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. Because outdoor cats are commonly euthanized in places like this, 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.
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Loews has ordered that no one is 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 compliment the Portofino theme, but still way off the guest path.
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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.
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