I Drove Four Hours to Protest Loews Hotels and Sneak Their Starving Outdoor Cats Food
There's right, there's wrong, and then there's just being an a-hole because you can. Most of the articles and news about the Loews Hotels cats situation have been based on facts and figures about why outdoor cats are no harm, but this one will be a little different.
I'm speaking straight from my heart.
This weekend, I drove nearly four hours with two friends to protest across the street from Loews Hotels in Orlando, rallying to Save Loews Cats. These innocent, wonderful cats have been fed and loved by caretakers for years on the Loews Hotels properties in Orlando. They all have names. They come when they're called. They know where they eat and at what time, and who brings the food. They are all vaccinated and spayed and neutered. And they weren't hurting anyone.
If you haven't heard, Loews suddenly hired Critter Control to trap all the cats and haul them off to a kill shelter. Not only that, but they have declared that no one is allowed to feed the cats, employed extra security to make sure of it, and even threatened employees with their jobs if they are caught near them. I've heard reports that some of these cats are now rail thin because of this.
My heart breaks for these cats whose lives are suddenly turned upside down and for the caretakers who have grown so attached to them. I feed my own group of outdoor cats at my old office parking lot, and it would rip me in two if anything like this ever happened to them. Seriously.
So that's why I find it so necessary to stand up for these cats, even though they are so far from me. I started the Save Loews Cats Facebook page as a place for all to gather to support them. I hope it's making a difference.
This past Saturday, Alley Cat Allies organized a protest in Orlando and called me personally to invite me, since I'd been working so hard for these cats since day one. It was an event I wouldn't miss for the world. I immediately e-mailed my two co-admins of the Facebook page and we were off.
The best part? We weren't just going to attend the protest ... we were going up there to feed the starving cats! There was no way I was going up there without littering the entire Loews properties with cat food.
Before the trip, Deb Barnes of zeezoey.com, Christine Michaels of Riverfront Cats, and I armed ourselves with four large bags of dry cat food, cans of wet food, a bag of treats -- and tote bags big enough to hide them all. We drove up all the way from South Florida and right into Loews' Portofino Bay Hotel property. It was after midnight by the time we arrived.
Donning dark clothes, we called caretaker George Ricci and he directed us to where we could leave food for the cats so they would find it. It was near where they lived on the property, but out of sight from plain view. We were told to watch out for security, but just act like we were tourists walking around if we were stopped. Haaaa, at 1 a.m.? Sure, all tourists stroll through resorts at that hour.
No matter! We stashed a tote with two bags of Meow Mix and several cans of 9 Lives, and off we went on a mission to do what employees were no longer allowed to do. We walked pretty far, and ended up behind buildings and almost in a back area (no way we could just say we were "strolling" at this point, but I wasn't turning back). We found the spot he told us about and dropped a whole bag of dry food and wet food on top to entice them over.
No doubt Bonnie, Clyde, and Morris ate well that night.
The next morning, we headed back bright and early, topped off the pile with another bag, and went to the other Loews hotel there, Loews Royal Pacific, to feed the starving cats there. There are more of them at Royal Pacific than Portofino, and my inside sources say the cats are in worse shape. Feeding them was important to us, so much so that we were on a mission to do it in broad daylight surrounded by people!
We loaded our totes with two more bags of food and waltzed into the hotel looking like three girlfriends on a getaway. Once again, we got on the phone with George as he gave us turn-by-turn directions on where to leave the food. We had two spots to hit here.
He directed us to a bushy, wooded area and told us that if we dropped food there, the cats would find it. That's all we needed to hear! Here's video of me sneaking through the woods for the cats!
Then we hit up the other area where the cats hang out. These are two huge properties with only about 20 cats that hide from people. I mean, seriously, we were looking for cats and only managed to see one, way off in the bushes somewhere -- and it darted away when Christine started walking right through those bushes with a can of food. Bushes are no match for a determined cat lady!
After we did the feeding deed, we headed across the street to the protest, organized by Alley Cat Allies, with a bunch of foam board and paint markers to make signs. It was time to make a stink against Loews ... and make a stink we did!
I was so touched to see that nearly 70 people showed up to protest Loews' decision to trap the cats. All were carrying signs, traps, and stuffed cats, and we even had a bullhorn. Two news stations came to report (I made it on the news, but the video didn't make it to the station's website so I can't share, grrrr). I was humbled and emboldened by all the support.
We stood there and held signs and yelled "Save Loews' Cats" and boooed at a couple of Loews trucks that drove by. I kept a steady stream of pictures and updates flowing to Twitter and Facebook, and when my phone needed charging, I decided to hop in my car and use the charger, taking a couple of circuits around the protest area and honking my horn to cheer on and pump up our crowd.
I tend to overdo things, so I grabbed Deb and the biggest, brightest Save Loews Cats sign we had. She sat in the passenger seat with the sign hanging out, I sat in the driver seat blowing my horn like a maniac -- and we proceeded to drive right by the Loews Portofino front entrance and wave to the security guards!
Crazy cat ladies, indeed. It was one of the highlights.
And then we got pulled over by a cop.
I thought for sure it was the sign, or blatantly driving by the hotel, but nope. Turns out you're not allowed to honk your horn unless you have a legal reason to do so. Really? Okay ... anyway, no ticket!
Back to the protest!
So far, we'd dodged security to feed the cats, rummaged through bushes, protested on a street corner, and gotten pulled over by the police for these cats. I'd say that's dedication! And I'd do it all over again. I just hope we made an impact.
But here's my true, heartfelt feeling about this situation right now:
Loews management will not change their minds and keep the cats. They've made their decision and are sticking to it. However wrong that is, my focus is now the cats. I want them out of there safely! None of this Critter Control inhumanely trapping them and all of them showing up at animal services injured.
Loews has refused to let rescue groups trap these cats correctly, and there are even some cats that know their caretakers well enough that if Loews would just let these people on the property, they could call the cats by name and scoop them up in their arms. It could be as simple as that. No trauma, no starving, no need for traps. Just someone saving an animal they care for like their very own.
But nooooooooo. Loews wants to do it the a-hole way: Starve the cats until they are so hungry they go in the traps. And then they don't monitor the traps, so the cats freak out, or sit in them in the open sun for hours. Then they have to ride in the back of a pickup truck in the trap to animal services where they wait to be bailed out by the amazing rescue group, CARE Feline TNR, who has committed to helping find homes or relocate all these cats to barns so they won't have to die.
As if it wasn't bad enough that Loews are giving the cats the boot, they have to do it in the most uncaring, bullying, saddest way possible.
I hope someone at the company reads this and somehow hands it to someone with a heart. Please, Loews, allow caretakers on the property (escorted by security, even; promising not to feed, take pictures, whatever it is you're afraid these nice people will do) to save the cats the fastest, best way for them possible.
Have a heart. And maybe some of these people would have a teensy little less of a problem with you: