Bunny Hofberg visiting some of the older cats that her non-profit organization Frankie's Fund boards at vets until they can be adopted. Photo by Jack D'Isidoro
Upper West Side It was the passing of her 8-year-old diabetic cat named Frankie—because of his blue eyes reminiscent of Sinatra’s—that compelled longtime Upper West Side resident Bunny Hofberg to commit herself to providing a better life for elderly cats.
“They are the Betty White’s of the feline world,” said Hofberg, who prefers older cats to kittens because of their temperament and fully realized personalities. “Once people adopt them, they begin to understand the beauty of an older animal.”
Hofberg had owned cats for over thirty years, and in 2009, after a five-year stint as an ASPCA volunteer, she decided to go on her own and established Frankie’s Fund for Feline Care and Rescue, a non-profit rescue service that spares elderly and diabetic cats from the grim alternative of New York City’s animal shelters.
“When you realize the outcome is that they’re going to die, you just can’t sit there,” Hofberg said.
More and more New Yorkers are surrendering their pets, and the city’s existing shelter system is inadequate to handle the burden, according to Hofberg. “With all the money in this city, the shelter system is an abomination,” she said.
Last year, 6,124 pets were euthanized in city shelters, according to data collected by the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a non-profit working to make New York a “no-kill” city in which treatable pets are no longer euthanized. Currently, only three of the five boroughs have city-operated shelters, despite campaign promises made by Mayor Bill de Blasio to overhaul the system.
New Yorkers surrender their pets to city shelters for a litany of reasons, Hofberg said, whether they’re in debt, unemployed, are moving or are physically unable to take proper care of their animals. But Hofberg has also witnessed instances in which people have feigned newly developed allergies as an excuse to relinquish the responsibility of pet ownership.
“Everything is shelf life; it’s just a new product,” said Hofberg, who regularly checks the daily euthanasia lists published by the city’s shelters for potential adoptees. Once Hofberg rescues the older cats, they’re sent to one of many veterinarians with whom she partners. Then, cleared of any health issues, the cats become available for adoption for a $75 fee through the Frankie’s website.
Hofberg originally intended to pair senior felines with similarly aged owners, but has found that her customers are more often younger city residents in their twenties and thirties who are looking for a calmer animal.
“I enjoy trying to match people with the right cat,” said Hofberg, who interviews both the cats and the potential owners.
And she’s good at it. Since she’s started Frankie’s, Hofberg has become known within the feline adoption world for her niche ability to find orange cats. But operating costs are high. Hofberg boards her cats at three different vets in the city, and as a volunteer organization, it’s her compassion that keeps her going.
“These cats don’t ask anything from you. It sounds cliché, but it’s unconditional. All they ask for is food, shelter, and affection—and that’s it,” she said.
Hofberg, who is retired, happily dedicates the entirety of her time to Frankie’s, with plans to expand her operation while humbly raising awareness.
“Whatever the first part of their life was, I want to give them a better end,” she said.