The CATalyst: Loews Feral Cats Trapped and Waiting. Did the Florida Protest Help?

Despite protests, Loews Hotels persists to trap feral cats, who now need homes.

Loews Hotels at Universal, Orlando, Fla., have switched policy from performing TNR on local feral cats to, nearly overnight, ending the program and instead choosing to exterminate the feral cats at Loews’ locations.

Word Spreads, and Almost Halts Loews’ Feral Cat Program
Some feral cats were killed, but word quickly got out, and pet bloggers (including myself) and local media picked up on the story of Loews’ feral cat treatment. The onslaught forced Loews to pause. It’s unclear, however, as to whether Loews really sought advice to rethink its plan or took the time to find documentation somewhere to back the plan.

The documentation that Loews frequently refers to is “Rabies Prevention and Control in Florida 2011.” Using this document as backup, Loews recently renewed its efforts to trap the feral cats.

By law, the Orange County Animal Services must accept the cats. But this group can’t understand why already spay/neutered feral cats should be euthanized, and are working with CARE Feline TNR, a local non-profit to remedy the situation.

Some of the cats have reportedly languished in the sun in traps — the trapping company apparently inexperienced at handling feral cats — and some cats are injured upon intake. CARE Feline TNR volunteer Carol Needham says, “The trapping company is apparently not following protocol to keep the cats calm.”

Of course, feral cats aren’t new to Southern Florida – and George Ricci the Loews Hotel employee who first began the TNR program (who departed Loews before Loews reversed their policies) notes that a nearby Sheraton property had a more severe problem. Feral cats were hanging out wherever people were — even at the pool — because they’d get handouts. The interactions raised concern, because the hotel didn’t want guests scratched or bitten by cats who were basically wild.

“They did it exactly right,” Ricci said. “They paid for people who understand TNR. The cats were trapped, spay/neutered and returned, and feeding stations were created and gradually moved away from where guests would see them.”

The Public Reacts to Loews’ Feral Cat Policy
Cat lovers are perplexed and angered by the hotel’s efforts to exterminate the cats. More than 34,000 people have now signed a petition on the Alley Cat Allies website. A demonstration even took place with some 70 people at the entrance to Universal on Saturday, April 14. (Watch a video of the Loews protest by Alley Cat Allies here.)

One of the protestors on the scene, Alley Cat Allies program manager Anne Marie Vastano, said, “The mood was super energetic – people honked encouragement as they drove by,” as they chanted “Save Loews Cats!”

Another protestor told me, “We all believe that Loews will wake up and do the right thing – but we’re not sure they will.” So far, there’s no sign that Loews will do anything different.

Loews finally did reach out to Alley Cat Allies, whose phone calls and emails had previously been ignored. Co-founder and President Becky Robinson said: “They made it very clear they wanted our support but on their terms. And we can’t support the continued trapping and removal.”

Britt Cocanour, Alley Cat Allies executive director adds, “I personally believe they took a position and now need to find justification for that.”

Loews Hotel Responds to Feral Cat Questions
While Loews’ corporate continues to not return phone calls or email, Loews director of public relations for Hotels at Universal, responded via email:

“Our priority is the health and safety of our guests and team members and that is why the feral, free-roaming cats are being taken to Orange County Animal Services. The only option offered by Alley Cat Allies and CARE (Feline TNR) was to keep the cats and our assessment had determined that keeping the feral cats on property created health and safety concerns.

“Over time, the cats became more familiar with the property and were going into guest contact areas. This created issues that we had to address. The Florida Department of Health states that feral, free-roaming cats pose a persistent threat to communities from injury and disease. … Note that the Florida Department of Health also states that while free-roaming cats can be vaccinated against rabies, this does not address the ongoing need to provide them health care, medications and prevention of other zoonotic diseases (diseases potentially transmittable to people).”

I told Hodges that she’s right, the Florida Department of Health does state that – but they aren’t making policy recommendations.

By experts feeding the cats elsewhere and taking other precautions, the cats will greatly go unseen by guests.

Yes, there is potential zoonotic disease transmission exists. But I am quite certain this has never been documented at any of the Loews properties because it is so rare. Likely, however, people might have been injured in the swimming pool or workout area, even in the guest room showers. The odds are far greater of a guest falling out of bed than becoming ill as a result of cat – clearly all the beds need to go.

Hodges had no comment.

Loews (Claims It) Loves Pets
On June 16, a big charity event called Hounds Hang 20 for Charity! will be held at Dune Park/Beach in Imperial Beach, Calif.

Loews Coronado Bay Resort supports this festival. In fact, they offer special “Surf Dog” guestroom rates as part of Loews Hotels’ “Loews Loves Pets” program. Dog guests will receive a complimentary pet placemat, food and water bowls, dog tags, treats and scoop bags. Loews on the West Coast supports dogs that Hang 10, while on the East Coast, Loews would apparently prefer to hang the cats.

I was there when Loews Love Pets began, and served as an advisor – so I want to be on the side of Loews. But how can I be?

TNR works because the number of cats in one place is gradually reduced – and may take years to decline to zero. By simply capturing and eradicating the feral cats, the hotel creates what’s called the vacuum effect. Cats will come in and fill the resulting void, and the problem begins anew. What will Loews do then? These were among additional questions never answered in my email correspondence with Loews.

The publicity and the local agencies following this story have helped prevent these cats from being euthanized. These feral cats need homes – and that’s where perhaps a cat lover reader can come in. Right now, these cats languish in carriers in garages and basements. They’re being well cared for – but this is hardly ideal. If you have land (preferably in Florida) and seek a free rodent service, CARE Felline TNR has some willing tenants.

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Cats · Lifestyle