Since when did Miami become the Guantánamo Bay Prison of the animal kingdom? First there were puppy mills in Liberty City, then outrage over questionable conditions at Miami-Dade Animal Services. Now even the formerly pet-friendly streets of Miami Beach are looking menacing for anything on four legs.
According to animal rights activists and county officials, the Casablanca Hotel on Collins Avenue at 63rd Street has trapped at least a dozen cats over the past six weeks in metal cages left out overnight. At least eight of the cats were put down.
"This hotel is trapping them on the property and taking them to Animal Services to be euthanized," says John Curbelo, a local who led a small protest outside the Casablanca in a week ago. "It may be perfectly legal to do it but it's totally distasteful."
When Riptide visited recently, the scene behind the Casablanca seemed normal enough, at least at first. South American tourists meandered from the patio to the beach, smoking cigarettes. An octogenarian wheezed for help retrieving his nose plug from the bottom of the pool.
But something was amiss. Suddenly a terrified black and white cat darted out from the dunes, as if fleeing from shadowy agents trying to whisk it away to a black site for water boarding.
Turns out, that's a pretty accurate description of what's been going on. When contacted, Casablanca receptionists pleaded ignorance. The building's property management company, however, admits that it purchased the traps but claims it doesn't have kitty blood on its hands.
"We got a couple of letters from the Miami Beach Department of Health putting pressure on us to remove all cats from the area because of hookworm in the feces," says L&C Royal Management's Jonaylie Lopez. "We didn't want to hurt animals. We thought that where we were taking them was fine," she explains. "The Miami Dade Humane Society gave us a certificate for every single cat."
Actually, no. They didn't.
"We didn't get any of those cats," counters Human Society spokeswoman Laurie Hoffman. "We don't even take feral cats." Instead, records show that Casablanca employee Johnny Matos took the twelve felines to Animal Services, where eight of them were euthanized.
Meanwhile, the Miami Beach mayor's office says it didn't push the hotel to trap the fur balls. "We've never done that," says chief of staff (and former New Times writer) Rebecca Wakefield. "After the hookworm outbreak, we asked hotels to clean behind their areas where people feed the cats... but we never asked them to trap them."
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Although the hotel has stopped trapping the cats since the protests started, Curbelo says that there is a bigger issue at stake. Not only does he think other hotels are involved, but euthanasia doesn't even make sense.
"People think you can just kill the cats and hookworm will go away," Curbelo says. "But more cats will just take their place." Instead, the city needs to put more money towards its recent sterilization campaign, he argues. "We're hoping it will become a campaign issue."