Saving Merida’s Cats Two Balls At a Time
I’m a street dog. I’m a bit naughty when it comes to cats. I love to chase them. So, when we moved into our neighbourhood and I saw that there were cats everywhere, I planned to catch them all. I would hear them at night, running around on the roof, fighting, screeching, and sometimes looking sad, hungry, and hurt. I watched them carefully and laid careful plans to make them mine.
Then one day two humans arrived at my house and started catching all the cats. I studied their methods and realised that they were much better at catching cats than I would ever be. They brought all the cats back and my humans bought me a ball to chase instead. But who were these humans? Why did they catch the cats? I needed to learn more about their magical cat catching skills.
It turns out that these humans are animal doctors, or as you like to call them, veterinarians. They provide a special and hugely important service, trapping, sterilising, and returning cats all over Merida. Since veterinarians saved my life, I love them all, but I was absolutely fascinated by these two and their fancy cat traps. So, I thought I would interview them to find out more about what they do and why it is so important.
Dr Lourdes (she lets me call her Lulu because she loves me, but you can call her Doctor) Garcia and her husband Dr Rene Florés run a veterinary clinic in Merida called Dog Prime. Personally, I think they called it that to trick kitties into thinking their cojones would be safe there. Even though they own the clinic, they do have a manager, who is particularly handsome for a cat, called Sin Oreja. We’ll find out more about him a little later. First, I wanted to learn about how Lulu and Rene became such amazing cat spay and neuter superheroes.
Both Dr Lulu and Dr Rene grew up loving animals. Dr Rene’s career started with farm animals. He was passionate about improving their welfare, but the more time he spent on farms, the more he became aware of the overpopulation of cats and dogs and some of the inhumane methods used to control them. Eventually he decided to move into working with small animals.
Dr Lulu was passionate about cat welfare and sterilisation. She had started with a cat with kittens that lived in her parent’s garden while she was in her third year at veterinary school. She was mentored by veterinarian, Dr Rossely González, in modern spay techniques which required very small abdominal incisions. For three years after graduating, Lulu worked as an employee of other established veterinary practices, and this made it difficult for her to pursue her passion for animal welfare work.
Rene partnered up with Lulu (and married her), and together they provided a low-cost cat sterilisation service in their own community. They didn’t have a fully equipped operating room but worked hard to ensure that they had sterile surroundings and provided excellent care to the cats they were helping. They only had one trap and they sterilised kitties for $150 pesos. Eventually, they were able to open a clinic and start growing their own veterinary practice as well as expanding their sterilisation services.
Because cat sterilisation is a labour of love for them, they do it after their normal hours running their clinic. As their practice grew in popularity, so did demand for their services. With financial assistance from an animal welfare NGO in Boston called Helping Animals Living Overseas (HALO), who provided 2 additional cat traps, they were able to increase the number of cats they could trap and sterilise.
You might wonder how just two humans, with little resources, but a huge passion for animal welfare could make an impact on the cat population in Merida. Well, listen to this. Since 2017, when they launched their veterinary practice, Dog Prime, they have spayed and neutered over 5000 cats in and around Merida. That’s a lot of cat balls! Seriously though, let’s do the maths.
You may not know this, but just one female cat can have three litters a year. If four kittens from each litter survive and have their own kittens within ten years, they can be responsible for producing 420,000 cats. What!!!!!??? If we multiply that by the 5000 that Lulu and Rene have sterilised, I wonder how many cats they have saved. I asked my human to get out her trusty calculator and she gave me the answer. I didn’t believe her and asked her to do it again. It was the same answer. Wait for it. You’re not going to believe it. That’s over 2 billion cats that just these two spay and neuter superheroes have probably saved in the last four years. You did not mis hear me. I said 2 billion. Even I couldn’t chase that many cats.
Lulu and Rene now have eight traps and they can catch up to twenty cats at a time. So, in the next five years, they will probably save Merida and cats from millions more homeless kittens. But humans like cats, don’t they? I thought I’d ask Lulu why cats are seen as a problem.
“The problem with stray cats is a very serious issue. One of the main annoyances for people is the nighttime fighting between unsterilised male cats, both stray and domestic. Noises and meowing at night are annoying for people, who after working all day, just want to rest quietly when they come home. We also have complaints due to the cats breaking through the garbage bags looking for food.”
She continued to explain.
“Overpopulation only creates a greater conflict with cats, who are also hunters by nature and can become a problem for local fauna. This can happen in gardens and outdoor patios in where there are poultry, ornamental birds, rodents, and fish as pets. This increases people’s discontent towards felines. For that reason, as cats are not understood. The cruelty of killing them is observed everywhere. They are poisoned, kicked, hit with sticks, or metal pellets from guns. We even see the most inhumane ways, such as putting newborn kittens in a plastic bag and throwing them in the middle of the road to die of suffocation.”
I could hardly believe that humans would be so horrible. But I knew I had to focus on the interview. I wondered if there were other reasons that maybe humans didn’t know about, that would help them understand why it is so important to sterilise feral cats.
“One of the most important reasons is public health. Male cats that have not been sterilised, when going out in search of females, can travel very long distances, so they tend to defecate in places such as open parks, which have sandy areas in the play area for kids. These cats, having no parasite control, and, by performing their natural needs (I think she means poop), can transmit diseases to humans.”
I may be a dog, but I do feel terrible for the cats I see living loose on the street. Even though people get angry at the cats for these problems, it’s the humans who put them there in the first place. The problem does seem overwhelming.
Dr. Lulu made it clear to me that there were no simple solutions. You can’t put all of the cats in a shelter and rehome them. There just isn’t enough room in shelters and a lot of the kitties are feral, meaning that it would be difficult for them to feel safe and comfortable in a human home. There must be things that humans can do. I tilted my head and looked questioningly at Dr Lulu. I wanted more answers.
“If we say that the children of today are the future of tomorrow, as long as they have a correct education, then talks and or programs should be given in schools so that children know and understand the importance of animal control, care and welfare. It is they who re-educate their own parents. These children, in the future, will be parents, brothers, uncles, cousins and friends who, growing up with a better education, could help break the cycle.”
Dr Lulu also explained that there are a lot of humans who try to be kind to cats by feeding them. But if they keep doing this and don’t arrange for the cats to be sterilised, they are just making the situation worse. Dr Lulu told me that there are some humans who believe that it hurts the kitties to be spayed and neutered. They don’t realise that having litter after litter from a young age, fighting, getting hit by cars, attacked by other animals, and, even worse, poisoned, are the things that really hurt cats and that most of those things can be prevented through trapping, sterilising and returning cats.
The other issue is that some pet owners simply refuse to have their cats sterilised. Dr Lulu has some feelings about that too. “They also refuse to keep them indoors because they believe they must be free and have the right to walk around the neighbourhood whenever they want. This is another of the main causes why it is almost impossible to control feline overpopulation. Ideally, the government should propose a law that penalises these irresponsible owners, to protect public health.”
If you are wondering why the cats need to be returned after they are sterilised, well that is part of the solution. When you return sterilised cats to their community, it prevents new cats from moving in to the territory. That way, you have a stable population of cats that declines naturally. If you just took all of the cats away, new cats would move in very quickly to replace them.
I’m a handsome dog and I do an important job, but I wanted to find out more about the equally handsome cat, Sin Oreja, who has important duties at the clinic. Sin Oreja was a feral cat who turned up with a damaged ear, hence his name, which for you non bilingual humans means ‘Without Ear’. When he was trapped and sterilised, they realised he was an old cat, with few teeth. He started returning for food and over time started to trust them. Talk about a rags to riches story. Now he’s the manager at one of the coolest veterinary clinics in town. As well as greeting clients and even allowing them to pet him, he is the mascot for the clinic. He also has one other responsibility.
“After each capture, he is the first to greet the cats in traps. On some occasions, the more aggressive cats calm down when they see the calm attitude of Sin Oreja and even interact in a calm way. “
Being a vet, who can follow their passion to save the lives of animals that not many people care for seems like such a wonderful occupation for humans who love animals so much. Unfortunately, it isn’t always as positive as it should be. Many people do not understand that Dog Prime is a small, private veterinary practice. They provide this service, not to make a profit, but because they are passionate about helping the cats of Merida. I was so sad to hear that the work they do is not always appreciated. Dr Lulu told me how heart breaking the work can often be.
“The prices we have are already low and only covers the basics of the surgery so we cannot discount it any further. I have been frustrated and I have cried due to the ignorance and stubbornness of the people. They have insulted, humiliated, and even threatened to beat us, they have also called the police to prevent us from doing our work. We put our physical and emotional integrity into what we do. This situation sometimes makes us want to abandon the project, however, the feeling of doing something good for society weighs more.”
Humans. If you are reading this, I ask you to do one thing. Please appreciate the people who are helping animals in Yucatan. Let them know how amazing they are. Veterinarians like Dr Lulu and Dr Rene don’t ask for much, but a little bit of appreciation goes a long way.
So many humans really do want to help make Yucatan a pet friendly place and they understand that until every cat and dog has a loving home, this is not possible. I asked Dr Lulu and Dr Rene what humans can do to help and I am happy to present you with the three most important things that you can do:
- Get your own animals sterilised.
- Raise awareness among family, friends, and your community about the importance of sterilisation.
- Start your own sterilisation initiative in your community rather than waiting for someone else to help.
If you want to get help from Dog Prime with a feral cat problem in your neighbourhood, make an appointment. There may be a waiting list if you need them to come out and catch the cats because they do this in their spare time. They have a full-time veterinary clinic to run. If you can catch the cats yourself, arrange in advance with Dog Prime to make sure that they have the time and space for the cats.
If there is a large feral population on a property near you, where there are 20 or more cats, you may have to involve the assistance of a larger animal welfare group to help. You can find the names of low-cost sterilisation clinics here. It’s up to all of you humans to work together to solve the problem of pet overpopulation in Yucatan. If you can all take responsibility to work in our own neighbourhoods, you can achieve great things.
Dog Prime only help with trapping, sterilisation, and the return of feral cats. They do not relocate or rehome cats. They do not offer this service for other animals. If you would like to make an appointment to have them help you trap, sterilise, and return feral cats in your area, you can contact them through their Facebook page or through WhatsApp +52 999 142 2110.