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Guantanamo base kills plan to save feral cats

Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- Guantanamo's commander has concluded he does not have the authority to allow teams of volunteer cat lovers to scoop up feral cats across the base to neuter and vaccinate them and spare them from extermination.

A nonprofit organization called Operation Git-Meow presented the proposal last month to the U.S. Navy base commander, Capt. Dave Culpepper -- along with an appeal for his help in establishing an adopt-a-cat program to help temporary troops and contract workers take home cats they befriend on base.

But base spokeswoman Julie Ann Ripley said this week that while Culpepper "is happy to entertain volunteers to help manage the feral cat population, including adopt-a-cat programs," he is bound by Department of Defense regulations that forbid the practice to control feral cats called trap, neuter and release.

In 2016, the base euthanized at least 186, according to a Navy response to Freedom of Information Act filing by the Miami Herald. "From what I understand, they are too sick or injured, or are dangerous," Ripley said of those cats given a "euthanasia solution" at the Veterinary Treatment Facility.

But, Ripley said, any cat that Git-Meow members bring to the base's vet clinic "for adoption are spayed and chipped" -- not killed.

Guantanamo, she said, is "committed to maintaining an animal control program as guided by Navy and Department of Defense regulations and ensuring all species are legally and humanely managed."

The proposed program for the 45-square-mile base best known for its prison for war-on-terror detainees put a spotlight on the residential nature of life behind a minefield in southeastern Cuba. Some 5,500 or so people live and work at the outpost, which has an airport, seaport, suburban-style neighborhoods, school for sailors' children and, according to activists, at least 500 feral cats.

Cats probably arrived on the first sailing ship from the Old World, according to Erika Kelly, who spotted the problem on a visit to the base and has now set up Operation Git-Meow as a corporation seeking IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. Others might have made it through the Cuban minefield.

Undaunted by rejection from the skipper, her group is now preparing an appeal directly to the Department of the Navy to waive the regulation and permit what Kelly calls "a no-cost solution" -- permission for an all-volunteer force of civilian veterinarians, vet techs and cat lovers to sterilize, vaccinate and implant chips in feral cats. It's an unorthodox alliance of some troops, base residents and U.S.-based cat lovers who have carried out similar programs elsewhere -- for example, SPCA International's Global Animal Rescue program.

"We are extremely disappointed by the initial negative response," SPCA International's Meredith Ayan said by email Wednesday. "Operation Git-Meow will be submitting a formal request to the Department of the Navy for a three-year exception to policy. Based upon the unique situation at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an aggressive trap, neuter, vaccinate, and release program funded by our organization would be a far more effective approach than simply trapping and killing the cats."

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