La Recoleta Cemetery is by far Buenos Aires’ biggest attraction. Tombs decorated with stunning architecture and statues line up the streets of this mysterious dwelling place. It’s where all of Argentina’s “who’s who” is buried, including Evita Per├│n; she still receives flowers and love from her fans decades after her death. But amongst the angel statues and big names, another kind of community has taken up residence here. This one is very much alive and a little furry. La Recoleta has its own cat colony.
In 2007, Blake Barrett and his wife Adrienne went to visit Buenos Aires. Of course a trip to the cemetery was part of the tour. And as they marveled at the architecture, they noticed the cats hanging around. Other tourists will take pictures and keep going, but Blake and Adrienne are not only tourists; they are also big cat-lovers who have been rescuing kitties their whole lives. But before that feeling of dread even tried to appear, they realized something: The cats were friendly, used to being amongst humans.
It was a bit of a shock. As Blake explained, “We just don’t come across strays en masse who are well taken care of and are friendly. And they came up to us. We never had that experience before. Normally feral cats run away from you. But they looked like they were well taken care of, they were fed.”
The experience was so strong that even after coming back home they kept thinking about those cats, even naming their next rescue Recoleta in their honor.
In early 2014, a friend was taking a trip to Buenos Aires. They asked him to please check if the cats were still there. His pictures provided positive proof that the kitty colony was still alive and well. A detailed investigation of the pictures revealed the cat who caused the spark. It was the same kitty that they had taken a picture of seven years ago; the cat was still alive. How could this be? Who’s taking care of them?
Back to Argentina they went, full of questions. They learned that the colony is taken care of by this widow, but that she is extremely private and didn’t want any publicity. You can’t even say her name. (Please, keep your Voldemort references to yourself). When she finally agreed to meet them, her story blew them away.
Her husband is buried at the Recoleta, and while visiting the cemetery, she fell in love with the cats. She has no kids so everything of value has been sold in order to provide food and vet care for the kitties. She has been doing this for more than 20 years. They are all spayed and neutered. They have food and water supplied every day.
But what was going to happen when she runs out of money? Even worse, who’s going to take care of them when she is gone?
The story was inspiring. The message too powerful. You would think that they could be adopted, but that concept is not as well known around the world as we think. Here in America we support adoptions as a way of giving cats a new chance on life. But in Buenos Aires the movement is just in its infancy. Blake had his “a-ha” moment: “If not now, when? If not me, who? It’s one of those things that I don’t want to regret later. I just couldn’t sit here and do nothing.”
The idea for the Guardians of the Recoleta documentary was born. They created a Kickstarter campaign to help fund it. Hundreds of cat lovers responded. He even found a couple from Chicago who had adopted six cats from La Recoleta and recognized one of the kitties from the video. She lives now in a comfy apartment in the city. Her name is Luli.
Now armed with a purpose, they are back in Buenos Aires and have met a whole new generation of Argentinian volunteers who are pushing TNR and adoption services for the city felines. Most of them know the elusive lady and her cause — and they all want to help.
Read more about stray and feral cats on Catster: