By Josh Malina
On an otherwise sleepy Sunday morning on Miami Beach, sounds of fear and wisps of fur floated across Michigan Avenue. A chorus of cats meowed and pawed, claustrophobic in their metal cages in Flamingo Park. The event last Sunday morning was the kick-off of Cat 3000, a joint effort by two animal welfare groups to neuter a feral cat problem in the city.
Named for the estimated feral cat population in Miami Beach, Cat 3000 is organized by locally based Cat Network and Ft. Lauderdale’s Clydey Foundation to reduce that number by sterilization in a multi-year project.
The costs of such efforts, however, can be daunting.
“It costs $35 to neuter a single cat,” said John Curbelo of the Cat Network, which has neutered some 51,000 cats since its inception in 1995, according to its website. With a cat problem in the thousands, that cost can be prohibitive. It also takes time and effort to bait and trap a cat, and to take it to a veterinarian for surgery.
Sunday’s Spay Day was an attempt to make that effort a little easier, and was successful in trapping and neutering nearly 80 feral cats from around the city. Although that may seem like a small first effort, neutering even that many cats can prevent the births of thousands, given the frequency of when female cats going into “heat” and their sizable litters.
“They’re in the alleys, in the parks, behind the restaurants, on the boardwalk — they are everywhere where there is somewhere to hide and something to eat.” Mayoral Chief of Staff Rebecca Wakefield
“In order to really control the problem, you have to be aggressive, and aggressively fix the animals,” Curbelo said. He laments what he sees as a lackadaisical effort by city government — which has recently pledged an annual $5000 contribution — to take the problem seriously. “I’ve been ringing alarm bells for years,” he said.
But with region-wide budget problems — the city of Miami Beach recently covered a $29 million budget gap with an increased property tax — cat neutering efforts don’t always receive much public attention. That changed last month when the Miami Herald reported on a colony of street cats trapped inside a demolition site on Ocean Drive.
“You could hear them meowing from inside,” Curbelo said.
The cat problem in Miami Beach has a storied history that began in 1912 with the introduction of cats to solve a rat problem, according to the Herald. Today’s problem, however, is the cats themselves, which appear to be everywhere.
“They’re in the alleys, in the parks, behind the restaurants, on the boardwalk — they are everywhere where there is somewhere to hide and something to eat,” Mayoral Chief of Staff Rebecca Wakefield said.
Although a large population of cats doesn’t seem to represent any health risk, it can be a nuisance. “Residents are tired of finding dead kittens in their yards,” Wakefield said. They have also been known to meow during heat and spray urine to mark their territory, she said.
The city responds to code enforcement violations — dog barking, dogs in places where they don’t belong — but neither the city nor Miami-Dade County have the resources to take in the staggering population of cats that call South Florida home.
“Come to an alley around dinner-time, and you’ll see,” cat activist Curbelo said. “It’s depressing.”