Finally — and, as far as I know, for the first time — hotel representatives have extensively commented on the feral cat issue on Loews hotel properties at Universal, Orlando, Florida.
Treatment of Cats at Loews Hotels in Florida
To recap: The hotel chain’s policy changed from tolerating and even accommodating feral cats to trapping them and removing them from the properties earlier this year.
Staff began a TNR program in 2004 at a Loews property in Florida to both control population numbers and also enhance the quality of life for the cats living there. George Ricci, a bellman at the Royal Pacific property, was responsible for starting to trap, neuter and return feral cats at the Loews hotel.
The cats were trapped, spay/neutered, vaccinated for rabies and then ear tipped to identify the cats that had been altered. Soon, other employees began to help out. Ricci adopted many of the friendly cats and young kittens out to homes of employees or their friends or relatives. The engineering department built feeders, so cats were soon supplemented with a quality diet. The hotels knew about the TNR and feeding program, but didn’t participate to help financially.
Change in Attitude Toward Feral Cats at Hotels
In January, new management came in and came down hard on the cats, deciding to trap and then exterminate. What’s more, Loews has ordered employees to stop feeding the cats or staff members might lose their jobs. The story got out, although reportedly too late for two cats who were trapped at the Hard Rock property and euthanized. Public pressure forced Loews to pause.
Experts attending the meetings with Loews’ suggest Loews wasn’t truly open to discussion. Alley Cat Allies, the nation’s largest cat advocacy organization, say they offered help but still have not received a return call.
Instead, Loews hired professional trappers to eliminate the cats. In the process, reportedly some cats have been injured — nothing life-threatening, but more significant than minor scratches that might occur when cats are trapped. “I’ve never seen injuries like these,” says Carol Needham, a volunteer with CARE Feline TNR. “The trapping company is apparently not following protocol to keep the cats calm.”
The non-profit has stepped up to find temporary foster homes for the trapped feral cats, such as people’s garages. The ultimate hope is to find safe permanent digs as soon as possible, that perhaps a Florida farmer will step up to receive free rodent control in the bargain.
Ricci departed Loews as a full-time employee (to pursue another career) just before the feeding stations were removed and the traps were put out. He says that he’s learned there a photo of him at the security office and he received a text threatening his arrest should he ever step on the property.
“Instead of being humane in their approach, it’s as if their new regional director feels he’s waged war against these innocent cats,” says Ricci. “Clearly, anyone on the cats’ side is the enemy. There’s something that just isn’t normal about this.”
I reached out to Loews corporate New York office, which said I would receive a call back. That never happened, despite repeated phone calls. Though she refused to speak by telephone, Jennifer Hodges, director of public relations at Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando did reply to my email questions.
Click here for my questions, her replies, and my additional comments.
Feral Cats Thrive (Without Harming People) in Other Locations
Becky Robinson, co-founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, notes that at a feral cat colony on the Boardwalk in New Jersey, there are over 20 million visitors annually and no discussion of disease transmission as far as anyone knows. You can find many examples just like this including in Florida, such as the Sheraton Hotel mentioned.
Meanwhile, over 20,000 cat lovers have signed an Alley Cat Allies online petition protesting Loews handling of this matter, more than on any other matter. And there may even be a demonstration in protest.
I realize feral cats are not pets — they are feral, after all — but they are also cats we’re talking about. Ironically I was there celebrating Loews for their “forward-thinking” years ago when Loews began a program called Loews Loves Pets. On the website, it reads, “Loews has the most pet friendly hotels around, and you’ll realize it from the moment you and your pet check in.”
At Loews properties at Universal, guests might conceivably find starving or dead cats from the moment they check in. Not quite the reputation you’d think Loews would want.