Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Mainstreaming of a Feral Cat

Christine Michaels and Deborah Barnes

You may have seen them in alleys, in your community or even your neighborhood and backyard. Stray or feral cats roaming, lurking, searching for food. What are the images that come to mind?  So little is known about feral cats and worse, there are many misperceptions.

Feral cats are not aggressive, they do not charge after people like a wild pack of boars, or are filthy disease-carrying rodents. Quite the opposite. Cats are extremely clean. Feral cats are essentially cats that are not social with humans born from other feral cats or stray cats, normally pet cats that strayed from home or were abandoned by their owners. Innocent creatures that are homeless, voiceless, helpless, through no fault of their own.

To help overturn misconceptions, first we recommend referring to feral cats as "community cats" or "free-roaming cats". Some cats are friendly while living outdoors but not social when they are placed in an indoor environment with boundaries. We encourage readers to watch the three videos in the links below.  Deborah Barnes, blogger and author of the Chronicles of Zee & Zoey interviews Christine Michaels, of Riverfront Cats.

The first video is a sit down interview that first addresses the current crisis at the Loews hotels in Orlando as management has mandated to end their model TNRM program and "get rid of the cats" on the property.  The continuation of the video is a Feral Cat 101. The second part is a live interview following Christine on her routine in feeding the Riverfront Cats in downtown Miami.

Click here for PART 1 (video 1)
Click here for PART 2 (videos 2 and 3)

Thank you for taking the time to learn about these innocent creatures in your community and how you can make a difference.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Loews Hates Their Own Cats--More Links to share your concerns

The battle continues and Loews still has not agreed to sit down and listen to experts regarding the Loews cats. To continue educating the Loews management and other animal lovers about the benefits of TNR/managed cat colony to reverse homeless animal epidemic in a humane way, please share your comments on the following links. (For the history of the situation, click here).

1. The new "Stop Loews Hotels from Relocating and Traumatizing Harmless Cats" FB community Page. Please be sure to share your comments (be passionate but diplomatic).

2. The USA Today, picked up the story yesterday, January 17, 2012. You can share your comments at the end of the article via Facebook.

3. The general Loews Hotel Facebook page.

4. Loews hotels in Orlando are deleting any comments about the cats on their hotel Facebook page. Instead they created a new FB "notes" page titled FERAL CAT ISSUE where you can offer suggestions for a solution. The ONLY solution is to keep the model program they had of TNR/managed colony. This was organized and paid for by employees.

5. Universal Studios Florida.  They are the landlord that Loews claims is making them "relocate" the cats. If Disney has the same model program for 25 years that has worked with complete success, why can't Universal do the same?

For a complete history of the Loews Hotel cat situation, see the post below or click here.

Thank you for taking  a few minutes to make a difference!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Loews Loathes Cats

Loews Hotels feral cats community cats
Oreo lives at Loews Portofino Bay hotel
[Update June 25, 2012: Please sign the latest petition:]

[For a chronological listing of all incidents related to Loews Hotel cats, click here]

There's a storm in Orlando that started brewing on Monday and continues pelting more than heavy rain drops. It's literally raining cats and dogs but the outcome is unknown.

Loews Portofino Bay hotel and sister hotel Loews Royal Pacific, both located at Universal Studio in Orlando, Florida, are at the center of this bitter battle.

Known for its slogan "Loews Loves Pets", the once pet-friendly hotel and animal activists are at war. The Portofino and Royal Pacific had also accepted and cared for other pets. In this case feral cats. As is common throughout Florida, feral cats appear at local businesses including hotels, restaurants, any place near a food source and shelter from rain and cold. 

For years, employees followed the proven practice of TNR--Trap-Neuter-Return and reduced a large colony of cats down to manageable numbers.

Then suddenly around Christmas, a mandate was gaveled that all cats were to be removed and a pest control company, Steritech was contacted. Little did caretakers know until the traps appeared.

When Riverfront Cats' lead volunteer, Christine,  learned about this reversal of a model example of a managed cat colony, she sounded the alarm and reached out to fellow cat bloggers,  Dorian Wagner of the Catster, Tamar of I Have Cat and blogger/author Deborah Barnes of The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey. Their readers and followers responded en force and thousands of animal-loving Americans denounced Loews' decision and vowed to boycott the hotel chain.

The pounding of harsh criticism on Loews Facebook page prompted Loews to remove the traps and not take the feral cats to local shelter which means instant death. Feral cats are not adoptable. However, Loews now wants to relocate the cats which is highly risky and could cause more danger, pain, suffering and death. [Update: Loews reversed this decision and continued trapping cats and sending them to local animal shelter where they are euthanized.]

Back in 2004, Bellman, George Ricci, noticed some animal traps throughout the property of the Loews Royal Pacific. In one he found bones.  The traps had been set to capture feral cats.  Shocked that trappers would inhumanely trap an animal to let it starve and suffer a slow, lingering death, George continued searching the grounds and found other traps. Realizing the traps were indeed for cats, George took it upon himself to capture the cats and get them spayed and neutered and returned them to their environment, the only home they knew. This practice is called TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) and is encouraged by animal welfare organizations throughout the US including ASPCA, Alley Cat Allies, The Cat Network, animal behaviorists on Animal Planet programs... the list includes hundreds of organizations.

In 2007 David Bartek became the new General Manager.  Ostensibly Bartek did not support the program but let employees continue trapping and feeding cats at  their expense. And so they did. Wages of a bellman funded the entire effort at the Royal Pacific. 

Then in 2008 George Ricci transferred to the Loews Portofino and again came across another colony of cats multiplying at exponential rates. Learning what he was doing to help these homeless, harmless cats, other employees came forward to help.  What started out at 40 cats are currently down to 8 cats.  The effort was a great success! The engineering department also built custom made Italian-themed cat mansion feeding stations to compliment the Portofino Italian theme.  The houses sit far off the brick path for guests that lead to different pools.

In the small world of Universal Studio hotels, other hotel employees reached out to George and his team for help with their colony of feral cats that also was exploding with litters of kittens. George and his team realized it was time to make a formal presentation to formally implement a uniform program for neighboring hotels. They were very excited. And then everything backfired.

David Bartek had been promoted to Director of Operations in 2011 for all three hotels, the Portofino, Royal Pacific and Hard Rock hotel. Upon learning about the managed colonies, he mandated no more cats on the property.

Stunned by this edict, employees wanted to learn why? According to one source, "he never wanted to listen to facts, to proven practice, he didn't want to listen at all. His exact words were 'this issue is not open for discussion'".  Later Bartek claimed it was the decision of the landlord, Universal Studio. There is no confirmation of this statement on our part, however a recent Orlando Sentinel article did reference them.

What animal-loving customers and experts wish to share:

1. TNR/managed colonies are the best proven humane practice to reduce the number of strays in a given area. This practice is advocated by hundreds of animal welfare groups across the country.

2. If cats are removed, the vacuum effect takes place. Other stray cats will move in and multiply. What will Loews do with 50 cats next year? An unspayed/neutered cat pair leads to 5,000 cats in 7 years. Another horrifying statistic: half of all stray kittens suffer and die before age 8 weeks.  People don't see it, but it happens everyday. By removing the current colony, Loews is inviting more strays and more cats to multiply and suffer.
Removing cats from an area is a futile effort—one that cannot succeed. [Alley Cat Allies]

3. The word "feral" has many misperceptions.  Feral cats do not charge after or attack people. Mostly they are afraid of humans. Feral means they are not entirely social with humans. The degree of socialization varies. Some cats can be petted. Some can be petted and picked up in your arms. Some fear the human hand and can not be petted but will allow your hand to feed it, inches away from its face. Some will not adjust to boundaries of four walls and go stir crazy without the freedom to run and climb. 

4. The cats receive rabies vaccination when they get spayed/neutered and are ear-tipped. This means the tip of their left ear (our right when facing them) is sliced off during surgery/anasthesia as universal sign a cat is sterilized.

5. Disney has had successful TNR program for 25 years.  “We view them as partners. It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship with them". If Loews permits inhouse animals to come into contact with hotel guests, then there is no harm with feral cats on property with acres of land not visible to guests.  There has never been a single reported incident with a hotel guest and outdoor cat.

6. The cats all have names and know their names. At the Loews Portofino, there is Bonnie & Clyde, Houdini, Morris, Scruffy, Oreo, Bernie and Billie. Each has their own personality and unique traits and habits. They ARE outdoor Loews pets.

Gracie at feeding station

Loews has never answered the following questions to date:

1. What will they do next year when new strays come onto the property and multiply? There is no cat sanctuary that takes in unlimited feral cats each year. There is likely to be approximately 40-50 cats in one year.

2. What is the risk to hotel guests? According to who? What? If Loews allows other animals to come into the hotels with guests, that poses greater risk, why not allow feral cats to stay?

3. It is confirmed that two Siberian Huskey dogs (guests of the Loews Royal Pacific hotel) killed the small dog of another guest on MONDAY, January 16, 2012. Why is Loews more concerned with stray cats that have never posed any harm to employees or guests when this tragedy happens?

4. Does this signal Loews' abandonment of slogan "Loews Loves Pets" and discontinue the ability for guests to bring their pets?

On Saturday, January 14, 2012 the following article appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.

Loyal customers, animal-lovers, and locals continue to fight for the cats to stay. 
To follow this continuing battle, check Riverfront Cats Facebook page.

Animal activitists are encouraged to share their concerns on the Facebook of Universal Studios Florida and continue pressuring Loews on their Facebook page as well.

We hope Loews and Universal Studio will sit down and listen to experts to understand TNR is the best solution for everyone and the cats.