Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Catnip Nation's October Report: What Happens to Cats After a Natural Disaster?

In August I brought you the third installment of a series of posts by Tina Traster, Producer and Director of the documentary film Catnip Nation. This month Tina gets us thinking about what happens to cats after a natural disaster. Do cats get left behind? Do dogs and livestock get more attention? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

Dawn



Catnip Nation Documentary


Where Are The Community Cats After A Natural Disaster?
We’ll never forget the images of Texans rescuing their cows from flooded fields in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last month. Today, as I scroll on my Facebook page, my heart stops when I see the picture of a man carrying a dog on his shoulder, trying to escape the ravages of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The man was also trying to save his horse.

Animal lovers worry terribly about the fate of animals during and after natural disasters. We’ve seen so much tragedy during the last month. What occurred to me recently, as I’ve been absorbing the post-disaster images, is that news cameras hardly, if ever, show us footage or photographs of rescued or abandoned cats.

I’ve been wondering why.

Is it that animal rescue groups focus on dogs and other livestock? Is it that when people evacuate they only take their dogs? Perhaps it’s because people fleeing danger might have a cat in a carrier and that’s not as photogenic.

Or is it that cats are seen as animals who can care for themselves? Perhaps first responders view cats as independent enough to ride out a storm, to get to higher ground, and even to fend for themselves in the aftermath? Certainly this would be true for community cats.

So it was interesting to note, on the days leading up to Hurricane Irma in Florida, the Internet chatter about the famous six-toed Hemmingway cats who reside in the writer’s house in Key West.

Residents of the Keys were told to evacuate, as that part of Florida was expected to be hit hard. Fretting folks on Facebook weighed in: What’s going to happen to the Hemmingway cats? They’re iconic. I recall one post said that the cats would likely be alright because the house had thick walls.

Turns out they were right. Even the New York Times the next day reported: “Hemmingway’s Six-Toed Cats Ride Out Hurricane Irma in Key West." I was relieved to read that the 54 cats, many of them descended from a white polydactyl cat owned by Ernst Hemmingway, were herded (a feat in and of itself, no doubt) into the thick-walled Spanish Colonial-style house/museum to ride out the storm. Ten employees were with the cats during the hurricane. The NYTimes reported this as if it was surprising – but nobody reading this blog was the slightest bit surprised that these cat caretakers hunkered down with their feline charges because we know what it feels like to be “owned” by our cats.

The Hemmingway story got me thinking about all community cats, and what they must endure during and after a catastrophic storm. Obviously, the Hemmingway cats have far more protection than an anonymous colony somewhere in Boise or Poughkeepsie. That’s exactly why we need to work harder on two fronts. We need to TNR every colony across the land and winnow down these populations. And we need legislation to make community cats everyone’s business so when a storm comes, we can do more to protect them before and after.

Catnip Nation was recently on location with Brian Hackett, president of the New Jersey Humane Society of the United States. He had just returned from flooded Texas on an animal-rescue mission. Many sheltered cats were airlifted to make room in the shelters for more animals that were being found in the streets. When I asked how many of those animals were cats? he said, “some.”



Thank you, Tina, for another thought and conversation provoking topic. If you'd like to support the documentary film Catnip Nation, click here. You can also spread the word about the wonderful work they are doing to make a difference in the lives of feral cats. And don't forget to follow them on social media! 


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Please weigh in. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this.



Tina Traster is a socially-conscious, award-winning journalist, author, and filmmaker. Her 30-minute documentary, This House Matters, is an examination on historic preservation in the Hudson Valley. The film has screened at the YoFi Film Festival, the Kingston Film Festival, the Hoboken International Film Festival, and the Nyack Film Festival. Traster's work has appeared in scores of newspapers, magazines and literary journals including The New York Times, The New York Post, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, Redbook, Family Circle, Parade, Time Out New York, Audubon, Ski Magazine and many others. She is the author of the award-winning memoir Rescuing Julia Twice: A Mother's Tale of Russian Adoption and Overcoming Reactive Attachment Disorder. Since 2006, Traster has written the "Burb         Appeal"column for The New York Post. 

24 comments:

  1. My human ALWAYS worries about the cats during disasters. She also worries about gathering us up to evacuate, if the need ever arises. Fortunately, nobody here is the nervous type. At least not us cats, which means we probably won't hide if that ever happens.

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  2. We hope our feline brothers and sisters down in the Houston area were ok during Harvey.

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  3. If there were an emergency, I would NOT be able to trap Patty O'Malley and Sweetie very fast! A day at least, which is not usually what happens in an emergency. AND, my family and friends know all about them, but it's time I start making an emergency plan for them. Thank you for this post!

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    1. I know the feeling! I'd be the same with ours.

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  4. Yes. I bet we don't see cats because people assume they can care for themselves. I get so mad hearing otherwise smart people repeat, "They can fend for themselves in the wild." Oh, REALLY?!?! This is the excuse of humans who want to do nothing. I saw this video after Irma - it purported to be new - but it's actually from a while ago.
    http://www.lovemeow.com/fishermen-rescue-abandoned-kittens-that-swam-to-their-boat-1608481713.html

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  5. it is sad that we don't see more of it. we think feral colonies are overlooked since they are "media" friendly. no doubt their caregivers are frantic though. we suspect cats don't get as much attention as people presume they can survive on their own and added to that they may be hard to catch in an emergency.

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  6. L & L....we two wundered bout all de catz; N frank lee all de wildlife in general...we noe they R extreem lee "street wise"... N noe well a head oh time when sum thingz a mizz....yet still....one getz ta thinkin bout rabbitz, deer, etc etc....even de crazed... burd ~~~ ☺☺♥♥

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  7. We always worry about the outside animals when there is a natural disaster. We saw some of the sad results after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

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  8. I didn't realize the Hemingway cats had been herded into safety. I thought they had to find places outside, I am glad to hear this.

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  9. I recall reading with relief that the Hemingway cats were alright. The others, it is always on my mind. Always. Just as in terrible weather in general. I have to stop myself from worrying if I can during these emergencies and thinking of those outside in snow and ice.

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  10. This is a great read and something that is of particular interest to me. I've heard rescuers that were in Texas say that yes, dogs tend to be the first to be rescued because they are more visible, vocal and come out for help. Cats (at least strays and owned pets) usually come out a couple days later when they finally get hungry. But cat colonies...I feel so bad for them! This is great to shed light on their situation.

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  11. Such a shame these animals are not seen on an equal playing field. They both need help and saving. In both cases they don't have a voice or caretaker. :( Cats get a bad rap.

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  12. It's a shame that there are still so many feral cat colonies across the country. Only by getting them under control can we hope to diminish the loss of cat lives during natural disasters. Yes, cats can care for themselves better than dogs in many cases, but few of them can survive long-term when there is no fresh water or food sources to speak of.

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  13. Maybe it's a combination of cats being harder to catch (Mr. N would be standing at the door ready to evacuate!) and more people leaving their cats behind than dogs. You're right. I haven't really thought about it till now but aside from the Hemingway cats, I haven't seen any cat evacuation photos.

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  14. It is true that we see more about dogs than cats on the news, but it seems like there are many cats in rescues following natural disasters. That being said, I do think cays are much harder to catch and contain in an emergency situation. Many don't wear collars and are less likely to approach strangers compared to dogs. Glad to hear that the Hemingway cays made it through fine!

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  15. It is a shame that outdoor cats or "neighborhood" cats get neglected during a disaster. It seems like no one is really taking responsibility for them and that's very sad. ~ Dear Mishu

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  16. A great post with Global Cat Day coming up! At least a few of the cats were airlifted. I heard that shelters simply put down the animals to make room for 'owned' animals to be taken in. Such wickedness is, it seems common and seems to be considered acceptable. NOT BY ME. These people are evil incarnate - heartless and cruel and such behaviour is totally barbaric.

    Austin Pets Alive evacuated and rescued hundreds of cats with the help of a host of volunteers. Our fundraiser was focused 100% on them as the only no-kill shelter in Houston because of the other shelters wholesale slaughter of helpless cats and dogs. No-one else got our money.

    TNR, neutering and spaying cats is critical, vital and essential. Neutering and spaying should be available to all because stupid and selfish people should not be allowed to let animals suffer and the neutering is for the animals benefit not the often selfish people who own them. TNW works colonies reduce over time THEY WORK. Just ask Project Bay Cat ( we blogged about them - such an honour!)

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  17. My heart breaks every time I think about all the animals affected by the recent natural disasters. I hadn't put together that most of the talk was about dog and livestock rescue, and not so much cats. But now that you mention it, that is true! And unfortunate :( Cats seem to get the short end of the stick so often. Thank you for spreading the word about this issue. I so appreciate what this organization is doing to raise awareness for community cats!

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  18. This breaks my heart, but also makes me so happy that we are shedding a light on this. All animals matter to me, homeless or not!! - Shelby G.

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  19. I think you are probably right, animals in carriers aren't as photogenic. I believe cat lovers are just as devoted to the their pets as dog lovers, but perhaps it is harder to photograph.

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  20. We worry for the animals whenever there are natural disasters. :(

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  21. I don't know where I've been, but I had never heard of the Hemingway cats until the recent hurricane. I'm happy they were able to "herd" all of them into protection and both the humans and cats were safe. I, too, wonder why there isn't a focus on cats during a disaster.

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  22. It's always such a scary time for the poor critters who are forced to deal with disasters on their own.

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  23. I take care of (TNR + feed and ongoing care) several outdoor ferals in my neighborhood. The day before Irma was due to hit our area, I took photos of each cat when they came for feeding. I wanted to be able to identify who might not be there after the storm as well as prove to animal control which cats are part of this colony. I also provided double the kibble and added several cans of wet food that day. Luckily, as soon as the major storm winds passed, every cat (and a few additional cats) showed up for feeding.

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