LA CASA DE LOS GATOS:
CATS IN PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO
text and photo by Steve Dale
This little souvenir shop in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is called La Casa de Los Gatos. Translated, that means The Cat House.
Cat trinkets are available for sale, and while you check them out, the real thing appears. An all white cat rubs up against the leg of a customer. Look behind the feline figurine, and there’s an orange tabby curled up snoozing. Another pair of kitties are catnapping on a glass display counter. In all, there are ten cats in this small storefront.
Mosses Sosa Sandria, the teenage grandson of the owner, waves as he directs “special customers” out back, where there’s a small fenced in patio, home to another 20 or so cats.
“My grandmother takes in cats because she loves them,” says Mosses in broken English, but certainly he’s able to make his point. “It is very sad that people do not like the cat here. They bring the cat to the river, where there are many cats (to let them loose). There are too many. The cats there get sick or they get poisoned by people who say there are so many and don’t like them.”
The feline playground in the patio looks as if it was designed by Fred Sanford. The cats are contained within chicken wire stapled to wood posts and also to a handy tree trunk. An old gutter from a house serves as a walkway that leads to a cat walk made of two by fours about five feet up. Wooden crates are hiding places, and the cats are fed on a hand-made table and on top of an old TV stand with wheels missing on two legs. There are bushes to climb. And in one corner there’s an old canvas canopy, so the cats can snuggle in and remain reasonably dry when it rains. This is the closest thing that Puerto Vallarta has to an animal shelter that accepts cats.
Mosses says people are always bringing cats to his grandmother, but she can only take so many with her limited income. After all, while a veterinarian gives her a significant discount, she still pays for their medical care which is often significant after spending time on the streets. There are also costs associated with spaying or neutering, not to mention the cost of cat food.
Mosses translates for his grandmother, Eloisa Sosa Sanchez. “My neighbors and friends do not understand cats; they think I am a little bit crazy.”
Shirley Ewert runs into the store with a two-month-old kitten tucked in her arms. She’s a tourist from Calgary, Alberta Canada. She found the kitten near the river, and just didn’t have the heart to leave the kitty to die.
Coming from Canada, it’s challenging to ignore the Mexican sunshine and the beaches, the reasons for her visit. Except for her repeated visits to local vets, she’s spent the better part of three consecutive days caring for this kitten. She’s come to Sanchez for advice, and also hoping that she’ll take the kitten. Customs won’t allow Ewert to bring such a young kitten into Canada without being quarantined. But Sanchez says she has no more space, not even for a kitten.
“I don’t know why they dislike cats so much here,” Ewert shakes her head in disbelief. “It’s like they consider them vermin.” Of course, the truth is cats are, in part, responsible for controlling the real vermin population.
Sanchez says, “People think cats are not clean. When women are pregnant they are worried very much their babies will get sick from the cat. So, they take the cat to the river to live, or just never again feed the cat when it comes to their door.”
Dr. Carol Loquizin Garcia Lopez, a veterinarian in Puerto Vallarta, confirms. “When ladies are pregnant doctors say to them, “get rid of the cat or you may get the cat disease.”
He’s referring to toxoplasmosis, which can indeed cause birth defects. But a pregnant woman can only get this disease from exposure to a cat’s feces. Having another family member take over the litter box chores or wearing gloves to change the box are courses of action which most doctors accept in America as prudent. Besides, many cats in Mexico spend much of their time outdoors, and don’t use an indoor box anyway.
Garcia Lopez adds, “I try to explain it’s easier to get the disease (toxoplasmosis) from eating tacos on the street or from cutting meat in their home. Finally, people are starting to listen.”
Still, even the enlightened appear to be a step behind when it comes to cats. Ricardo Farcas is a Puerto Vallarta community business leader, and the CEO of Vallarta Adventures, which offers Eco-Tourist trips for whale watching, SCUBA diving and even climbing 60 feet up into the rain forest and then glide from tree to tree using a system of cables. Farcas says, “We employ 300 people who now better appreciate all animals, even their pets I think.”
Farcas has four dogs, Simba, Shiba, Burkush and Sam. He talks about his dogs with great delight, and they are clearly members of his family. Sam even goes on whale watching excursions. As for his cat, Farcas says, “I’m not aware of his name.” And that’s where there’s a cultural divide. Cats just aren’t considered in the same class as dogs in Mexico.
Still, Farcas stays it’s wrong to poison cats, and understands there are misguided notions about cats.
And that’s a start.
Garcia Lopez agrees. He notes young working women with some means and an education are increasingly keeping cats as pets, giving them the best possible care available.
Meanwhile, Sanchez continues her fight to save abandoned cats, but she has few resources. Her fund raising efforts consist of a canister found on the counter of her store. You can help; even a modest sum of money will go a long way. Send money orders to Eloisa Sosa Sanchez, c/o La Casa de los Gatos, Basilio Badillo, #220 Col. Emiliano Zapata, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico 48380.
This article won a 2004 Muse award from the Cat Writers’ Association for “Online Articles-Other Topics.” It first appeared on www.animalplanet.com.
Steve Dale is syndicated by Tribune Media Services. He is also the host of “Pet Central” on WGN Radio, Chicago (www.wgnradio.com) and syndicated “Animal Planet Radio” ( www.animal.discovery.com) as well as a contributing editor at USA Weekend. Steve frequently speaks to shelter and veterinary groups about dog and cat behavior.
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