I bet you guys were looking forward to Friday posts about fun and pampering, and here I am hitting you with something heavy for my first Cat Appreciation Month post. But it couldn’t be helped. There is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed.
To fully appreciate us cats, you must also appreciate our feral brothers and sisters because they are who we are at our wild core: beautiful and untamed… and ultimately quite vulnerable and at the mercy of human beings.
To understand ferals is to truly understand cat nature. They are territorial, love routine and need a place where they can feel safe. Take away their territory, routine and safety, and they suffer and behave desperately. They will risk life and limb to return to what was familiar. Trust? A cat’s trust must be earned, except in the world of feral cats, usually no one can be trusted. Ferals who are lucky enough to have colony caregivers may occasionally learn to trust the person who feeds them, at least enough to come out at feeding time, but it does not go beyond that. A feral cat remains wild in her heart and spirit. Inside every one of us kitties is a molecule, and sometimes more, of that feral soul. So when I hear of something awful happening to feral cats, such as what is currently going on at the Loews Hotels in Orlando, I must step in and have my say.
For years, two hotels at Universal Studios Orlando, Loews Portofino Bay and Loews Royal Pacific, have had highly successful TNR (Trap, Neuter and Return) programs for the feral cats living on the properties. They were started by a bellhop by the name of George Ricci. After finding traps on the hotel property, one containing the bones of an animal that had starved to death, he figured there was a better way to deal with the feral cats living in the area. Starting in 2004 and using his own money, Ricci began to trap, neuter and vaccinate cats, and return them to the territory that was familiar to them. Other employees started to pitch in and help. The engineering department even built decorative feeding stations to match the architecture of the hotel. As always happens in successful feral colony management, the number of cats dropped over the years. At the Lowes Portofino Bay, what originally began as 40 cats was reduced to 8.
Then just a few weeks ago, David Bartek, the director of operations in charge of these two hotels ordered the programs — tolerated by hotel management but not a part of it — to be stopped and the cats killed.
Well, he did not actually say to kill the cats, but if you know anything about feral cat nature, he might as well have. If you take a feral cat to an animal control facility, it will be euthanized. That is a fact. Feral cats are not adoptable pets. They are afraid of humans and can’t be tamed, especially not in a place that smells of fear and death. Even housecats act wild in this type of environment. Relocating these small colonies isn’t a good option either because taking a colony away from its familiar territory will disorient the cats, who will endanger themselves looking for a way back. Meanwhile, the absence of a managed colony at the original location will create a vacuum that will invite new ferals looking for unclaimed territory — and these unneutered and unvaccinated cats will breed and grow in numbers and create a nuisance with their marking and fighting.
Unfortunately, nobody in the upper echelons of the Loews Hotels is willing to listen to the truth and common sense. They have gotten a lot of negative attention for demanding these cats be banished, and they should have expected that — after all, they claim to be a “pet friendly” hotel and even have the slogan “Loews loves pets.” Their behavior regarding the local feral colonies gives lie to that slogan and shows it up for the insincere marketing scheme it really is.
Because of the bad press Loews has received, they have stopped trying to trap the cats (the original plan was to haul them off to animal control), but they still want the cats relocated and refuse to listen to any points of view that differ from their own. My biggest fear is that they are waiting for a pause in all the media attention so that they can get rid of the cats when no one is looking out for them.
So I say that if you really want to know what you can do for Cat Appreciation Month, keep on top of this issue, spread the word and keep contacting Loews to voice your disagreement with what they are doing. Some links you can use are provided by Riverfront Cats, a Miami group that is keeping an eye on the situation.
If you want to know more about the issue and learn about feral cats in general, Florida author and passionate cat lady Deborah Barnes has a fantastic three-part series about ferals and about the Loews issue on her blog. Part One introduces you to the world of the Loews cats, and feral cats in general; Part Two looks at ferals through the eyes of Riverfront Cats’ Christine Michaels; and Part Three is an interview with George Ricci.
Please keep the plight of these cats in the public eye until they are safe! That is how you can appreciate us cats.