San Juan’s cat problem

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, April 13th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.  The sliver of land that makes up Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, is three square miles. In that small area live hundreds of feral cats. A decade ago, the island government planned to euthanize them. 

Officials were worried about the spread of disease and that so many cats would lead to a lot fewer local birds and reptiles.

EICHER: But cat-lovers were horrified.

They formed a charity called Save a Gato — Gato, of course, the Spanish word for cat.

WORLD Radio’s Susan Olasky tells us what happened next.

SUSAN OLASKY, REPORTER: Old San Juan is the oldest part of Puerto Rico’s capital city. Narrow streets paved with cobblestones criss cross it. Cats prowl the sidewalks near the Cathedral, where bowls of kibble and water await. More cats lurk under parked cars. They slink against sherbet colored buildings and dart across streets.

AUDIO: Nat sound

But most of the cats live near the Paseo del Morro. That’s a pedestrian walk at the base of the massive stone walls of the fortress built in the 1500s to guard the historic city.

AUDIO: Nat sound

Cats clamber on the huge black boulders piled between the path and the sea.

AUDIO: Cat sound

They hide in the lush vegetation. And gather around the feeding stations. Sometimes the path reeks of them.

AUDIO: Cat hiss

Which raises a question: Why feed feral cats? Won’t that just attract more of them?

A little further along the path, I meet Juan Prosalo and his girlfriend Jo-an Santos, both volunteers with the charity Save a Gato. They have a golf cart loaded with food and water.

AUDIO: We want to have them well-fed. We don’t want them spread, more cats. we just want to take control of them and spay, neuter.

That’s the key. Save a Gato is about TNR. That stands for Trap, Neuter, and Release.

AUDIO: We give them food, water, and we report any cat that is injured. Other people who are in charge of the house, fixing the cats.

Juan started volunteering about a year ago. Volunteers come out every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Eventually they expect their efforts to cause the cat colonies to dwindle… but it’s hard to control wild cats.

AUDIO: The next station there, a huge cat that we’ve been trying to get for a long time. People try to get the cats that have not been fixed. They evade and get into these rocks right here. And there’s no way you can get them. They are very fast.

And there’s another problem…Some local residents take advantage of the program. They dump their unwanted kitties here, near the fort, knowing they’ll find food and water.

AUDIO: Some people have kittens and in order to get rid of them they bring them over here. They just drop them off. It’s a mess.

A mess because those cats aren’t neutered—and they start the cycle all over again. The cats have no natural predators—although the sun takes a toll.

The island seems to have made its peace with the cats. Tourists like them. And caring for them motivates volunteers.

AUDIO: People involved in this organization for ten years already, they know every single cat around here.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Susan Olasky, reporting from Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Follow Susan Olasky (@susanolasky) on Twitter.

(Photo/Susan Olasky)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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