Helping homeless cats
A quick drive through any area in Miami and you are sure to see the homeless - homeless cats that is. Sadly, Miami-Dade county has a rather large stray cat population, even in the ritzier suburbs. At a count over 300,000, the stray population continues to grow with little relief.
Stray, or feral cats are generally classified as pests due to their habits of occupying public areas in large numbers, fighting and spraying - a smell that no one is fond of.
For these reasons, these homeless animals are considered nuisances. Why is the population so high? One reason could be because of all the lush vegetation that provides such a cool playground. Unfortunately, the truth is that’s probably because of irresponsibility and/or remorse on the part of former owners. Many people become apathetic to the homeless cat plight and either turn a blind eye or worse and turn to harming the cats.
On any given day you can find my neighbor, Perla Martinez, being followed by a cat, or rather cats. She feeds them. She talks to them. She even spends money from her own pocket to spay and neuter them. What makes her actions special, is that none of these frisky felines belong to her. Perla is a petite, hispanic woman in her late 60’s who, along with her husband Juan, have managed to bring hope, not to mention love, to numerous homeless cats in Miami.
It began with a small feral colony abandoned by the staff of a former hospital. Mrs Martinez began feeding the six strays with the hope that she could eventually find them the homes they deserved. Many applauded her efforts. Some even helped by adopting. Yet, the colony continued to grow and suddenly there were close to twenty cats. “What am I supposed to do?” she would ask, “let them die? It’s not their fault and they deserve love, food and shelter just as much as a person does-maybe even more as they can’t really help themselves.”
So off went Perla and Juan on their mission. At first, they only spayed the females. It was rather costly but thankfully, they met a local veterinarian who forwarded them to the Cat Network. What a Godsend that was!
A social network for cat lovers
The Cat Network is a non-profit organization founded in 1995 by local animal lovers in an attempt to help over 300,000 free roaming cats in South Florida. It consists of members who volunteer their time, energy and finances while addressing the many issues associated with cat overpopulation. Whether it is through adoption services, low-cost spay/neuter vouchers, low-cost health care or humane trapping, the Cat Network is making strides. Through a growing network of cat lovers, veterinarians, local pet stores and even local news outlets, the abandoned and homeless cat population is receiving much needed attention.
For a low (very low actually) annual fee of $20, one can become a member. As a member, you receive access to the Cat Network’s low-cost spay/neuter and health services offered through local veterinarians. In 2004, the Cat Network was able to purchase a custom mobile adoption and sterilization vehicle called the Miami Meow Mobile so clinic services could be provided to local neighborhoods. There are also services to educate the public regarding humane public policy and the advocation of non-lethal population control. Make no mistake though, members don’t just find cats and drop them off at a shelter. These members actually provide loving foster homes for these cats and kittens until they are adopted; and, it’s not as easy as saying “sure, I’ll take a cat.”
Since the Cat Network aims at reducing the overpopulation, the cats taken in by members are required to be in general good health, free of fleas, worms, mange and earmites. They are to be tested for feline Leukemia and the feline Immunodeficiency virus - yes, Feline AIDS. The cats must also be current with their vaccinations and, if older than four months, be sterilized. Only after those guidelines are met can the cats enter the adoption process. The process can include listing on the Cat Network’s website, http://www.thecatnetwork.org/, classified postings in the Miami Herald, Sun Sentinal and New Times and even cat shows when available. Please note there is a $55 adoption fee and a $100 adoption fee for purebreds (with or without papers).
Local shops also assist the cause by displaying pictures of adoptable cats as well as housing them in their stores. Cat Network permanent adoption centers are at these pet stores.
All in all, the Cat Network is succeeding with their efforts at providing second chances for these homeless cats. TCN’s grassroots efforts have resulted in the spaying/neutering of over 25,000 of SOFLA’s strays along with the successful adoption of over 4,300 strays since their inception.
To learn more about helping homless cats, listen to Cindy Hewitt, Executive Director of The Cat Network discuss everything from the dangers of declawing to setting up a pet trust in your will (Audio Links: Part 1, Part 2).
These humane actions were all made possible by concerned neighbors wishing to make a difference and willing to become members. With members like Perla and Juan, how can the Cat Network fail? After all, neighbors who find strays always bring them to Perla and Juan stating “I know you will find him/her a good home.”
Other low cost spay and neuter facilities for pet cats and strays in Miami-Dade County
Miami-Dade Police Department Animal Services Unit:
NOTE: If you are a recipient of Medicaid you qualify for FREE Spay/neuter, and a Rabies vaccine for price of $1.00. YOU MUST BRING Medicaid card and current photo ID. (Medicare and Medicaid are based on age alone, but fee reduction will also be based on income level or financial need.)
Those on Public Assistance (SSI, Disability and Food Stamps Recipients), based on income levels, are eligible to purchase tags and shots for one dollar. The Spay and Neuter surgery is always free.
Dade County Veterinary Foundation also provides up to 2 free Spay/Neuter per household for Medicaid recipients. YOU MUST BRING Medicaid card and current photo ID. Participating Clinics include:
Dream Lake Animal Clinic
Trail Animal Clinic
Westwood Animal Clinic
More place to spay/neuter your pet
Animal Welfare Society
Michael Animal Hospital
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"Helping homeless cats"