For the Love of (Stray) Cats
Stray cats scrounging for food around hotels have become a serious problem in resort destinations like Cancun, Mexico. The cats can carry rabies or other diseases, and the hotel’s guests often encourage stray cats (and dogs) to hang around by handing out food. The problem is severe enough that some major cities have taken to performing a massive cull of stray animals before the tourist season begins, which involves euthanizing thousands of animals. Darci Galati, Founder and CEO of Cats and Dogs International (CANDi), works tirelessly on behalf of these animals, and her organization administers a unique (and humane) solution to the problem.
Galati worked in the travel industry for many years, and was inspired to act after a visit to Cancun with her family in 2005. She noticed the enormous stray population around the resort areas in Mexico, and promised her daughters she would do something to help the animals. She shared with us the story of how she decided to get involved.
Every night after dinner we would walk back to our room. The path from the main dining room to our room was outside and it was long. Along that path sat waiting cats and kittens waiting to be fed, so the girls and I made a point of taking leftovers from our plate and feeding them before we went to bed. It was the highlight of our night.
I tried to approach management to find out how they handled the cat overpopulation. What happened to the kittens? How were the cats cared for? The staff were very clear. They were instructed by management to treat the cats like vermin. Periodically they would bring in an exterminator and poison the cats and other “rodents”. The management and staff told their guests “not to feed the cats”.
This inhumane treatment of animals did not sit well with Galati, and she vowed to do something to change the situation. She founded CANDi in 2006, and has been working on behalf of the animals ever since. CANDi’s mission is to save the lives of stray animals at international tourist destinations through advocacy, education, and humane, sustainable population management.
One aspect of CANDi’s work involves Cat Cafés —structures that house a colony of feral cats who are then spayed or neutered, treated with the rabies vaccine, and given parasite medication. Once this healthy and non-reproductive population of cats are established on the property, their presence deters other cats from hanging around the resort and begging for food. The property owners then take on the task of regularly feeding the cats with nutritious food and providing purified water so that the cats stay away from the kitchens and food service areas of the facility. Cat Cafés are endorsed by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and are being implemented by organizations all over the world.
This smart solution makes sense on all sides, but Galati has come up against resistance from some of the hotels she has approached because of their strict security systems and hesitancy to work with outside organizations.
It is impossible for a rescue group or a concerned individual to go into the resort, unless they are staying there. If we could get all resorts to work with CANDi and officially support the Cat Café, then humane partners (rescue groups supported by CANDi local) could get immediate access to the resort, and save an injured or suffering cat. It is the humane solution.
Many hotels are choosing to take part in the Cat Café program, and RIU Hotels & Resorts is one such company. Sarah Martinache of RIU believes that this kind of program will have an overwhelmingly positive impact on the animal population, and on RIU’s guests.
We decided to collaborate with Candi because of its experience and prestige. Candi is the ideal partner because of their very good knowledge of the tourism industry and its links to the main actors, who are also our partners. When we learned about their work, we wanted to help. This is why we sponsored their last clinic in Cancun. We also have the Cat Cafe at the Riu Lupita Hotel, which helps us take care of them, as well as control the population of stray cats. It is good for the cats, but also good for the hotel and the image clients have of us.
Darci’s story is one that any animal lover can relate to. Seeing animals being mistreated is extremely upsetting, but it takes a special person to step in and do something about it. What started off with free spay/neuter programs in Cancun (over 10,000 animals sterilized so far) has evolved into a multi-faceted animal protection effort, including the Cat Café program, and an in-demand Air Transport Program. Darci chose to take action and make a difference, and CANDi’s ongoing work is proof positive that a love of cats can leave an indelible mark on a person’s life. “This experience with my family inspired me to find out more, and when I found out the facts I knew there was a way to help.”