Cats of Guantanamo
All the cats of Guantanamo are descended from cats brought in since Cuba was colonized by Europeans. They represent a threat to native wildlife. Animal control officials struggle, in vain, to control the population of feral cats and former pet cats that roam the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Base personnel are allowed to keep cats as pets, but many cats are abandoned when their owner's assignment is over.
The presence of cats on the base stirred controvery when Muhammad Rahim al Afghani, one of the "high-value detainees", reported that base personnel allowed fellow "high-value" individual Majid Khan to befriend a roaming cat, and make it a pet. Khan, a peripheral figure who Prosecutors expected to testify against 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had pled guilty after a negotiated plea bargain, and Al Afghani's lawyer, Carlos Warner, suggested that Khan had been uniquely permitted to keep a pet as one of the conditions of that plea bargain.
Toronto Star journalist, Michelle Shephard described how roaming cats could be coaxed to eat scraps near the base's many fast food joints when she reported on speculation that Khan had surreptiously tamed a roaming cat.
All pets at Guantanamo are supposed to be chipped. Roaming cats that are not chipped are euthanized. If the original owner can be located the pet may be returned. Roaming animals that are chipped, that are tempermentally suited, may have an opportunity to be adopted.
In January, 2017, proponents of controlling feral cats through a trap, neuter and release program, requested base commander, Dave Culpepper, to let them initiate a trap, sterlize and release program at Guantanamo. Guantanamo's feral cat population was estimated to number at least 500 individuals. Culpepper declined, claiming he didn't have the authority to go against the DoD policy of euthanization.
So the animal rights advocates fell back to rescue. Ruby and Glynn Meade, a couple who had worked on the base for decades, started a crowd-funding initiative to raise funds to relocate the two dozen abandoned cats they cared for to Lancaster, South Carolina, when they retired.
On May 14, 2017, pilots and paws, an anmial rights organization in South Carolina, flew a small plane with a cargo of 25 cats from Guantanamo to Lancaster. The Meade's property is large enough to house two dozen cats, but they hope they will find neighbours to adopt most of the cats into their home. They plan to keep their particular favorite cats themselves.
- Justin Le Malone. Preventive medicine, Veterinary Clinic round up feral cats, Joint Task Force Guantanamo, 2013. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “The population of feral cats on NAVSTA is too high and although it can’t be readily quantified, it is doing harm to local wildlife, including protected species such as iguanas and Cuban Boas, said Joe Madison, the natural and cultural resources manager with the NAVSTA Public Works Department.”
- Mathieu A. Perry. Feral cat problems claw into GTMO, The Wire (JTF-GTMO), 2016-04-16, p. 10. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “The Pearl of the Antilles, better known as Cuba, is home to many species found nowhere else, making the frequent sighting of threatened, endangered or rare species not just a highlight, but a common occurrence for Joint Task Force Guantanamo personnel assigned to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Not all sightings are natural; cats are more frequently being found where they do not belong. They may look cute and cuddly, but they pose threats to pets, people and wildlife.”
- Kate Lunau. The Plan to Shut Gitmo and Turn It Into an Ocean Research Lab, Motherboard magazine, 2016-03-17. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “The area around Guantánamo is a nesting ground for the green turtle and hawksbill turtle (both endangered), and other native wildlife, like the Cuban iguana and the West Indian manatee. It’s home to a large rodent called the banana rat, and apparently to hordes of feral cats, which can cause problems. According to a 2002 government report, the Navy has brought in US Wildlife Services to help get the rats, cats, and other invasive species under control, as they were being squashed by cars and bungling up airplane runways.”
- Gary W. Witmer, Martin Lowney, Harold McDaniel, Deanna Rees. Assessment of Potential Cuban Hutia Management at U.S. Naval Base, Guantanamo, Cuba, USDA, 2002. Retrieved on 2017-01-27.
- Dani White. Where the Wild Things are, Joint Task Force Guantanamo, 2013. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “Animal controls continually collect the stray cats and take them to the GTMO veterinary clinic for Lovell to check for major health issues and to check is they are micro chipped.”
- Maddelin Angebrand. Residents strive to preserve, protect GTMO wildlife population, The Wire (JTF-GTMO), 2011-04-07. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “Without any predators, the cat population continues to rise while their food sources dwindle. To compensate, the cats begin hunting Guantanamo’s endangered species, such as the Cuban boa constrictor.”
- Michelle Shephard. 9/11 victims and family testify as Guantanamo waits for what’s next under Trump, Toronto Star, 2017-01-27. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “A new program is being developed to deal with Guantanamo’s feral cat population. Naturally, it will be called Operation Git-Meow.”
- Michelle Shephard. Guantanamo’s cats classified, like all else surrounding ‘Trial of the Century’, Toronto Star, 2012-10-28. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “Carlos Warner, the Cleveland federal public defender, wondered if Khan was given the cat as a reward for co-operating with prosecutors — something JTF-GTMO appears to deny.”
- Walter Hickey. Guantánamo Prisoners Are Getting Cute Cuddly Kittens For 'Good Behavior', Business Insider, 2012-08-17. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “Why is this big? Well, Khan has flipped. He's pleaded guilty to five war crimes and is testifying against Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks. For his efforts, he's allegedly received a kitty.”
- Prisoner Said To Have Acquired A Cat At Guantanamo Bay As Part Of Plea Deal, CBS News. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “Warner, who released the letter after it had undergone a required government security review, said he suspects Khan may have gotten a pet as a reward for agreeing to cooperate.”
- Adi Joseph. Former Osama bin Laden translator has words for LeBron James, USA Today. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “Carlos Warner, a lawyer representing Muhammed Rahim, an Afghan who translated for the late al-Qaeda leader, sent a letter to a Washington Post blog detailing his client's complaints and comments from the U.S. prison. Mostly, he wanted to let people know that certain prisoners were given cats.”
- Terrorism suspect gets course in western culture in secret Guantanamo unit, Fox News, 2012-12-31. Retrieved on 2017-01-27. “The first letters from Rahim released by Warner were in June, including one in which he disclosed that Majid Khan, a former Maryland resident who pleaded guilty to aiding al-Qaida, had acquired a cat at Camp 7, which AP reported at the time. The Pentagon and prison officials declined comment and said they could not discuss conditions of confinement for high-value detainees, although they added that prisoners are not permitted to have pets.”
- Carol Rosenberg. Guantánamo has a feral cat problem. Operation Git-Meow to the rescue, Miami Herald, 2017-03-31. Retrieved on 2017-05-17. “By the estimate of activists who want to do something about it, it has upward of 500 feral cats.”
- David Thackham. She’s retiring in Lancaster County. With 28 furry feral friends from Guantánamo, Miami Herald, 2017-05-09. “Meade and her husband, Glynn, who live and work as government contractors on the naval base, known as “Gitmo,” are organizing a rescue mission of epic feline proportions. They want to relocate nearly 30 stray cats from the base to her new retirement home in Lancaster County.”
- Xavier Walton. Operation Git-Meow: Cats arrive from Guantanamo Bay, WCNC TV, 2017-05-14. Retrieved on 2017-05-17. “Now thanks to "Operation Git-Meow," Diablo and 24 other furry friends will have a better home in Lancaster, S.C.”
- Brandon Smith. Rescue cats arrive from Guantanamo Bay given second life, Fox News, 2017-05-14. “Glynn Meade and his wife spent nearly three decades in Gitmo for work, around these cats.”
- Help Ruby's GITMO Cats, Go Fund Me. Retrieved on 2017-05-17. “The funds will be used to pay for expenses such as insurance, landing fees, aircraft fuel, and other costs. We will post photos on Sunday from Guantanamo as the cats fly off to their forever home.”