The scene behind Casablanca Hotel on Collins Avenue at 63rd Street seems normal enough at first. South American tourists meander from the patio to the beach, smoking cigarettes. An octogenarian wheezes while asking for help retrieving a nose plug from the bottom of the pool. But something is amiss. Suddenly, a terrified black-and-white cat darts from the dunes, as if fleeing from shadowy agents trying to whisk it away to a black site for waterboarding.
Turns out, that's a pretty accurate description of what's been going on. Animal rights activists contend that Casablanca has trapped at least a dozen cats over the past six weeks in metal cages left outside overnight. "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 of Casablanca a few weeks ago. "It may be perfectly legal to do it, but it's totally distasteful."
When contacted, Casablanca receptionists pleaded ignorance. The building's property management company, however, admits 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... Miami-Dade Humane Society gave us a certificate for every single cat."
Actually, no. They didn't.
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"We didn't get any of those cats," counters Humane Society spokeswoman Laurie Hoffman. "We don't even take feral cats." Instead, records show Casablanca employee Johnny Matos took 12 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 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."
Although the hotel has stopped trapping cats since the protests started, Curbelo says there are bigger issues at stake. Not only does he think other hotels are involved, he believes 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 toward its recent sterilization campaign, he argues. "We're hoping it will become a campaign issue."