Resort to Killing?

Last week, the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific Resort reversed its position on TNR and on-site managed colonies, citing what the Orlando Sentinel calls “liability reasons.” According to the paper, Orange County Animal Control considered Loews’ past efforts a “model program”—exactly what one would expect from a chain of “18 distinctive luxury hotels and resorts” that’s gone out of its way to appeal to vacationing pet owners through its Loews Loves Pets program. (The Loews website mentions only their Woofie Weekends offer, but a 2009 article refers to “gourmet room service options like roasted salmon and tuna delight for cats.”)

Not surprisingly, Loews’ decision sparked an uproar among TNR supporters, and, indeed, cat lovers in general. (The comments—overwhelmingly in support of TNR—continue to pile up on the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel & Loews Royal Pacific Resort Facebook page.) On Friday, Jennifer Hodges, Director of Public Relations for Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando, issued the following statement:

“The cat colony remains unharmed and on property. We are working to find a solution that keeps the health and safety of our guests a priority while taking the most humane approach possible. Loews Hotels welcomes any viable suggestions. If you’d like to make a recommendation or can provide a safe sanctuary for these feral cats, please contact:”

A sanctuary? We’re still entertaining that fantasy? Clearly, the folks at Loews aren’t as well-informed as one would expect, given their previous support for TNR.

Hodges never replied to my e-mail and telephone inquiries requesting details about the alleged heath and safety risks. What’s changed recently to warrant this about-face? I’d also like to what Loews plans to do going forward, though I think that’s pretty clear: “relocate” (trap-and-kill apparently doesn’t do well in focus groups of affluent travelers) any cats found on the properties.

Something else that’s pretty clear: all the unwanted attention is making a difference. Hodges’ statement on Friday was itself a reversal from Loews’ position just a few days earlier, as posted via Facebook:

“Loews Hotels is a pet-friendly hotel brand and we support the humane treatment of animals. It is important to share the facts surrounding this issue. Feral cats at our Orlando hotels are being humanely trapped and taken to a local shelter…”

And the story continues to get traction, picked up by animal advocates (including Best Friends Animal Society, The Conscious Cat, and Bunny’s Blog) and others (see, for example, Flyer Talk and DIS). There’s even an online petition (2,657 signatures so far).

All of which puts Loews in a very awkward position. How does this “pet-friendly hotel brand” defend a position aligned with the mass killing of this nation’s most popular companion animal?

So far, Loews doesn’t have much of an answer.