Support our mission

NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Jennifer Cox heard the muffled meows coming from the trash container.

After some digging, she found seven kittens sealed inside a cracker box and stuffed in a garbage bag full of trash. They had been in there for at least an hour, she estimates, but they were alive.

“It was pretty nasty,” she said of last month’s rescue. “But they’re OK.”

While the kittens survived, their discovery shows how far some people will go to reduce a cat population that some see as a nuisance and a potential health hazard.

A Navy policy implemented two years ago has only compounded the problem, base animal control officers said.

The instruction — implemented at bases worldwide — prohibits the feeding of stray cats and dogs. So-called spay, neuter and release programs also were stopped.

Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations, ordered bases to capture and remove stray dogs and cats because they posed a health risk to humans and wildlife.

Cat lovers lambasted the new rule at the time, predicting that it wouldn’t help the problem and might even exacerbate the situation.

That is what some people believe has happened in Rota. Since the policy was introduced, the cat population has not decreased.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Philip Flack, one of two animal control officers at the base in Rota, won’t even try to guess how many feral cats roam the base.

But he said there are no signs that the population is shrinking.

“This base definitely has a problem with stray cats,” Flack said. “They’re everywhere.”

He and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Luke Lyons set traps in some of the areas infested by cats, but the felines are tough to catch.

“We do go out and look for them, but if it is in a real big open area, it’s going to be real hard to catch them, especially a cat,” Flack said.

Dozens of cats are usually found around some of the base restaurants, in housing and near the golf course.

In addition to throwing cats into the garbage, some people allegedly have put out bowls of antifreeze to get rid of wild cats near their homes.

Cats captured by Lyons or Flack stay at the base kennel for 30 days. If nobody claims or adopts them, they are euthanized.

The Rota Animal Welfare League, a nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter, usually takes in the cats and dogs on the kennel’s “death row.”

The shelter has limited space, however.

On average, the base puts down only three to four cats a year and four to five dogs, Flack said. But the reintroduction of a spay, neuter and release program to the base could reduce that number.

“There would be no chance for it to increase,” Flack said.


Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up