At Donald Trump’s request, U.S. military officials on Tuesday announced they were postponing 127 construction projects to free up $3.6 billion that will be used to repair or fortify 175 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The affected projects include a $9,080,000 plan to tear down the veterinarian clinic at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay and replace it with a state-of-the-art “Working Dog Treatment Facility.”
Construction had been expected to begin as early as this year. Officials haven’t said when the project will get back on track.
The delay is a temporary setback for military dogs, some of whom suffer post-traumatic stress and other injuries, but the situation for cats at Gitmo is much more dire.
At least 625 feral cats were shot or killed by lethal injection on the base from 2010 through 2017, according to Erika Kelly, founder of Operation Git-Meow, a Virginia non-profit that has been trying to help manage Guantánamo’s cat population. Kelly told the Cuba Money Project she has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to try to determine the number killed in 2018 and 2019.
The total is “definitely a higher number than 625,” she said.
Kelly said Gitmo has declined her offer to spay and neuter the feral cats for free, opting to kill them instead. She said:
It’s just an ineffective and inhumane policy that’s incredibly demoralizing for those tasked with carrying it out as well as the soldiers on base who see the kittens dying continuously.
According to Operation Git-Meow, a U.S. Department of Agriculture contractor travels to Gitmo to kill the cats at a cost of more than $220,000 from 2010 to 2017.
I told Kelly the cats might have a better shot at survival if they could earn their keep – like the military dogs. “It’s actually funny you say that because on a lot of bases the cats help control the rodent population,” she said. “This definitely happens in the Middle East.”
And at Gitmo, “many of the warehouses are full of rodents,” she said, and the felines help keep them in check. “But the cats are still deemed pests.”
A vet at the base spays and neuters strays, but if they aren’t adopted within 72 hours, then they are euthanized. “All at gov’t expense,” Kelly said. “It’s really awful.”
“It’s also worth noting that previously the strays in the adoption program needed to have someone paying for their vet care,” Kelly said. “There was not government money being used to treat them. I’m not sure why the cats are now being fixed and microchipped with government money. There is an adoption fee if they’re adopted but if not, then the government paid for a surgery that essentially went to waste because that cat is now dead. Meanwhile, there’s a 6-month waitlist for surgeries for pets so people have pregnant cats at home but they can’t get them spayed, or even fly them off island to be spayed. Everything here just contributes to the crazy overpopulation.”
Military dogs fare better than the cats. Their new treatment facility has only been delayed, not cancelled. Here’s what $9 million will buy:
The project will include a surgical suite, laboratory, pharmacy, food inspection and examination rooms. Proper seismic protection will be included in the design. Supporting facilities include utilities, site improvements, parking, signage, antiterrorism force protection measures, demolition, and environmental protection measures.
The current vet clinic is in a “repurposed family housing building” constructed in 1954, the project proposal says. The ventilation and air conditioning system “does not provide appropriate anesthesia waste gas disposal in the surgical suite. These conditions place staff and patients at risk for harmful substance exposure. Furthermore, multiple failing building systems such as an undersized electrical system, a leaking roof, and cracked structural masonry walls add to patient and staff risk.”
The building “cannot accommodate a proper surgical suite and equipment due to the low ceiling heights, has exceeded its life expectancy, is functionally inappropriate for veterinary care, and contains insufficient building systems for a safe and functional MWD (Military Working Dog) treatment facility,” the project proposal says.
The new, 5,277-square-foot animal palace will “provide complete, preventative, diagnostic, dental and surgical care” for all government-owned animals and working dogs.
The proposal budget includes $85,000 for “antiterrorism/force protection,” $35,000 for “special” building foundations and $659,000 for a “standby generator.”
The budget also includes a $407,000 contingency fund and $530,000 for “supervision, inspection and overhead.”
Not included is $1,301,000 already spent for project design.
Construction had been expected to begin as early as August 2019 and finish by March 2022.
Military officials haven’t announced when work will resume.
But don’t despair, animal lovers. Trump’s push for the border wall didn’t affect a plan to count the iguanas at Gitmo.
On May 30, the Department of the Navy gave a Jacksonville, Florida company $98,607 to conduct an “iguana survey” at the naval base.
LG2 Environmental Solutions Inc. is expected to finish its count by Nov. 30, 2020.
For further reading:
- A 2006 article about iguanas at Gitmo: “Conserving the Remarkable Reptiles of Guantánamo Bay,” Page 11.
- The base’s policy on pets.
- The list of affected military construction projects outside the U.S.