By Deborah Van Hoewyk
Much to the displeasure of the two cats we bring from Maine, many a Mexican street cat has tried to enter – over the wall, through the gate – our house in Santa Cruz.
But one of those Maine cats is supremely ungracious to the street cats, given that she herself was born in Santa Cruz, apparently in a giant pothole up at the end of Calle Huautla.
A Determined Tiny Tigre
SusieJ arrived like others, hopping up from the sidewalk and through the ironwork gate into a planter. And there she stayed, peeking out from the plants at the front of the patio. A few days later, however, there was another, smaller face beside hers. Apparently SusieJ had gone back up to Calle Huautla and brought her kitten to live in the planter as well.
Of course, a few days after that, there was another small face at the front of the yard. And once, again, a few days after that – another small face. This third kitten looked nothing like SusieJ or the other two, and was a good six weeks younger. Then SusieJ though it would be better all if they moved into the house. First we just thought they’d left, until we discovered them curled up on the chairs shoved under the dining room table.
We fed them and “fixed” them – the kittens went off to live in Pluma Hidalgo. As were preparing to leave at the end of the season, SusieJ was adopted by a woman who lived in Hache Tres. All was quiet, stuff was getting sorted for packing, we were looking forward to the cool weather of Maine. At 11 pm, three days before we were to leave, hubby comes in carrying SusieJ. Although he believes cats do no such thing, SusieJ had found her way back from Hache Tres.
SusieJ was replaced by two new, younger bonded (and fixed) cats; SusieJ spends her summers in Maine and her winters in Mexico.
The Sad Short Lives of Street Cats
SusieJ lucked out. This is not the fate of the overwhelming majority of street cats in Mexico. They are run over by cars (atropellado), torn apart by dogs, starved, felled by disease, poisoned intentionally or accidentally, and have hard short lives – most last less than a year.
Street cats (gatos callejeros) live in concert with humans – they are not entirely feral. Most would make happy house cats if they got the chance. They are in the street because, historically, Mexico has not had a “pet culture” – cats and dogs have been seen as utilitarian. Cats do in the rats, mice, and other small vermin, while dogs guard property and people. It is thought spaying and castrating a dog or cat would prevent it from being fierce enough to do its job.
This is changing, however. According to U.S. animal behavior consultant Steve Dale from Chicago, Mexicans, “often influenced by European, American and Canadian pet ownership in the community,” are increasingly thinking of cats and dogs as pets, and with this change of mind, sterilization of pets and strays is increasing across Mexico.
The Solution? Sterilization
Sterilizing dogs and cats that roam and street animals is the only proven – and humane – way to control these populations. The Oaxacan coast has a strong contingent of spay-neuter organizations. The first volunteering we ever did in Huatulco was at one of the earliest clinics put on by Snipsisters, an organization formed by Canadians who had homes in Salchi, the next beach town after Cuatunalco. (Cuatunalco is west of Huatulco, before Pochutla/Puerto Ángel, and has hosted multiple Snipsister clinics.)
Snipsisters has encouraged other organizations to conduct spay-neuter campaigns. In Bahías de Huatulco, that organization is the Mexican nonprofit Palmas Unidas de Huatulco; Snipsisters has supported many of the Palmas Unidas clinics. There is a Snipsisters chapter in Puerto Escondido, where they also support TNR (Trap Neuter Release) Puerto Escondido. Altogether, Snipsisters has sterilized over 5,000 cats and dogs in coastal Oaxaca. The independent organization Terre Xtra serves Pochutla and Puerto Ángel, as well as lending a hand with Palmas Unidas and anywhere else they are needed.
Palmas Unidas de Huatulco conducts 6 – 9 free sterilization campaigns a year. Last month, Palmas Unidas held a clinic in Hache Tres in La Crucecita, scheduling 154 surgeries – working into the dark, the surgeons sterilized 159 animals. Those slots were all taken and people were being turned away – unacceptable to Palmas Unidas. Overnight emergency fundraising funded a second clinic with 60 more sterilizations, for a total 0f 219; funds raised will cover another clinic to be held early in the new year.
It costs approximately 300 pesos (currently about $15 USD, $20 CDN) to sterilize a cat or dog. Long-time Huatulco resident Fran McLaren is the driving force behind fundraising for Palmas Unidas; if you are interested in helping, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.