Miami Beach Hookworm Scare Leads City To Create World's Fanciest Cat Poop Map

There's a four-foot-tall map hanging inside Miami Beach City Hall, a high-resolution satellite image of an oceanfront slice of town. The grainy brown dunes are speckled with red and green dots that mark points carefully calibrated by a Global Positioning System.

It could be the cartographic reckoning of a crime spree. Or maybe a planned resort.

It's not, though: This is perhaps the world's fanciest GPS rendering of piles of cat shit.

The map is the brainchild of Miami Beach administrators who were spooked enough by TV reports of a hookworm outbreak to take unprecedented measures to track the Beach's feral cats.

Laugh all you want, they say, their efforts are working.

"We needed to identify where the cats are eating -- and where they're pooping -- to address this problem," says Lynn Bernstein, a community outreach coordinator who helped plan the project.

The uproar started in late October when a 7-year-old girl contracted hookworm -- a nasty intestinal parasite that lives in animal feces -- after stepping in cat shit on the beach near 60th Street.

Headlines soon spread around the Interwebs and a half-dozen more cases were identified by the end of November. City leaders worried tourists might start considering South Beach a giant litter box.

So they armed sanitation workers with GPS devices and told them to find the cats. Their data showed, unsurprisingly, that cats like to take dumps in the dunes. The data was uploaded into the mapping system the city usually uses to track utility outages and construction work.

Combined with an outreach effort that's upped the number of stray cats who've been spayed and neutered -- plus a new batch of signs around the beach warning sunbathers to watch out for dung -- health officials say the outbreak has been staunched. Two new cases were verified in December, but those patients were likely infected earlier.

"The city used some innovative technology, and we've worked together on public education to address this issue," says Dr. Samir Elmir of the county health department.

What to do with that stunning cat shit map? Souvenir, anyone?

Here's a PDF of part of the map, for your viewing pleasure:
Cat Poop Map

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink