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Guantanamo base cancels privileges for Operation Git-Meow

By CAROL ROSENBERG | Miami Herald (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 7, 2017

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A group of cat lovers at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base who joined forces with off-island supporters to try to tame the base’s feral cat population under the name Operation Git-Meow has had its charter revoked.

An official working at the base best known for its war-on-terror prison said the group had become a bit of a pest, planning to open a shelter, engaging too much with the U.S. Army veterinarian whose primary job is to care for base families’ sick pets and being a general drain on Department of Defense resources.

Cat lovers can continue to try to rescue feral felines found on base, and residents who don’t live in barracks or temporary housing can keep them on their property. But they can’t set up a clubhouse offering cheap flea and tick treatment to people who want to take in any of the estimated 500-600 feral cats on this outpost of 5,500 people behind a minefield in the southeast corner of Cuba.

“They may not recruit, advertise, solicit, hold events, fund raise, or hold themselves to be an approved organization on base,” said base spokeswoman Julie Ann Ripley by email. But members of the now unauthorized Git-Meow chapter can “choose to meet in private voluntarily.”

Recruitment, fundraising and adoption advice had been taking place via a club table at base community events. Now that’s forbidden, according to Erika Kelly, who helped establish Operation Git-Meow in December after discovering that Pentagon animal control contractors hunt and sometimes kill the feral cats — or turn them over to a U.S. Army veteran for extermination.

In 2016, the base euthanized at least 186 cats, according to a Navy response to a Freedom of Information Act filing by the Miami Herald. “From what I understand, they are too sick or injured, or are dangerous,” Ripley said then of those cats given a “euthanasia solution” at the Veterinary Treatment Facility.

Under the revocation of charter, Kelly — who lives in Virginia — can still raise funds in the United States, advertise the organization and offer advice on cats up for adoption, but base residents cannot.

Primarily at risk is the new program of evacuating cats to homes in the United States because the new restrictions may make it difficult to get a certificate from the veterinarian proving the cats have been vaccinated and checked for screw worms.

Operation Git-Meow captured the attention of cat lovers in March when representatives of SPCA International and the U.S.-based nonprofit visited the base to pitch a proposal to periodically bring in teams of civilian veterinarians and other volunteers to capture feral cats, neuter, vaccinate and implant chips in them to spare them from extermination.

Base commander Navy Capt. David Culpepper, a fighter-jet pilot and a dog owner, rejected the request in April, saying it was inconsistent with Navy policy. His boss, Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, upheld his decision.

The group also garnered national attention when it raised $5,000 to help a longtime, retiring Navy base contract worker, Ruby Meade, take more than two dozen feral cats with her to South Carolina.

The local chapter president got a letter from the base commander’s lawyer Aug. 1 notifying her that the base was pulling its charter, said Kelly, Git-Meow’s founder. But before that, she got an email from the base veterinarian declaring the base animal clinic understaffed and unavailable to do anything but emergency surgeries.

Kelly said some base residents plan to go before the base’s Quality of Life Board in late September seeking support for the reinstatement of the club.

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©2017 Miami Herald

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

A black cat crossing a backyard of a house at Guantanamo Bay Navy base on March 9, 2017 in a photo approved for release by the U.S. military.
CAROL ROSENBERG/MIAMI HERALD/TNS

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