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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Being a good neighbor to Yucatán’s roof cats and street dogs

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our best stories will appear in your inbox every Monday.
Illustration: Juan Pablo Quintal García

Cats replaced people as my friends soon after quarantine 2020 began. 

Watching the street took on a new fascination after lockdown. The utility roof was meant for ventilator and air conditioning equipment, not for cocktails, but it afforded us a view of the street. So we got into the habit of dragging out a couple of Acapulco chairs each evening at sunset. 

Eventually, a white kitten peered around a planter and stared us down with big saucer eyes. I’ve never had a cat, but some instinct kicked in. 

“Awwww. Do we have anything to feed her?” I asked, not quite recognizing my own voice. 

We found some leftover ham and hastily chopped it up for her.

Related: What my rescue dogs taught me

In my mind, she was grateful as she gobbled it down and crept away humbly with her tail between her legs. 

Flash forward a week later, and I was a slave to eight cats, probably her relatives, demanding in no uncertain terms that I feed them Cat Chow twice a day, and on time. I was pulled into service. 

More than a year later, they’re still part of my daily routine. I’ve gone from feeding one little beggar to accommodating 10 or 11 nervous, neurotic cats: breakfast at 6 in the morning and dinner at 6 that evening. They cry if I don’t come, and the one affectionate cat of the colony is too upset to be petted if I’m late.

Even though there are many more cats in the neighborhood, this group has managed to maintain a limited membership. 

I open the door to my azotea, and the same brown cat — the only affectionate one — rubs against my leg and lets me scratch his head. The same skinny caramel-colored kitty looks me straight in the eyes and meows at me to hurry up (or maybe it’s an ode of thanks), and the same white Tomcat rubs against the doorway, claiming it as his, I suppose.

Occasionally, a pack of huge dogs passes the house. But they come and go, and apparently roam a larger territory — all on the sidewalks of the Centro. We have neighbors who feed them, as well. 

Some people prefer a dog from a breeder, but most every dog owner I know here has a “rescue.” Shelters are overflowing with stray dogs, and opportunities for making furry new friends are endless.

But stray cats outnumber canines by far. Dog are occasionally rounded up by the city, but not the cats, which are more wily and find relative safety on Yucatán’s mainly flat, interconnected rooftops.  

Caring for these animals can get you emotionally involved. It also carries responsibilities. After all, these creatures are living on the edge. They go hungry, they fight among themselves, they get diseases. And they are part of an exploding population, so the cycle continues. 

The humane thing is to capture them, find a vet to treat them for worms, get them vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and then adopted.  

It’s easy to find veterinarians online, but if you want house calls, some are booked out for months, not helpful for urgent situations. Some residents buy or borrow their own wire traps, using sardines or pieces of stinky meat as bait. 

I still ask myself if I should have even gotten involved, to begin with. Aren’t cats supposed to be finding their own prey? Did I do the right thing by feeding them to begin with? 

Lourdes García, vet owner of Dog Prime near Kanasín, said what I did was absolutely fine, even laudable.

But she highlighted the importance of having them spayed and neutered as soon as possible. 

If you feed them, bringing them to health, and fail to have them sterilized, they are likely to reproduce even faster than they would have otherwise. 

A version of this article appeared in Issue 1 of Yucatán at Home.

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