaching out," she wrote again, more than a year later. "I don't want to have to get other people involved, but I will if I have to. I haven't seen any pictures or updates and I need to get them. Please get back ASAP." By 2021, all of Harding's messages were met with silence from Haq. 

Where were Holly and Jingle? Were they even still alive? Eventually, Harding heard a disturbing rumor through the cat community grapevine: that Haq had released Holly and Jingle outdoors in Woodhaven, where she lives—far from the shed in Harlem where they were originally found. "They should have gone back to the vet. They needed to get their follow-up shots if they were going to be outside," Harding said. 

Unable to get into contact with Haq, she turned to Instagram for the first time in June of 2021 and made a public post about Holly and Jingle in an attempt to get a response. Instead of getting answers, she said she was blocked.

Desperate to find Holly and Jingle, Harding and Natalia Kozikowska-Trapani, another NYCARG member, went to Haq's Woodhaven home, knocking on her door and hanging flyers in the neighborhood. "I even hand-delivered a note to her door saying that we were asking for these cats back," said Kozikowska-Trapani. "And those efforts were also in vain. She did not answer."

One of the posters hung up by NYCARG. (Natalia Kozikowska-Trapani)

Harding wasn't the only one who had looked for Haq, and for answers, over the years—Haq had a tendency to disappear on people, like the time she ghosted a fellow cat rescuer with whom she had rented an artist's loft in Bushwick as a place to house and care for their respective cats, allegedly leaving her with thousands of dollars in bills and dozens of cats that weren't hers. Or the animal clinic where Haq ran up thousands of dollars in vet bills before she stopped answering the clinic's calls. Fosters would take in Haq's cats, only to be forced to find homes for them on their own after Haq would stop responding to their calls or texts. That happened to Joanne (her name has been changed to protect her privacy). "In hindsight I would have saved a lot of stress if I had just dumped the cats back on Farhana's doorstep," she said.

And then there were the sick cats that people either fostered or adopted from Haq, some of which died shortly after they left Haq's care. 

"From the beginning, just by looking at the kitten, I could tell she was not well. She had a lot of underlying health conditions, which was fine with me," Promy Bari-Hassan recalled of the kitten, Tinkerbell, she fostered from Haq at the end of 2019. Bari-Hassan knew Haq outside of the cat rescue community—both immigrants from Bangladesh, the two were friends on Instagram, and she reached out to Haq after a positive experience fostering for another organization. 

Haq paid for an initial vet visit for Tinkerbell—but dropped all communication with Bari-Hassan afterwards, going so far as to block Bari-Hassan on Instagram, even as Tinkerbell got increasingly ill. Bari-Hassan ended up paying $1,000 out of pocket for additional vet visits, and was forced to find an adoptive home for the kitten on her own; she later learned that Tinkerbell died shortly after, in 2021. "It was just really stressful, not knowing what to do with the cat," Bari-Hassan said. "I know they're animals, but to me it felt like this is literally a baby. What do I do with her when the whole world is shutting down and she's sick?" 

In December 2021, Dani (her name has been changed to protect her privacy) adopted two cats, Kitty and Boo, from Haq. "It was clear that the cats were sick—the stench of urine and just filth. In my mind, I was like, 'Well these cats need homes anyway, it's probably best for them to get out of here. So I'm not just going to leave and not adopt.'" She and her partner picked out two cats and paid $250 for each. It soon became clear they were sicker than Dani had thought. "Their eyes were really leaky, discharge everywhere. And they were just really unwell and had lots of worms," she recalled. Because Haq hadn't given her medical records for the kittens, Dani said she was hesitant to take them to the vet for weeks because she didn't know what vaccinations they had already received. After a few days of pestering, Haq left some medicine in her mailbox for Dani—but Dani declined to give it to the cats, because the unlabeled bottle it came in and lack of dosing instructions made her nervous. Eventually she, her partner, and their German shepherd all caught ringworm from the cats. 

In the beginning of 2022, Dani sent Haq a flurry of requests for medical records, which were all ignored. "How can you act in this unethical way if you clearly care about animals?" she said. "Taking $250 per cat, with these kittens, and they're so sick, like, infested with sickness. You clearly don't care about the cats at that point."

Jazmin Montalvo, who adopted her adult cat Hector from Haq's rescue in October 2022, said she had a much more positive impression of the organization, and of Haq. "They are understaffed, but they are dedicated," she said. "I feel that they care a lot, and I'm just eternally grateful to them, because I have Hector and he makes me so happy, she said." Still, she described inconsistencies like the ones Bari-Hassan and Dani experienced: Haq never provided vaccination records for Hector, and didn't respond to a request for them when Montalvo asked; Hector also came to her with an ear infection, a mouth ulcer, and a few teeth that needed to be removed. Montalvo said she plans on adopting another cat from Haq. 

By January of this year, NYCARG's Harding had been looking for Holly and Jingle for almost four years. Still searching for answers, she took to Instagram again. "JUSTICE FOR HOLLY & JINGLE," the image she posted read, above photos of the two cats. 

"Till this day, we have no idea where they are, or if they are even alive," NYCARG wrote. 

In the comments section, a handful of people who had their own negative experiences with Haq began chiming in, just like others had the first two times Harding posted about Haq; stories trickled in to NYCARG's DMs. The cat rescue AdvoCat reached out to NYCARG after the initial posts in 2021 with stories about running adoption events with Haq. "A lot of her cats were sick or had ringworm, and she would try to bring them to my adoption events," AdvoCat founder Jana Rosenthal recalled. "She would try to convince me that they're not contagious anymore, which is a bunch of bullshit. That was kinda her thing—she would just bullshit you." 

All this time, as people were trying to get in touch with Haq and failing, her group, since rebranded Cats of Meow York, continued to rescue cats. (It incorporated as a nonprofit in March of 2022.) The organization's Instagram account is filled with photos of healthy cats, especially kittens, fluffy, wide-eyed, and available to adopt or foster; interspersed with images of cats with gruesome injuries, coupled with urgent pleas for financial help with veterinary bills or just Haq's general "rescue efforts." 

When I was able to speak with Haq herself, she rejected the idea that she would ever be completely unavailable to a cat who needed her. "I have, at any given time, 1,000 unread messages. I am late to respond to people and I do forget at times, but I always tell people, please feel free to harass me if you need something from me. If someone feels that I, on purpose, did that, I'm very sorry about that. At the end of the day, I could hate you, but I'm never gonna put a cat at risk for that reason. If a cat needs help, I'll help that cat—especially if it's adopted from us," she said. When I responded that that's exactly what some of the people I spoke to said didn't happen, Haq's casual tone took on a slight edge. "Well, like I said, these are five people you talked to—talk to 500 other people."

Ultimately, her message about Cats of Meow York was simple: "Our work speaks for itself."

And then came the whistleblowers, and the arrest, and the ASPCA, who filled their van with cats confiscated from Haq's basement.

Two sick cats, pictured in the Cats of Meow York holding space, photographed by Cats of Meow York whistleblowers.

Nobody knows how many feral cats there are in New York City. The latest estimates say there may be half a million across all five boroughs, and recent reporting suggests that the feral cat population is on the rise. The burden of caring for that swelling population largely falls on quasi-formal, neighborhood-based formations, as well as groups like Cats of Meow York. This network of cat rescuers also attempt to reduce the number of feral cats through a practice called trap-neuter-release or trap-neuter-return. 

Known as "TNR '' among practitioners, the process involves capturing feral cats, spaying or neutering them and providing them with other medical care like vaccines, and then releasing them in the same area where they were found in order to curb the number of kittens born on the streets. The efficacy of TNR is still up for debate, and its history in New York is one of tacit, hands-off endorsement from the government. In 2011, the City legally endorsed TNR as the go-to method for street cat population control and established a certification process for anyone interested in this method of cat rescue work. By 2013, both shelter intake numbers and the number of cats who were euthanized dropped significantly

Today, there are three TNR organizations listed on the City's Department of Health page dedicated to the practice, along with a note that the DOH "does not endorse, inspect, regulate, monitor or oversee any organizations listed or not listed on this website that conduct TNR activities." Someone from a cat rescue, who did not want themselves or their organization to be named in this story, told me the City is "completely neglecting the issue" of its feral cat population, leaving rescuers to fend for—and police—themselves. "The City is doing nothing about this," they said. "And people have been asking for help and resources for a long time—for years."

In contrast to the hundreds of thousands of cats they tend to, everyone I spoke to who volunteers in the city’s TNR community described it as small—almost claustrophobically so—especially when it comes to drama. Of course, drama is a mainstay of any passionate, close-knit community. And the city's cat rescue community is made up of altruistic people who share a deep desire to alleviate the total weight of suffering in the world. These people care deeply about what they do and how they do it, and conflicts emerge. Shit happens.

But even in this world, people said, Haq stands out. 

In 2019, the cat rescuer Stephanie Castro and Haq had hatched a plan to form their own rescue organization, and as a first step, the two rented an artist's loft in Bushwick as a place to house and care for their respective rescue cats. But after a few months, Castro said, Haq stopped showing up or responding to her calls and texts. "I tried reaching out to the people that knew her," Castro said. "I knocked on her door. I called her. I'm a funeral director, so my first thought is, something happened to her. She's dead. I literally called hospitals. I looked up death certificates to see if her name showed up. I didn't know what happened to this girl, and nobody knew where she was."

Haq was gone, but her cats—and all of the bills, rent on the space included—remained. "So, what do I do with all these freaking cats?" Castro said. "I had no information on them, no vetting, because she didn't have any systems for paperwork or medical records. I knew some of them may even belong to people that she was fostering for, but I didn't know who the fosters were." Soon, she found herself shelling out thousands of dollars more than she had intended to care for an apartment full of animals that she knew little about.

According to Castro, one of Haq's cats that she was left with in the Bushwick loft ended up dying. "I'm calling her, begging her, like ‘I need to know what's going on with this cat. I need to know the medical history!" Castro said. "No answer." 

Castro estimates that she spent around $20,000 on the space and the care of Haq's cats, and eventually sued her for $10,000 in an attempt to recover at least part of her losses. Haq did eventually get back into contact with her in January 2020, and the two parted ways shortly after—but since then, Castro claims Haq has posed as a member of her organization, MeowSquad NYC, even after they verbally agreed that Haq would no longer be a part of the group. Haq is still included on the nonprofit's founding paperwork, and Castro alleges that one time, Haq used the organization's name and nonprofit status to adopt out a pair of kittens, only to ghost the adopters when they reached out with questions about the kittens' medical history, and to leave a vet bill she ran up in MeowSquad's name unpaid, a claim Haq denied.

Castro isn't the only person who says they have been put out financially by Haq. Eshak Benyamen, the COO and owner of St. Mina Animal Clinic, claims that Haq has an unpaid balance of $8,488 at his practice that she began accumulating in 2019. Benyamen is currently suing Haq in small claims court for the overdue payments. "We tried to reach her many times," he said. "We sent her many emails at that point, I believe in 2021, and she was not responding." After that, he said, "She kind of disappeared."

AdvoCat's Rosenthal has an even stranger story. In 2020, she sent a volunteer to a pet store to pick up some donated cat food. When that volunteer arrived, she was told the food had already been taken by someone else who said they were an AdvoCat volunteer. "Farhana apparently went to PetCo in Howard Beach and claimed to be with AdvoCat," Rosenthal said. "Then, I called our main store in College Point, Queens. They said, 'Oh, someone tried that yesterday, and we said that we were going to call you and they left.'" (At the time, Haq had yet to form her own nonprofit, a requirement for receiving donations from the store.) Later, Rosenthal used her relationship with that PetCo location to pull the surveillance footage from the Howard Beach store. She sent me the clip: Dated February 1, 2020, it shows a woman with black hair and a pink scarf around her neck entering the store. She confronted Haq with the video footage; Rosenthal said that Haq admitted she was the one in the clip, something Haq later confirmed with me as well—although she disputed Rosenthal's narrative, saying she was actually picking up the donated food as a part of the AdvoCat team. (Rosenthal, for her part, claims Haq was never a volunteer for AdvoCat.)

Rosenthal was astounded by Haq's alleged actions. "If you needed help, if you needed food, you can come to me and ask me for help," she said.

But Cats of Meow York's executive director Jan Ahmed shared a radically different perspective on Haq and on the cat rescue community at large. She told me she met Haq in 2021 while fostering a cat for Cats of Meow York, and that Haq was the reason she felt empowered to enter the cat rescue world after microaggressions at previous rescues where she volunteered left a bad taste in her mouth. It was hard, she said, to watch other cat rescuers say negative things about Haq and Cats of Meow York, because they all had the same goal—to help cats. "There are so many things that so many rescuers have done wrong, but we're not going to go put those details out there, because it only harms the cats that will be helped by them," Ahmed told me. "That's one thing that I think is really important to put out there: the respect that is given to other rescuers from our end, and from her end. And it doesn't seem to be reciprocated."

After I spoke with Ahmed, I reached out to Haq for an interview. I told her I'd spoken with people who had negative experiences with Cats of Meow York, both as fellow rescuers and as foster parents or adopters. I told her that I wanted to hear her side of the story. It felt like a long shot—so I was excited when I heard back from her a few days later, and eager to accept her invitation to speak with her in Cats of Meow York’s holding space in her basement in Woodhaven. 

Cats eating rotisserie chicken off the floor in Haq's basement, photographed by one of the whistleblowers from Cats of Meow York.

Enter that basement, and the first thing you notice is the smell—the pervasive, ammonia reek of cat urine. The second is the cats—thirty or so rangy, feral cats dozing on tables and bookshelves and loping around the floor. On a desk were a few crates full of kittens, ready to be transported. In the hallway leading to a patio I was waved away from because the basement had just flooded, cats peered down at me from white-painted roosts. The animals were thinner and dirtier than the typical housepet—some had gunky eyes, or clumps of grime encrusted in their fur but, I figured, that's what feral cats look like.

The atmosphere was difficult for me to stomach, although it didn't seem to faze the three other women in the room whatsoever: Haq, Ahmed, and volunteer Michele Gretano, all wearing light blue Cats of Meow York T-shirts. 

Perched on a futon, the 40-year-old Haq repeatedly fiddled with the pink head scarf framing her round face and covering her hair. Throughout our conversation, she frequently pulled her attention away from me—picking up her phone and scrolling through it mid-conversation with her long, red fingernails or turning to Ahmed and Gretano to prompt them for confirmation of what she was saying. She also asked me questions: How did I hear about her? Why was I writing about her and not other cat rescues? Had I seen the callout posts about other organizations?

Haq told me she obtained her official TNR certification in 2017 after what she said was years of caring for feral cats in her neighborhood. "I wanted to end the cycle of all these kittens being born left and right," she said. She told me she specializes in caring for delicate, neonatal kittens, or "neonates," something she said few people in her New York City cat rescue network know how to do. "Kittens come to me as young as premature kittens that were born, like, hours ago. Preemies especially, they don't develop their suckling motion. So yeah, they have to be tube-fed initially. You have to stick the tube down…Not everybody's cup of tea," she said. 

Haq, who lives above the holding space with her husband and two children, described cat rescuing as a longtime hobby that she and her family undertook while using the "Crazy Cat Fam" moniker. Then, the pandemic hit and an influx of bored, caged-in New Yorkers with newfound free time made their way to the world of TNR. "Thankfully, now I have all these amazing team members and volunteers who help me with this, but this was me juggling everything at some point," she said.

I had a lot of questions for Haq, and she answered nearly all of them in the same brusque, self-assured tone and rapid clip. She had a ready explanation for almost everything. Before she had loyal helpers like Ahmed and Gretano by her side, Haq said she made mistakes—the kind of mistakes everyone makes when they're starting out in the rescue world, like filling a Bushwick loft full of too many cats to realistically manage.

"My biggest thing was that the holding space in Bushwick was that as a rescuer, you have to know your limits," Haq said. "You have to learn to set boundaries and know what you can or cannot do." 

According to Haq, Castro had also once dipped out on Haq, when she went on vacation to Hawaii, leaving her "to take care of a shitload of cats." "Every time I walked in there, there were new kittens in crates," she recalled. Haq said that the stress of the situation, plus another issue in her personal life that she declined to elaborate on, led to her shutting everyone, not just Castro, out completely. "Looking back, yes, I probably could have handled the situation better by communicating. But I didn't, because that's how I kind of am," she said. "I'm very non-confrontational. And my way of doing things is kind of…shutting down."

What about Castro's claims that she was continuing to use the MeowSquad name? Haq denied using the organization's bonafides to avoid vet bills. She did admit to using the nonprofit's 501(c)3 status and email address to participate in a North Shore Animal League adoption event, but denied charging anyone an adoption fee. "If you want to point the finger at someone, do it with something legit!" she said. "I never clarified that it was not under MeowSquad, but again, these were just cats getting adopted—no money changing hands or anything." 

What about bringing sick cats to adoption events? "If you see a problem, can you let me know? Like, 'Hey, can you not put that cat on my truck because it might get other cats sick?' It's simple!" she said.

What about all the people who said they had received sick cats from Haq, and that she had subsequently blocked them when they reached out to her? Haq said she could not recall any of the specific instances I described, but that she had never blocked anyone. She said that in the past, she was less organized than she could have been in terms of medical records, especially after an earlier flood in her basement destroyed most of the papers in her possession.

As for any ringworm-infested cats, she blamed the parasite's long incubation period. "I can give you a perfectly fluffy, clean looking kitten right now, and it will show the ringworm symptoms four weeks later," she said. "Doesn't mean I gave you a 'cat with ringworm.'"

And finally—what happened to Holly and Jingle? "I did what I could, and I basically relocated them to an outdoor home," Haq said, describing the two cats as feral and admitting that she had released them into her backyard. She denied taking money from Harding, and said Harding was the one who failed to follow through with the return of Jingle and Holly. Eventually, she said, "relocating" the cats outside felt like her only option. 

If the reasons fosters and adopters were unhappy with Haq were obscure to her, she said she was confident about the source of the Instagram ire from other members of the city's cat community: Prejudice directed towards her as a hijab-wearing Muslim woman, an immigrant who speaks accented English. 

"At the end of the day, it's a group of people—the same group who're doing this every year," she said. "We as rescuers all made mistakes starting out. Every single person went through the same shit, but I'm the only one who's being singled out. We know why it is—it's because of my race and my…everything else!" Haq continued, "Cat rescue is very racist, and it's just sad. Sometimes it makes me want to stop doing the things that I do. Microaggressions all the time, I hear the phrase 'you people' a lot…" She gestured at the white, T-shirt-clad Gretano with the laptop in her lap. "If Michele and I are somewhere, people would rather talk to her than to me. I'm not dumb. It's a pattern. I see it."

During our interview, Haq seemed confident and self-assured, if a little blunt. As I moved to leave, she even cracked a joke: "If you know anyone who wants to foster, they can get the experience!"

The reality of the space’s stench sank in when I climbed into the passenger seat of my friend’s car. The scent of cat piss clung to my cotton T-shirt, to the point that I had to strip it off and put on a sweatshirt I'd brought with me. As the headache that bloomed behind my eyes during the hour I spent in the cat-filled, urine-scented room began to dull, I remembered a phrase someone who adopted a pair of cats from Cats of Meow York told me months earlier about the same basement: "Cat Guantanamo."

Just over a month later, I received a text that reminded me of the same phrase: a Google Photos folder full of damning photos curated by defectors from Cats of Meow York who were appalled by what they had been seeing in the basement.

A sick kitten, photographed by one of the Cats of Meow York whistleblowers.

As I scrolled through the photos, I saw cats with discharge dripping from their noses and mouths; cats with their eyes swollen shut; cats with matted, grimy fur; sluggish cats taking shallow breaths. Others captured the cats' living space: a washing machine caked in kibble and grime; feces smeared on white tile flooring and shelves and the bottom of crates; overflowing litter boxes; a sink full of dingy water that the cats drank out of; cages strewn haphazardly across the basement floor; piles of half-eaten rotisserie chickens; a tangle of pale, ropey parasites in cat feces on a mat; and a black plastic trash bag that allegedly contained a dead kitten. In the background of these images, Haq’s basement was easy to recognize.

Those photos had been compiled by two then-team members of Cats of Meow York, Sofia and Bethenny, who over time had become increasingly disturbed by the conditions of the group's basement. (Their names have been changed to protect their identities.) 

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 said.

The two started recording or photographing anything they saw in Haq's basement that felt off. Eventually, they emerged with a collection of images of squalor and disease. 

According to the two, their concerns about the health of various cats or the condition of the space were largely dismissed by Haq and Ahmed. Worried about the cats in Haq's care, and urged on by a brand-new volunteer, they reached out to NYCARG, because they'd seen Harding's post about Holly and Jingle. A NYCARG member then contacted Haq's City Councilmember, Joann Ariola, and someone in the Mayor's Office of Animal Welfare. Then, she texted the folder of photos to me.

Haq, in black sweatshirt and long skirt, during the ASPCA/NYPD raid on June 14. (Hell Gate)

On the morning of June 14, a fleet of NYPD and ASPCA vehicles pulled up to Haq's home. All of that outreach had worked—the previous day, two Cats of Meow York workers had given staff from the Mayor's Office of Animal Welfare a tour of the holding space, and what those staffers saw must have alarmed them. (A cop had also responded to a 311 call about the space the same day, but he refused to go in the basement, citing allergies.)

As neighbors gawked, almost a dozen officers searched Haq's home, and even more ASPCA staff, wearing heavy gloves and face masks, entered the basement or waited outside to intake the cats and coordinate with the cops. At one point, a forensic investigator with a digital camera in hand even donned a gas mask to descend into the holding space.

Haq and her family watched from the front steps of her home as ASPCA workers ferried crates full of cats draped in thick blue blankets to obscure their feline passengers, to the van. "They gonna need two vans," Haq's nextdoor neighbor, watching the proceedings, noted. "Finally, the block is gonna be clean. That smell," Ana, another neighbor said.

Hiding behind a tree was Tamara Demkoff, who runs the rescue organization Paws Without Borders. Demkoff had hurried over as soon as she heard about the raid. "I've been praying to God she gets arrested," she told me. "Ten years, I've been praying to God!" 

Haq did get arrested, and taken into a squad car; according to the NYPD, she has since been charged with 44 counts of animal cruelty and 44 counts of animal neglect.

Meanwhile, as the ASPCA continued to remove blue blanketed crates from Haq's basement, I could hear an occasional, plaintive meow. (Noting that the investigation is going, a spokesperson for the ASPCA wrote, "At the request of the New York City Police Department, the ASPCA was on the ground assisting with the removal of more than 40 cats from a property in Queens. The animals were immediately transported to the ASPCA, where veterinary and behavior experts will conduct forensic exams and provide them with much-needed medical care and behavioral treatment and enrichment.")

Councilmember Joann Ariola told the Queens Chronicle that her office coordinated that day's raid, along with the 102nd NYPD Precinct and the ASPCA. "The situation inside the house was deplorable," she told the outlet in an email. "These cats were living in an absolute state of neglect. For someone to run an organization that is supposed to be rescuing cats to then turn around and do something like this…I am at a loss for words. Truly despicable, and I look forward to the DA moving forward with the trial and this individual being punished to the full extent of the law." 

When I spoke with her, Ariola reiterated that the "deplorable" photos she saw of Haq's basement, along with testimony from one of the whistleblowers given to the district attorney, were enough to get a warrant from a judge for the joint action between the NYPD and ASPCA. On June 14, Ariola said the precinct commander called her and let her know that Haq's arrest was impending. "The district attorney and the ASPCA, who really were lead on this, felt that there was enough evidence of abuse and neglect to make an arrest, and I was notified that Ms. Haq was arrested," Ariola said. "They found nearly 40 cats and kittens. Some were sent for immediate treatment to veterinary hospitals, others were given treatment onsite."

When I caught up with Sofia and Bethenny after the raid, they told me they were feeling a sense of relief. "I want people out there to know the real person that she is," Bethenny said. "I'm excited these cats are getting the treatment they deserve. They're living creatures. We have to give them the voice that they don't have." 

The cats may be gone from Haq's basement, but the people Haq has left in her wake aren't—and many of them remain bitter. Castro, who won her small claims court case against Haq, is still waiting for Haq to pay her back. "I have a judgment against her for about $6,000 that I'm probably never going to see," she said. 

Joanne continues to foster cats, but she's scarred by her experience with Haq. "I will no longer foster for any of these independent, non-501(c)3 rescue agencies," she told me. "A lot of these rescues are independent people, and they mean well, but they don't have the resources. Or they're like Farhana—they mean well, but they completely ruin peoples' lives." 

Meanwhile, after the police visits and Haq's arrest, her team immediately went on the offensive. "The harassment never ends," Cats of Meow York wrote in an Instagram story on June 12, after the initial police visit, pinning the cause on "racism in cat rescue." Ahmed, the group's executive director, echoed that message after Haq's arrest. "Whether you see it or not, race, religion, and background all play a role in this," she wrote on Instagram. Comments supporting Haq and Cats of Meow York have poured in beneath the post, but a GoFundMe for Haq's legal fees has raised just $1,000 of its $50,000 goal as of this report.

One line from Cats of Meow York's June 12 Instagram story seems indisputable: "It's mind boggling how much ppl would do for their ego while harming so many humans and animals along the way."

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