Army Navy Club Going to War on Cats

Dottie Evans regularly feeds the cats at the Army Navy Country Club. The club has decided to get rid of the cats, to the dismay of some members.
Dottie Evans regularly feeds the cats at the Army Navy Country Club. The club has decided to get rid of the cats, to the dismay of some members. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 24, 2005

For Bootsie, Sylvester and their friends and relations, meals at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington are a gourmet affair.

Each morning the cats, who live on the club's generous expanse of rolling hills, come running when club members Tom and Dottie Evans appear. Near a sign that reads "Cat Crossing," the Evanses pop open cans of steaming tuna, turkey, and "mixed grill," kept warm in a Coleman cooler, followed with kibble and fresh water. The cats purr and rub their benefactors' legs, and in the evening the ritual is repeated, with additional club members contributing food, and occasionally warm half-and-half, to the bounty.

Bootsie, her ancestors and an extended family of strays have been unofficial club members for 40 years, living in colonies near the swimming pool and championship golf course, and for most of that time no one at the club twitched a whisker.

But now club officials have decided that the cats must go.

Although most of them have been trapped, vaccinated and spayed or neutered, usually at club expense, some board members fear that a new cat might move in, become infected with rabies and bite someone on the grounds, said Al Baker, the club's vice president.

Baker, who stressed that he was not speaking for the club and does not agree with its position, said he had heard the cats are to be trapped, beginning as early as Jan. 1, turned over to a shelter, and most likely euthanized, since strays that have never lived with humans are not easily adopted.

However, animal experts have warned the club that such a measure is unlikely to solve any problems. Without the resident cats, the club would soon begin hosting a new band of cats -- fertile, unvaccinated, and more feral than these.

The issue has caused a brouhaha at the venerable club, which is full of military families, senators, congressmen and diplomats.

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a 20-year club member, said he is outraged.

"That's just terrible," he said. "It doesn't make sense to me, it doesn't meet the common-sense test."

Citing his work on behalf of animals, including writing language into bills to limit the use of cats in military experiments, and to allow a wounded veteran to keep the dog she had worked with in Iraq, Murtha said he plans to talk with board members about the cat removal.

"We can't let that happen," he said. "Let me get involved in it and see."

Repeated calls for comment to the club's general manager and president were not returned.

Baker said board members decided earlier this year to remove the cats. "For some reason, the board of governors has decided to enter into a program where the cats are terminated, eradicated, killed," he said.

Baker and others have argued that the plan won't work. They cite organizations such the San Diego-based Feral Cat Coalition, which has said that removing feral cats from an environment only makes room for another colony to move in. Anne Garrood, a veterinarian who has worked with the club's cat colony, made the same argument in an letter to the board in August and ended it with a warning.

"Once the Club undertakes this foolhardy endeavor, the Caregivers who have trapped, fed, and maintained the cats will have no interest in helping the Club fix the problems that you will invariably encounter. If you think that removing the resident cats will close this issue, you are woefully naive," she wrote.

"I have explained to the Board of Governors that . . . another colony will form itself and the colony that forms itself will not be treated for rabies, and will not be spayed or neutered," Baker said.

He added that the plan doesn't make sense, given that the club, under a previous board, has spent money on cat vaccines and operations. "Why invest all this time and money to protect the cats and then kill them?"

The cat feeders, who buy 400 cans of cat food and three 18-pound bags of kibble a month, decline to say how many cats live on the grounds. One, Janet Dudek, said that 21 have been spayed or neutered and that she could provide records of their ages and vaccination and operation dates.

"I haven't really encountered anybody who is against our program other than the board," she said, adding that a former general manager supported the program, that club employees had taken kittens home, and that she knew of no cats attacking anyone there. "They're taking something that's not a problem and making a problem."

Calling out in a high voice on a frigid morning this week, Evans bent down and stroked a cat that had finished feeding. "I think most of the pressure is being put on by some of the mothers and particularly grandmothers who have nothing better to do," he said. "They've seen too many movies about the Saint Bernard that gets rabies."

Dudek said she thought a pecking order was in play at the 81-year-old facility. "At the club, rank counts," she said. "My husband, he's retired, he was a lieutenant commander, not a career guy. So he's not part of the brass."

Evans, a retired rear admiral, said the military culture, with colonels, generals and admirals on the board, might be affecting their approach.

"These people have been around in high-power positions, as base commanders and so on, and probably to some of them, it's a matter of, 'Let's just make a decision and go forward with it.' "

© 2005 The Washington Post Company