Friday, May 9, 2008
7 News Investigations: Cat Fight
There's a real cat fight brewing in Key Largo after some residents say their pet cats were killed in an effort to protect endangered rats. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero has this special assignment report Cat Fight.
WSVN -- This Key Largo cat is one of the lucky ones. She's still living the good life at the Atlantis Dive Center. Four others vanished in February.
Spencer Slate: "We've raised them here, and they actually grew up here as kittens."
Spencer Slate and Dave Gamble are convinced their pets were caught by a federal trapper working across the street in John Pennecamp State Park.
Spencer Slate: "These are beloved pets of ours."
Pennecamp Park is home to the endangered Key Largo woodrat. The rat is hunted by stray cats. In an effort to protect the rat, the cats were being trapped on state park property. But, Slate says, some pets like his got caught as well.
Spencer Slate: "They were luring them across the street, which is literally about 25 feet from here, with bait at night, and, of course, cats will follow, even if they're not hungry."
In the past the state gave warnings, so pet owners could make sure their cats had collars. Trapped cats were then taken to a local shelter where owners could find them, but that didn't happen this time.
Dave Gamble: "And I went looking for them, and there was just no trace anywhere. They didn't show up at the animal shelter, nothing."
Wayne Blevins cares for homeless cats behind a Key Largo grocery store. At the same time the Dive Center's pets vanished so did several of the cats he feeds.
Wayne Blevins: "These were my friends. Excuse me, most of them were born there."
He also went looking for them at the local shelter. He is convinced the same federal trapper took his cats.
Wayne Blevins: "I have not missed another cat since he's been gone."
Carmel Cafiero: "You don't think that's a coincidence?"
Wayne Blevins: "Absolutely not."
Instead of being taken to the local animal shelter, where their owners could have saved them, they were taken to Miami- Dade Animal Services, where they were euthanized that same day.
Carmel Cafiero: "So we came to Gainesville for some answers. The trapping was orchestrated out of this office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
Bernice Constantin is the state director of the USDA Wildlife Services.
Bernice Constantin: "The mandate of the fish and wildlife service is to protect endangered species, but how do you protect people's pets? No, the people have to protect, be accountable for protecting their own pets."
Constantin says he does not believe the trapper took any of the cats Blevins is missing. He says the pets should have been wearing collars. Then there's the issue of taking the 20 trapped cats to Miami-Dade instead of the local shelter.
Bernice Constantin: "They said, 'You've given us too many, we can't handle anymore, don't give us any more.'"
But the director of the local shelter says that's not the case.
Marsha Garrettson: "No, it did not happen, and we do not turn animals away from our area, and we don't state that we're full. We take in all animals from our area."
When we told Constantin what the shelter told us, he admitted he made the decision to go to Miami based on secondhand information.
Carmel Cafiero: "Did you talk with the shelter about..."
Bernice Constantin: "No, I didn't. I didn't talk to the shelter about it because, to me, it was a quick decision."
He also admitted he had no idea Miami-Dade deals with so many unwanted animals. Last year alone, more than 11,000 cats were euthanized.
Bernice Constantin: "I wasn't aware of that. A shelter is a shelter to me, OK?"
No matter who is at fault in this cat fight, the fact is, Keys cats were apparently killed when they didn't have to be, and the next time the government sets out to protect endangered species, folks in the Keys hope they protect pets just as well.