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save the cats of old san juan

Save the Cats of Old San Juan


The National Park Service is once more taking aim at the boriqua gatos and seeks to exterminate them. Make your voice heard. Because Viejo San Juan without gatos is unthinkable.

A group of people sitting on a curb with cats

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Last November I wrote about the National Park Service’s plan to eliminate the cats of Old San Juan from the large parks (like El Morro and San Cristobal) that abut and interpenetrate the old city. 

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This ill-conceived and murderous idea garnered national media attention for its nastiness and dishonesty. Literally no one in Puerto Rico wants this: not the locals, not the tourists, no one. Google “cats of old san juan” and look at images. there are a zillion.

Tourists take these pictures in the ten’s of thousands every year. Ask anyone what they remember about old San Juan. See how often you hear “cats.” If these gatos got royalties from their images, they could afford to buy the parks for themselves.

Cats (and Colours) of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico - Mutt Love Photography

This plan is classic bureaucratic overreach with little thought and less concern for the desires of those these policies would affect. The National Park Service is deeply in the wrong here 

The last attempt at this awful plan led to an absolute outpouring of response. Their website crashed from the volume of comments. Their meetings were jammed with people making impassioned speeches against this mean-spirited policy of extermination.

And they were not going to be denied.

On Wednesday night, dozens of people gathered for the first of two public meetings on the issue. But when National Park Service officials said there would be no hearing and asked people to only write down their comments, the crowd erupted in anger.

“This doesn’t make sense!”

“We have doubts! We have questions!”

“Let’s defend the cats!”

The crowd kept yelling, demanding a public hearing until officials relented. They opened the doors to a small theater as one elderly activist blew on the emergency whistle of his keychain to herd the crowd in.

People spoke one by one amid loud applause. Their biggest concern was that the cats would be euthanized, even though the National Park said it is still receiving public comments and that any decision would be based on those.

Yeah, that’s right. We damn near had a cat riot here.


“I’m not alone in wanting to know the answers,” he (Toru Dodo, Old San Juan resident) said amid claps and cheers. “These are one of the wonders of Old San Juan.”


Yes they are.

And I, for one, would have them remain so now and always.

Many have asked for an update on this matter and until now, there appeared to be no update to give. It seemed that the NPS had slunk off and abandoned this policy. But, not so.

Now, in the dog days of summer when many are away, they are trying this again and the game they are playing is even more dishonest this time.

And so once more, I will reach out to help ensure that they are stopped.

Because this one matters and there is no “undo” on extermination.

Last time, they came with two plans:

  1. Do nothing and leave the cats be.
  2. Pay someone to trap and “remove” the cats (And kill them. Make no mistake about this part. They are not being re-homed, adopted, or sent to some nice neighborhood. There is zero money or resources for that. They will be murdered wholesale and NPS are using euphemisms and pretending this is not so to mask how ghoulish this plan is.)

They were so overwhelmingly told to take a hike and that everyone wanted plan one that any reasonable or responsive group would have dropped the matter.

But that is not who these people are.

So they come back with option 3 which a careful reader will rapidly realize is just option 2 with a 6-month lag as though this minor reprieve somehow makes it OK.

Well, it doesn’t.

(highlight mine)

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They claim this will “improve the visitor experience” but that is rank tripe. The visitors come to see the cats. They are so beloved that local shops sell “Cats of Old San Juan” calendars to tourists. Everyone stops to pet and feed them.

And you know what the other option is? Rats. Lots and lots of rats. I wonder how the visitors will feel about this? This is “kill all the wolves in Yellowstone”-level stupidity brought to you by the same people who made that very mistake.

And the plan has zero chance of working. It will just be a needless massacre.

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It focuses just on the parks and greenways that surround and penetrate Old San Juan. But cats do not read “stay out” signs. Nor should they have to. This is the very definition of “attractive nuisance” in a tort sense and it’s just going to pull in more and more cats who will see an empty park and walk in. Because that’s what cats do. Pretending otherwise is as dishonest as pretending that “trapped and removed” does not mean “killed.”

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This is the place where banal bureaucratic diktat becomes slaughter.

And this needs to have a serious end put to it.

Because enough is enough.

There is a special bond with these animals and a great many people (including me) make daily habits of feeding them. And no one but these “Who asked you anyway?” jumped up park managers wants this. It’s a way of life and a source of joy.

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“This is like Disney World for cats,” said Alfonso Ocasio, who has been going to Old San Juan since 2014 to feed the cats a couple times a week. “I don’t know how these people dare face the world with their proposal.”


Their proposals are just plain despicable.

Cats were introduced to Puerto Rico to battle plagues of rats and other vermin. Many are direct descendants from their Spanish lineage. Now they’re as much a part of Old San Juan as the colorful buildings and city walls.

They keep calling the cats “an invasive species” but this is a suspiciously specious claim. Just how long must you be someplace before you’re considered local?

These cats have been in San Juan for 500 years, having been brought by the Spanish to control the rodents on the ships and in the city. Their presence is as old as the colonial architecture and far older than even the United States, much less a squalling infant like the National Park Service.

And therefore one might ask some pointed questions here about just who constitutes the “invasive species” around here. 

One might also pose some further inquiry on “Aren’t you supposed to be protecting the heritage of San Juan?” Because these cats are a part of that and I fail to see how their extermination serves anything remotely like the alleged mission of these agencies.

They are the ones showing up and looking to demolish long-standing ecosystems.

And perhaps it is they that we need to remove or restrain…

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There are already programs in place to trap and neuter cats and control populations. Save a gato does a great deal of work here, yet the NPS seeks not to aid them but circumvent them. The fact that supporting them is not even considered as a proposed option in their list speaks volumes.

And make no mistake, this plan will be wholesale extermination. The cats are not being “trapped and moved.” There is nowhere to move them, no one to take them. PR animal groups are already overwhelmed.

This plan consigns them to death. Needless, inhumane death.

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And so I would ask a favor of you:

There is no study here, no ethics, no sound reason to change 500 years of practice.

It’s the ill-conceived hobbyhorse of some uncomprehending apparatchik.

The cats live in San Juan and have since the time of gold galleons.

The people of San Juan like it.

The tourists like it.

If these fine felines are extinguished, you are going to not only lose the joy and cultural heritage of it, but you are going to get a rodent romper room the likes of which you cannot believe.

And who cares what NPS wants? Why are they even a relevant stakeholder here? They are supposed to serve us, not we them. It is not theirs to dictate, it is ours to demand. This is boriqua heritage, not theirs.

Once more, NPS is asking for “substantive comments.”

They define them as follows:

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That seems a reasonable ask, so should you choose to share your views with them, please be polite and factual and most of all firm in calling this like you see it.

Ask questions about the basis of this analysis. How do they justify disrupting a 500-year-old ecosystem? What about rats? Will we trade chemical poisons for organic paws? What about the heritage and character of San Juan? Does anyone even want this? How is this not “killing the wolves of Yellowstone” all over again? Do they really think they can confine this to parks and not wind up luring all the surrounding cats in? If they are so concerned, why not just fund groups like Save a Gato instead?

This sort of comment campaign really does work and overwhelming response rates are how we stop bad ideas like this from becoming reality.

We backed them down last time, and now we must show the resolve to do it again. And again. And make it clear that we are not going away. Trying to slide this by in the Summer doldrums in hopes no one will notice is a sneaky trick. I would be grateful if you would ensure it does not work.


(Use the “comment now” button)

Please do as your conscience and predilections guide you.

Let the gatos continue to enjoy the San Juan sunsets, not be dragged off to die in darkness.

14,079 Sunset Cat Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

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  • el gato malo

    el gato malo is a pseudonym for an account that has been posting on pandemic policies from the outset. AKA a notorious internet feline with strong views on data and liberty.

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