Sometimes assumptions are made, and an issue appears black and white – when it’s really a complicated calico, a mix of hues and colors.
Cats have not always had an easy time in Mexico, though in many parts of the country their welfare has improved and continues to evolve for the better – in other places, their situation remains CATastrophic.
The problem begins with a cultural pet preference, according to Lola Cortina of San Miguel de Allende, where she founded a sanctuary for cats, Sancuario Feline Rey Ashoka, a no-kill facility. “People here prefer dogs,” she adds.
“Indeed many people in Mexico and have historically treated cats like the very vermin they help to control,” says Janice Chatterton, founder of the SPCA Puerto Vallarta.
Ricardo Pimentel toils in the trenches. Tourists see a part of Cancun, but not typically the outskirts where Pimentel operates a sanctuary called Tierra de Animales, where aside from dogs and cats he even saves turtles, goats, sheep or whatever comes along.
“There’s lots of ignorance about cats,” says Pimentel. “People get them as kittens, they never spay or neuter them. There are thousands of cats on the street, most of them are feral, and most of those cats have FIV or (feline) leukemia, and they spread it to other cats.”
In Puerto Vallarta cats over-populate in lots of places, including a popular park near the River Cuale. Local store owners and restaurateurs around the park reportedly pay kids about ten pesos a piece to kill as many cats as they can, however they can.
Nancy and David Goldstein are retired snowbirds in Puerto Vallarta, wintering from the Minneapolis/St.Paul area for three months at a time. Nancy says, “Not only do these cats (killed in the park) die a horrible death, but I’m worried about the not-so-humane education these children are being taught. They’re encouraged to kill.”
Cortina says that sometimes she must maintain a low profile helping cats, or some people may give her a difficult time. People think, “Why bother to help cats?”
However, Mexicans aren’t alone. Cats are arguably – in some ways second class citizens in the U.S, notes Puerto Vallarta resident is Suzanna Persa, who some call “the crazy kitten lady.”
She says, “Stray cats exist and are sometimes killed in the U.S., and around the world. This isn’t only a Mexican issue. And things are gradually changing for the better here, particularly among younger people.”
Persa was never involved in animal welfare when she lived in Milwaukee, WI or in Seattle, WA; she was a dancer and a dance instructor. However, it was a single little kitten in need of help who touched Persa’s heart several years ago after she moved to Puerto Vallarta. “I took that kitten in, and then three baby kittens I found in the rain and the entire kitten thing snowballed.”
Persa bottle-feeds the kitties, gets them spay/neutered – usually paying a low cost from her own pocket, as a local veterinarian offers her a discount. And she eventually sends the cats on their way to friends or friends of friends back in the U.S., or adopts them locally.
“Good work is being done throughout Mexico,” Persa says.
There are local Trap Neuter Return (TNR) programs popping up throughout the country in major metropolitan areas, and even in tourist areas like the resort El Dorado Royale in Riviera Maya. Susan Lupe, special projects manager at Karisma Hotels & Resorts says, “We TNR the cats that somehow get on to the property. We feel it’s our responsibility. We try to find homes for (social) cats. If we are unable to, the (TNR’d) cats even have cat casitas (little homes) where they can rest and they get food and water.”
David and Nancy Goldstein were all in when their daughter Jill founded Pause4Paws a few years back in Puerto Vallarta, a non-profit welfare group with a feline focus. They’re an umbrella group which helps to fund local financially strapped non-profits. Pause4Paws helps to fund spay/neuter, emergency surgeries and vaccinations. The result of their organized funding has made a difference in thousands of cat lives.
In March Pause4Paws took 74 cats trapped in Puerto Vallarta, had them spay/neutered and vaccinated for rabies and sent them flying the friendly skies to Minnesota in a program called Operation Gotta Getta Gato. Several local welfare groups participated in this massive effort to save lives. Immediately upon arrival in the U.S., the cats were vet checked for potential infectious disease and/or parasites. At deadline, some cats were adopted whiles others enjoyed their new foster families.
Lupe says that when she first re-located to Playa del Carmen a decade ago from Texas, many people were afraid of cats. “They believed cats would inhale their last breath.”
Cortina adds that some doctors tell women that having a cat will make them sterile, and gynecologist tell pregnant women to give up their cats without educating on how to avoid the transmission of toxoplasmosis (which can cause birth defects). “There’s even a belief that if you sleep with a cat, you can get eye cancer, or if you are starred at by a cat your soul will be stolen,” she says.
“Education is changing this, particularly with younger people,” adds Cortina, who regularly appears on local radio informing cat owners about needed veterinary care, behavior issues and busting myths along the way.
Even Cortina, though, allows her cats outside – understanding the various hazards outdoors but noting her cats enjoy being outside. But in larger cities like Mexico City or Leon Dr. Cesar Morales, director Veterinary Congress de Leon says, “Now you can see sales of litter boxes and cat litter for indoor only cats. And people are being educated to offer behavior remedies, which in the past were only available for dogs.”
Of course, most indoor only cats are spay/neutered. The secret to population control is spay/neuter – and that remains a challenge, both for cultural reasons and costs. Increasingly, there are no cost and low cost options available And culture is changing, though that doesn’t occur overnight.
Morales says that in Leon for every three cats seeing a veterinarian, there are seven dogs These numbers aren’t all different that the U.S. However, Morales adds that cat caretakers in Leon actually are willing to spend far more on felines compared to canine, and that’s not the case in the U.S.
Morales adds, “For many young couples, cats are the new dog.”
In places like Puerto Vallarta, Migeul de Allende,Playa del Carmen or Cancun, Lupe says that the increasing population of Americans and Canadians has made a huge difference, infusing awareness and dollars for spay/neuter and animal welfare education.
Persa adds, “In the end Mexico is a large country with a lot of people who simply have little education or resources – but the good news is that cat welfare is gradually changing. If cats can be considered real members of the family, they will be cared for – because in this culture family is where it’s at.”