Animal Lover Takes in 40 Stray Miami Beach Cats as Hurricane Irma Approaches

Two of the cats Mary Garcia is sheltering from Irma.
Photo by Mary Garcia
Two of the cats Mary Garcia is sheltering from Irma.
With the monstrous Hurricane Irma just days away, much of Miami Beach heeded mandatory evacuation orders from officials and headed out. But some of the Beach's smallest residents — the hundreds of feral cats who call the island home — have no way out.

So this week, animal lover Mary Garcia began scooping them up one by one and taking them home. She stocked up on cat food and kennels, and cleared out two rooms in her house in inland Miami-Dade County. By Thursday, she had taken in 40 cats. She jokes that her home has become an "animal hostel."

"I can't save them all," says Garcia, who works as a police officer. "But something is better than nothing."

Miami Beach has long been home to several cat colonies, which date back to the city's early days. First mayor J.N. Lummus imported felines in 1912, hoping they would take care of the swampy island's thousands of rats. His idea worked — the rats were soon gone. But the cats kept multiplying. Today they roam the city's alleyways and hide out in vegetation along its beaches. 
click to enlarge Kennels in Mary Garcia's home. - PHOTO BY MARY GARCIA
Kennels in Mary Garcia's home.
Photo by Mary Garcia
Garcia has helped care for the city's feline population for years, feeding them, pitching in on trap-neuter-return efforts, and launching an animal advocacy group. She's also taken in several that have been injured.

When she saw how serious Irma was becoming, she immediately thought of the cats, worrying they'd be in harm's way. 

"Where are they going to go?" Garcia asks.

She soon decided she'd house as many as she could, grateful to have a husband who's also a lifelong animal lover. She got started on Tuesday, picking up the cats that would come to her and setting humane traps for those that wouldn't. She's collected kennels from other animal advocates and rescue organizations and stacked them in her spare rooms. 

Picking which ones to bring was tough; Garcia says she started with the ones she's been feeding. While leaving Miami Beach on Wednesday evening — her last time before the storm — she cried about the ones she had to leave behind. She hopes they'll be there when she comes back.

As for the cats she's taken in, she says she'll be looking for homes for them once the hurricane passes and things settle down.

"They don't know how lucky they are, these cats," she says.