Adventures in South America Slideshow
A Manhattan vet shares photos of the cats that captured his heart in Argentina and Chile.
By Arnold Plotnick, DVM
Posted: May 13, 2008 3 p.m. EDT
Cats and veterinary medicine were far from my mind last November as I departed New York City for a vacation in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile. However, cats quickly re-entered my consciousness as I discovered a sizeable population of outdoor cats at nearly every attraction I visited.
Buenos Aires is divided into barrios, or neighborhoods, in much the same way as New York. The Recoleta Cemetery in the Recoleta barrio is home to a fairly large, diverse group of outdoor cats. I hesitate to call them homeless because the cemetery clearly is their home, and they seem to be resting in peace along with the dearly departed, including the famous Evita Peron.
The cemetery cats seemed to get along very well with each other. I never witnessed a hiss, growl or tussle on my entire trip. The presence of a plastic water dish signaled that someone was looking out for these kitties. I could not tell whether the cemetery cats were neutered or spayed. I suspect they were, as I saw at least 30 cats but never any kittens in the cemetery.
A cat, with his runny left eye and inflamed right eye, confirmed my suspicions that these cats were probably well fed and watered, but were probably receiving minimal, if any, veterinary care.
Buenos Aires' Japanese Garden is an oasis of calm in this bustling city. Unlike the Botanical Garden, a chicken wire fence keeps the park fairly free of feral cats.
A little cat emerged from a bush at the far end of the bridge I was crossing. What struck me most about her were her short front legs. She was not a deliberately bred Munchkin cat. Cats come in all shapes and sizes, and this one just happened to have very short little forearms.
Next, I traveled to one of the shadiest spots in the barrio Palermo — the Jardin Botanico (Botanical Garden) Carlos Thays. This botanical garden was created in 1892 by famed French landscape architect Carlos Thays. According to one of the guidebooks I read, many of the women in the neighborhood take care of the cats in the park. The cats are particularly friendly, and they loved the attention I heaped upon them.
The cats in the botanical garden were probably the best cared for of all of those I'd encountered. I spotted one male cat with an ear notch, a universally-recognized sign that the cat was part of a trap-neuter-return program, which suggests some veterinary care.
I saw one or two cats, though, with less than ideal body condition, a few with conjunctivitis. It's hard to generalize, but I'd say that the cats in Buenos Aires seemed healthier and more socialized than those I encountered in Santiago.
The final leg of my vacation was spent in Santiago, Chile. You can't visit Chile without sampling the amazing seafood, and you won't find better seafood anywhere than at Mercado Central. Of course, where there's seafood, there are cats.
Cerro San Lucia is one of Santiago's most beautiful parks. The cats in Cerro San Lucia would pose for photographs, but shied away from being touched or held.
The cats I encountered in Santiago were a bit more skittish than those in Buenos Aires. At both the Recoleta Cemetery and the botanical garden in Buenos Aires, the friendliness of the cats and their fairly good body condition suggested that someone was providing food, water and human contact. However, it was impossible to determine whether the cats received any type of veterinary medical care.
I didn't choose to visit South America because of the outdoor cat population. But, that part of the trip certainly was an unexpected, pleasant surprise.
Arnold Plotnick, DVM, president and CEO of Manhattan Cat Specialists, is board-certified in feline medicine and surgery. He also is one of CatChannel.com's health experts. To visit Dr. Plotnick's homepage or to ask him a veterinary question about your cat, click here.