To my knowledge, guests at three Loews-operated hotels at Universal Orlando in Florida aren’t getting sick from feral cats on the property. Some cat lovers including myself, however, are sickened at the sudden aggressive action by this self-proclaimed pet-loving chain.
Feral cats live at many hotel properties such as these, particularly in warm climates. Whether they belong there or not isn’t the issue — they are there.
Very responsibly, the Portofino Bay Hotel had an effective trap-neuter-release (TNR) program in place, begun by a compassionate doorman. Guests loved the idea, and sometimes interacted with willing cats. They noticed the homemade cat food feeders that resembled Italian-style buildings, looking like little architectural gems. The cats, most being feral, were stealthy and guests hardly even noticed them.
Then, out of the blue, in January, the hotel decided they had a better way to deal with the feral cats: trap them. According to my source, two cats were trapped at the Hard Rock property and summarily euthanized.
News Breaks on Feral Cat Treatment
Thank goodness for the Internet. Blogs reported the story, and the traditional media quickly got wind. I blogged about the story of feral cats at hotels in my CATalyst CatChannel.com column as well.
The Loews plan to quietly do away with the cats was interrupted by the media’s attention. The hotel chain paused and sought some advice about what to do next.
The hotel chain chose to ignore the wisdom of animal welfare experts who suggested simply expanding their TNR program. Loews decided to exterminate the cats from their properties.
Loews Responds — By Not Responding
Loews refused to respond to my email and phone calls. Here’s how their official release to the press begins: “Thank you for contacting us regarding the feral cat issue. We have reviewed our practice involving feral, free-roaming cats and have talked with numerous agencies, including Orange County Animal Services. The Florida Department of Health states feral cats pose a continuous concern to communities due to the persistent threat of injury and disease. The priority at our hotels is the health and safety of our guests and team members.”
My question to Loews was: “Exactly how many guests have suffered injury or disease as a result of the cats?” I suggest the answer to my question is zero.
The Loews press release also says rabies is a concern. Likely not: Feral cats can transmit rabies, but are only very rarely vectors. With a TNR program in place, cats would be vaccinated.
Feral cats exist on other hotel properties around Florida, around the world. In fact, I suspect other Loews properties have feral cats.
Reportedly, employees and visitors are admonished to never feed the feral cats remaining on the Loews properties, and the feeders have all been removed. Why?
Presumably, the edict to “lose the cats” came with new management. Does someone in charge really hate cats?
Cat-Removal Plan Could Backfire
Kat Kennedy, program coordinator at Orange County Animal Service, pointed out what all experts on feral cats in the part of the country know about trapping and removing the cats, which is Loews’ plan in progress. “This [cat removal] may now leave a void, which will create an opportunity for other cats to move in.” Kennedy had personally met with Loews management but was apparently unsuccessful at using science and common sense to sway them.
By law, Orange County Animal Services must take the cats. They’ve been adamant from the start, however, about their refusal to kill them.
Volunteers Step in to Help Feral Cats
A local all-volunteer group, CARE Feline TNR, is coming to the rescue. Five cats have, to date, been trapped and delivered to the shelter, where they will be spay/neutered, ear-notched and vaccinated (though most cats on the Loews properties already have been).
The cats will live in volunteer foster homes until an angel with property comes forward, perhaps a farmer who can use feline vermin catching assistance or simply someone who wants to save lives. Otherwise — while it is true, the cats will not be euthanized — at least, for now, their future is uncertain.
“We’re very grateful to CARE and their volunteers,” Kennedy says.
CARE is equally effusive to praise Orange County Animal Services. CARE volunteer Carol Needham is dealing with a situation that she says never should have happened in the first place. “The cats were maintained and managed rather well on these [Loews] properties,” she says.
Kennedy notes that it’s Loews legal right to trap the cats and deliver them to animal services as long as they do so in a humane manner. She wouldn’t comment as to whether it’s the right thing to do.
Kennedy did say she’s pleased with the community support for the cats, and increasing community enthusiasm for TNR.
As for famously pet-friendly Loews, it turns out they can be not-so-friendly; Loews makes note of saying these cats aren’t not pet cats. True enough. So?