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Working Behind Enemy Lines: Tale from Within Loews

A first-hand account from a cat-loving employee at Loews Hotels in Orlando.

 |  Jul 2nd 2012  |   21 Contributions


For those of you who have been following along for the past few months, Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando suddenly stopped their amazing TNR program earlier this year. They had about 15 cats on their property, and decided one day they had to go. A trapping company was hired to trap the cats, which were to be "relocated" to the local animal control. Employees who have been caring for the cats for years were forbidden to feed them and threatened with losing their jobs. Hearts were breaking, an Alley Cat Allies-led protest was held across the street, and I even snuck in to feed the cats myself. 

Below is a firsthand account from someone who works at the hotels. Most of the cats have been trapped (and rescued and relocated to other areas by Orlando group, CARE Feline TNR), but several cats remain on the property. The author has asked to remain anonymous to protect his job and the cats. Here's his story from behind enemy lines...  -Dorian

People wonder why "cat lovers," as Loews Portofino and Royal Pacific Hotels at Universal Orlando stigmatized us, would want to work at such a horrendous place that seems to actually hate cats. My answer: Because I figure someone should be on the inside to feed and care for the cats and be an informer for the other cat lovers in the world. 

There's even a mural featuring a cat. Ironic, no?

During my staff orientation, we were shown artwork of cats throughout the hotel and told we would see them wandering the property. Loews liked having cats around to maintain the feel of the real Portofino, Italy, where cats roam free. The job itself is no joy, working in public areas and cleaning up after guests and coworkers, but the shift is decent and the wildlife and outdoor work are a bonus. 

Not long after I started, I noticed a cat or two in the guest parking garage. I was told to tell George Ricci, a Loews bellman, because he was the Cat Guy. I had no idea how much so at first. 

Then one day, I found food left on the ground in the garage for the cats. I later discovered the food supply and started leaving food out during my shift.  After a while, the food was replaced with dishes and even little wood mansions that engineers at the hotel built for cats that even matched the Italian-style theme of  the property.

George made signs and placed one next to each mansion, warning guests not to approach the cats and a with a statement about the TNR program. By that time, George had dubbed me Property Manager. Loews was not paying for any of this -– it all came out of employees' pockets – but they knew it was going on and allowed it.

Gracie (RIP) at one of the feeding stations.

Gracie, a Siamese who hung out in the garage, was the queen of the hotel -- she was so friendly with everyone, purring and rubbing against us when we came to feed her. When she tragically died in April, George and I held a sweet little ceremony after our shift and put her to rest. 

I saw eight cats on the property and discovered George had begun a TNR program. I was asked to check in on a new litter of kittens and their mama in the "Happy Room," an electrical room in the hotel we were allowed to use to keep kittens found on the property until they were ready to be adopted and adult cats recovering from being spayed and neutered. George and I stopped in after work every day for two or three hours, caring for these adorable kittens. It made the day so much better, having kittens run around and then collapse in your lap to nap. 

Whose heart wouldn't melt at a sight like this?

Those were the good days, caring for these cats and getting them into forever homes. We had a charity car wash that raised enough to cover all the vet bills to get the kittens fixed and vaccinated. Those were our two rules for adoptions: the cats had to be fixed, and they could never be declawed.

When a new manager came in, we lost the Happy Room, but we kept feeding the cats. The rumor was that our new regional manager hated the cats and wanted the program to stop. 

At the start of January, traps were put out right next to the feeding stations. The new management had decided the cats we'd be caring for for years suddenly had to go. They hired a company to trap the cats and told everyone the cats would be "relocated" to animal control. Everyone knows what usually happens to feral cats there. Employees were also forbidden from feeding the cats. Our hearts were breaking: Management were trying to remove beloved cats who were so well taken care of. The fight was on.

George had quit, so he became the spokesman for the cats and their caretakers since he could speak freely. Many brave volunteers continued feeding and monitoring the cats -- and by next day, many of the traps went missing. 

At the same time, a media frenzy of bad publicity was spreading fast online. Several news stories were published and Loews Hotels staff had to delete hundreds of nasty comments from their Facebook page daily. The pest control company even charged Loews for the missing traps. 

After several weeks, hotel management temporarily removed the traps and promised to look at "humane" ways to remove the cats. They asked the public for suggestions, but then decided none of them were viable. On March 29, the traps returned. Staff were informed that a new company policy stated that anyone caught feeding any cat would be fired immediately. They used the excuse of the cats being a health threat.

We knew it was war -- and so we fought back. We contacted our cat-loving friends throughout the media, and the Save Loews Cats Facebook page was created. More news stories were published and more people voiced outrage. Alley Cat Allies even organized a protest across the street from Loews. And again, two traps disappeared.

One of the kittens getting taken care of in the Happy Room.

Loews has posted security staff near traps and installed motion sensor cameras to prevent us from feeding the cats or tampering with traps. We are worried about the cats being starved and neglected and torn from the only homes they have known. And it makes us sad, because most employees at Portofino don't seem to understand why we are upset, because "they're just cats" -- and they think the cats are just being removed, when they actually have nowhere else to go. (Luckily a group called CARE Feline TNR in Orlando, who helped build the TNR program at Loews, has stepped up to bail out any Loews cats who end up at animal control. Unfortunately, finding them homes is not as easy once they are bailed out.)

Most of all, I am shocked that Loews' higher-ups are letting the situation continue. We were visited by Comcast Universal's and Loews' owners and the new CEO, who I was hoping would at least ask the regional manager what he is thinking. I estimate the company has spent nearly $100,000 on extra security guards and PR staff, pest control, and the rooms and food and drinks given to the pest control company -- never mind the loss of hotel reservations caused by bad press. That's around $5,000 per cat. Yet it goes on. 

Another trap hidden in the foliage.

I know there are many people out there willing to fight the fight for the cats. There may be millions more indifferent and uncaring and looking at dollar signs. But I want Loews' management to know that it takes just one person with a bad experience to tell 10 people. They will tell 10 more, and so on, and next thing you know you have a petition signed by 31,000 people on your desk, dozens of protesters outside your doors, and thousands more not wanting to do business with you anymore.

If you want to help these cats, please follow Save Loews Cats page and CARE Feline TNR on Facebook. Several of the Loews cats are still looking for permanent new homes (Skinny Boy, for example, is a super-friendly cute cat who would be great indoors!) and there are a few who would also make great barn cats.  And, please, when you're looking at places to stay, stay away from Loews.

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