Friday, April 27, 2012

Iranian Special Needs Cat Gets New Life in US

While the Loews Orlando Hotels are spending  unlimited amounts of money in security cameras, overtime pay for security guards, and hotel room for Critter Control Trappers, to trap and eliminate healthy, harmless, outdoor cats,  others are gathering funds to save the life of one severely injured cat with a will to live.

This cat had tilted pelvis affecting his hind leg motion and was covered in gasoline and mud in streets of Tehran, Iran. Then well-intentioned vets botched up his leg amputation but at least two pellets were removed from his head.  He was flown to San Francisco and is making remarkable progress. 

Just take a look at this video. It will melt your heart. Special needs cats are super affectionate and intelligent in our opinion.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day a Harsh Reminder, Irony in Loews Hotel Artwork

Artwork throughout Loews Portofino depicting beautiful landscape and outdoor cats
(see the cat at bottom of painting)
On this Earth Day, sadly I was not in the mind frame to celebrate. I had wanted to attend an Earth event at the Miami Zoo. But just one photo of a happy zoo animal in commune with the earth speared daggers through my heart.  My mind immediately pondered over the continuing saga of the Loews Hotel cats. 

Since becoming a caretaker and educator about outdoor, TNRMd community cats, I quickly observed and learned that these cats form a bond with the earth, their environment and their caretakers. When thinking about it carefully, these cats have it all-- food, shelter, attention and affection from caretakers and freedom. The freedom to roam, run, climb trees, take naps under a shady tree or on rock slab overlooking the bay or in a field of grass lazily watching crickets and other insects scaling blades of grass.

Cats were domesticated over 4000 years ago in Ancient Egypt and became part of the family, part of everyday life, some indoors, some outdoors.

Ironically this fact is punctuated in the artwork throughout the Loews Portofino hotel. Paintwork of the outdoor landscape -- beautifully manicured lawns, lush vegetation, grassy hills with a crown of trees, ornate urns, a regal gentleman posing, and in each image is a cat! I was so impressed by this branding when I first visited the hotel in May 2011. The slogan "Loews Loves Pets",  the artwork of upper class residents outdoors with cats, indoor cats and dogs as hotel guests and the recent peaceful coexistence of outdoor cats all supporting the brand in unison.  As a marketing professional, this was brilliant.

Artwork at entrance of Portofino in the anteroom to main lobby

Tragically the outdoor cats have been ripped away from the only home they knew.  Today, they are traumatized. Some don't eat fearful of the unknown, or whether to trust humans again. Bernie, on his way to a new home, was vomiting violently. He was transported back to the foster mother. The road to relocation is a long, painful journey and some cats may not survive. We know this from experience. But we press on.

 That fear is like a cancer. Compassionate employees, some who were caretakers and many others who rallied and supported the effort, live under constant threat and intimidation.  A longtime employee, Galena, was reportedly fired from Loews Royal Pacific for feeding the cats. She worked there for 12 years.  Naturally the media want to speak with caretakers, with employees to shed more light on the truth. But after Galena’s firing, employees are more fearful than ever after warnings from Loews not to speak to anyone about the cats or feed them while trapping continues or risk losing their jobs.   I know what it is like to work under this intimidation, and when an employer’s actions go against my values. It’s no longer a job. It’s hell. 
Volunteers who are actively bailing out the Loews Hotel cats from animal services, tiredly seeking and placing the cats in foster homes, and the preoccupation for vet care for a number of injured cats, have reached their breaking point. All this on top of their full-time jobs, on top of their other volunteer work in rescuing non Loews TNRd cats, on top of their own families and responsibilities—it’s overwhelming.
How can one or two men in power inflict so much pain and suffering upon innocent animals and people?  We know the answer. History is plagued with examples.
Universal's Cat in the Hat will no longer lift the corners of my mouth with fond childhood memories. It is now a negative anchor of the injured Cat in the Trap, these cats which I consider to be like barnyard pet cats.
This is one of the lowest  points in our efforts to overturn ignorance and discrimination. But I refuse to end on a sad note. There is always hope for the future because we keep fighting through education. Only through education will we enlighten minds and uplift hearts. Soon I’ll be sharing a happy story about Charlie, a cat dumped in my neighborhood. After months, I gained his trust that eventually I could pet him and pick him up in my arms. Halt! For my heart leaps with false hope. Not all affectionate, outdoor cats adapt to the boundaries of indoor environment. But his story is only the beginning of a new journey. Stay tuned.
Thank you all for your continued support and prayers for the Loews Hotel cats.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Protest Against Loews Universal Orlando Hotels

Yes I am a modern cat woman!

by Christine Michaels

This past Saturday, April 14, 2012, Alley Cat Allies led a protest against Loews Universal Orlando Hotels for their irresponsible, ill-informed decision and inhumane trapping of the Loews Hotels outdoor cats.

Close to 70 people drove to the site and protested, armed with signs and photos of the injured cats-- Houdini with blood on his forehead and down the nose, Shadow with a deep gash on the top of her head...[for a history of the cats, click here]

Shadow with deep gash on her head

Interesting, there was a man with a hard-to-miss-looks-like-missile-weapon camera milling about who was believed to be working for Loews.  He was discovered by the organizers upon arriving  at the parking lot. He was sitting in a white SUV, the same white SUVs that all the Loews security drive. (We know this because we had a chance to walk the grounds of both properties the night before and the day of the protest).  He got out of the car as protesters arrived.  He took photos and never carried or displayed a sign. I questioned him nonchalantly and he said he was dropping off his wife at work at one of the offices there at the office park  and saw the protest and thought he would "check it out".  I asked him "Do you always carry that big expensive professional camera?" He answered yes. The problem with his story is that a protester saw him with another man in the SUV. And the offices were all closed that day. But we had nothing to hide and I politely educated him on the plight of  homeless cats, how Loews had a model program, that each cat had a name and story and were truly traumatized and badly injured through this process.

Suspected Loews Infiltrator and Christine

Alas my cat cohorts and I arrived the night before and pretended to be tourists walking the grounds at 1am--yes 1am--hey South Floridians stay up late! (We live in Miami and drove to Orlando after work). I didn't see any of the cats nor any traps but I learned of the feeding spots from former caretakers and dumped piles of dry cat food. The cats had been starving for over two weeks and Orange County Animal Services did NOT take down my complaint of animal cruelty. (I tried three times--hugely disappointed in OCAS). After five hours of sleep (adrenaline was pumping when working undercover), I dressed in black and went by myself for an early morning stroll (7:30am) and proudly with the stealth and grace of predecessor panthers, I climbed, I crawled, and I dumped more cat food inside the bushes of where the cats reportedly resided, at least the ones that still remained to be captured at the Portofino. No surprise that Bonnie & Clyde have not been caught and are elusive. Like their namesakes, it may take awhile to capture these clever cats.

Deb, Christine, Dorian
 Then after a morning shower, we dressed up as tourists and headed to the Loews Royal Pacific.   We ambled around the grounds snapping photos like tourists. While my partners- in -cat- crime -prevention kept up the acting role, I disappeared into the bushes and found a beautiful white and black cat. Sure enough he scurried away but I left him an appetizing pile of dry and salmon canned food. Time for brunch! We repeated the process throughout the property. Mission accomplished! Now off to the protest.

Two TV stations, Channel 2 and Channel 9 sent cameramen and reporters. Unfortunately these were not seasoned reporters and missed the essence of the story and many important facts. The Public Relations Director for Loew Orlando Hotels, Jennifer Hodges, in her response, told reporters  that the number of cats were increasing. Jennifer Hodges knows this is not true. Like all the other employees, she was impressed with the TNR program and used to visit the designated room for post surgery care for the spayed/neutered cats and hold the kittens. She even invited her husband to visit the cat room.  Hodges' response to media was different from earlier TV reports. Apparently reporters had not done due diligence otherwise they would have easily connected the dots.  Here is the link to the WESH Channel 2 TV report. Please leave a comment on their site to share your disappointment in their gross lack of homework and reporting. 

Our fight has just begun! There is little to zero awareness that outdoor cats that are TNRM'd (Trap-Neutered-Returned to outdoors- and Managed) pose no threat to people. If anything more companies, communities, and neighborhoods are embracing TNRM as a successful means to address rising stray cat population.  It worked at Loews for years.  Therefore our efforts are focused on education as well as keeping up pressure on Loews.

We love this sign that was created by Vox Feline.

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More action steps to come and we need everyone's support!

These cats were healthy, spayed/neutered, and received rabies vaccination and lived peacefully for years on the grounds of the Loews Portofino Bay and Loews Royal Pacific hotels at Universal in Orlando, Florida. They were fed, cared for and managed by employees at their cost. Many employees were proud to make a difference in controlling the cat population and enhance their chain's slogan "Loews Loves Pets". It was a win-win-win for the cats, the community, and Loews. Cats were rarely seen by guests due to the expansive grounds and lush landscaping.  There was never a single incident of injury or disease due to the cats. Of course we know that outdoor cats are skiddish of strangers and only come close to caretakers. Loews management didn't care. Or should we say one person didn't care--David Bartek, Regional Director of Operations.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Loews Orlando Hotels Begin Inhumane Trapping of Harmless Cats

ORLANDO, FL (April 4, 2012) – Loews Hotels, whose pet-friendly slogan claims "Loews Loves Pets" hired a wildlife animal exterminator this past week to trap their outdoor cats and take them to the county animal shelter-- a death sentence. The move ignited concerns from animal lovers across the country, including hotel guests, who have come together to fight back and save the cats from death.

Outrage has increased after photos of the cats being trapped were released. One cat was trapped Friday and four others were captured and delivered to the local county shelter on Monday. Non-profit group CARE Feline TNR has stepped up to bail them to avoid euthanasia. CARE volunteers have been deeply saddened by the state of these once-healthy cats after being trapped, sharing photos of the cats with bloody noses, covered in urine on the Save Loews Cats Facebook page – signs that trapping is not being done humanely.

Gash on the head of Shadow

Loews has ordered that employees and vendors are no longer allowed to feed the cats on the property as of Wednesday of last week. Employees who were once permitted to care for them are now being threatened with losing their jobs and disciplinary action if they continue. Without food, the cats are starving and suffering. One employee reports that one cat appeared to be "skin and bones" due to withholding of food and water.

"These cats have lived there for years. This is their home. They have food and caretakers, like any indoor pet. More importantly they each have names and a story" says George Ricci, the bellman who started the effort and was the main caretaker.

Employees monitored and fed the cats on their own time and money. The controversy stems from the fact that the Loews Orlando hotels once employed TNRM (Trap-Neuter-Return-Manage)—a proven model to address outdoor cats that are not adaptable to the indoors. The cats are all trapped to get spayed/neutered, dewormed, rabies vaccinated, then returned to their outdoor home environment and managed by caretakers. The TNRM was successful at the Loews Portofino Bay and Loews Royal Pacific in Orlando for years. The cat population remained at below 20. Furthermore, these cats were like barnyard, outdoor pet cats given Loews' extensive grounds like a farm. These Loews cats all had beautiful Italian-theme feeding stations, to complement the Portofino theme, but still way off the guest path.

Gracie at feeding station

Loews cites a general statement from the Florida Department of Health that "feral cats pose a continuous concern to communities due to the persistent threat of injury and disease" to back their trapping and removal. Yet, since 1975, there have been no reported cases of a cat transmitting rabies to a human in this country. The risk that feral cats, who tend to be shy by nature and fearful of people, could transmit rabies to humans while at large is thus minimal, according to experts Dr. Julie Levy and Cynda Crawford authors of Humane Strategies for Controlling Feral Cat Populations, in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 225:1354-1360.

"These cats are not feral or free-roaming. They have a home, shelter and caretakers who monitor them daily. The fact that they are dewormed and receive rabies vaccinations, mitigates concerns for zoonotic disease" says Charlene Grall, president of The Cat Network.

"I’m beyond shocked Loews would do this" says one employee who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job. "Loews allows other indoor ’domesticated’ pets inside the hotel in close proximity to children and other guests. No one knows the temperament of a dog or any pet. As staff, we know of the persistent problems of fleas and dog urine in the guest rooms."

"Just this past January, a large dog of one guest attacked and killed the small dog of another guest at the Loews Royal Pacific. We’ve had more incidents with indoor guest pets and none with the outdoor cats. Getting rid of the cats doesn’t make any sense".

While Loews may ask hotel guests bringing pets to provide proof of vaccination, this practice is not necessarily enforced or verified. Also, only guests with pets are asked to sign a waiver.

This issue first originated in January 2012, when Christine Michaels, of Riverfront Cats, upon concluding a case study of the successful Loews TNRM program, learned of the current intention to get rid of the cats. She shared their decision with fellow animal lovers and bloggers, and they unleashed their fury on social media.

After seeing the public outcry, Loews initially backed down to investigate other alternatives for the cats. Experts and leaders of major animal welfare organizations reached out to Loews to help. To this day, Loews Hotels never returned emails or phone calls of leading cat experts such as Alley Cat Allies.

"This is so sad given that other businesses and communities are starting to embrace TNRM with positive results across the country" Michaels says. "Disney has been doing this for many years. Now a San Antonio country club in Texas has also brought in a bunch cats to join their security force. I manage 20 outdoor cats around three upscale condos in downtown Miami. It works".

Michaels says the biggest obstacle is constant misconceptions of feral or free-roaming cats and little to zero awareness of the epidemic rate of homeless cats and dogs.

"The word ’feral’ invokes images of aggressive, disease-ridden rodents" Michaels says. "On the contrary, managed cats do not have rabies or worms, and are likely to be shy or scared of strangers and hide. Also, not all outdoor cats can adapt to indoor life. Friendly outdoor cats can become extremely nervous indoors with limited boundaries and walls. Education is key. "

According to outdoor cat caretakers, cats form bonds with their environment and they protect their territory and chase away predators, and even keep other cats away. By eliminating these closely managed cats from Loews properties, they invite a new colony of unsterilized cats, as proven by what is called the "vacuum effect".

"We see this all the time. What will Loews do? Keep sending cats to their death costing taxpayers? TNRM worked" Michaels says. "It controlled the population humanely at no cost to Loews".

Concerned animal lovers are not sitting quietly. They have leveraged social media and voiced their anger on the "Save Loews Cats" Facebook page, growing it to over 1,250 followers in just four days. The page is regularly updated with news, photos and recommended next steps for supporters to arm themselves with more facts about outdoor cats.

Closeup of Houdini with blood on forehead and nose

Alicia Grecco