Things That Matter

People Abandoned Hundreds Of Cats On Brazilian Island, Now Officials Don’t Know How To Save Them

Ilha Furtada is widely known as the “Island of the Cats.” Located just west of Rio de Janeiro and about 20 minutes by motorboat from the city of Mangaratiba, it’s situated along a section of coast prized for its natural beauty, including mountainous forests and hundreds of small islands and islets.

Now, the area is receiving a different type of attention due to a symptom of the global pandemic that has resulted in hundreds of abandonded cats – many of whom are starving and suffering severe medical issues. Things have gotten so bad on the island, several fisherman have seen cats killing and eating other cats.

Brazil’s ‘Island of Cats’ is ground zero for Rio de Janeiro’s abandoned pet problem.

Furtada Island has been full of cats for many years. The island even became somewhat of a tourist attraction – with visitors bringing food to the island’s resident felines. But when the pandemic hit, human support for the animals stopped and things have only gone from bad to worse.

As the coronavirus pandemic raged the cities, more cats were dropped off on the island, and some had ultimately reverted to their feral state. It is not known exactly how many cats are on the island, but one Brazilian reporter claimed there were 750; others estimated more.

Brazilians who are no longer able to or can’t afford to take care of their cats would either drop the cats off on the island or pay a boat worker to do it, according to a report by the Washington Post. Andrea Rizzi Cafasso, the director of a shelter near the island told The Post people would threaten to take their cats to the island if there was no room for them at the shelter.

In wealthy countries such as the United States, shelters and personal networks have been able to absorb much of the surge in abandoned animals. But in other countries, where shelter systems are less robust and street animals are common, a growing number of animals have simply been abandoned on the streets – or islands.

But volunteer organizations are stepping up to try and help.

Organizations such as Veterinarians on the Road, have already neutered hundreds of animals on the island and are working on taking some of the more social cats from the island back to be adopted.

Volunteer groups are also installing food and water dispensers to help sustain the felines, but there’s still no permanent solution to the situation as more cats get dropped off and people are undeterred by anti-dumping rules. “We really need someone who can join forces with us to try to heal this criminality that, for us, is cruelty,” Joice Puchalski, a volunteer group coordinator told the AP.

What to do about the cats is leaving the community divided.

For animal rights groups like those who are already feeding the animals, there is no doubt that work needs to continue. They see it as the difference between life and death for the hundreds of cats who call the island home through no fault of their own.

However, there is another side to the argument – one that seems to be growing in momentum among city officials. The city’s public health secretary is opposed to feeding the island cats, saying that it encourages others to abandon their cats on the island.

“People are attacking me like crazy on Facebook,” Sandra Castelo Branco told The Washington Post. “But I want to change the paradigm.”

Her comments opened up the floodgates of social media attacks. Many were enraged by the idea they would let hundreds of animals die of starvation. But the officials, looking at the squalor of the cat camps, said the situation was more complicated than social media absolutism. They admit the situation is terrible but pose this question: “Are we going to let the animals die of hunger, or are we going to keep on giving food, which will only incentivize more abandonment?” asks Fernanda Porto, the city’s environmental sub-secretary.

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