(WSVN) - Tenting for termites is supposed to just get rid of pests. Sadly, in one South Florida city, it is also blamed for killing some pets. The Nighteam’s Karen Hensel has tonight’s 7 Investigates.

As the sun comes up, the cats of South Beach come out. Among them were Maru, Sol and 10-year-old Chloe.

Holly Whalan: “Maru, are you happy to be inside?”

They were playful, even with the family dog.

Holly Whalan: “What are you doing?”

Holly Whalan, South Beach resident: “They would come in, and they would snuggle with me on the sofa, and Sol used to hug me. They become our pets.”

But sadly, all three died on the same day in a nearby building being tented for termites.

Holly Whalan: “I can only imagine their fear. Being suffocated to death and having nowhere to hide.”

Maru, Sol and Chloe were community cats, part of the 15,000 living outside in Miami Beach.

SoBe Cats, a local non-profit, cares for the cats in a partnership with the city.

Karen Hensel: “So, to be clear, these are not feral cats?”

Holly Whalan: “No, no they are not feral. A feral by definition is a cat that chooses not to be around humans.”

Holly Whalan volunteers for SoBe Cats and took care of feeding and vet bills for Maru, Sol and Chloe.

They spent time both inside and outside her home until one day in January.

She put up signs looking for the cats, and that’s when she learned all three had been trapped in the building being tented.

They were killed when it was pumped full of deadly gas.

Holly Whalan: “So, where we’re standing now, we would have been tented inside the tent. Here is the crawl space that killed all the cats. It was completely open.”

It’s now fixed, but pictures show the crawl space had been open.

That’s how the cats got in, and that led to a code violation.

SoBe cats filed a complaint with the city. Inspectors cited the property stating, “Throughout the building, the openings … are not equipped with proper screen coverings.”

Holly Whalan: “I laid in bed and cried for weeks. It was so heartbreaking.”

Three more community cats were trapped and gassed to death the same way.

Fernando Valverde took care of Oreo, Barbie and Lemon.

Fernando Valverde, South Beach resident: “We were calling them by their names, and then, suddenly, we hear this shout like really, really bad, scary. Oreo just died in my arms.”

State rules require a fumigator to “make a final, personal inspection of the structure” before the gas is released.

Holly questions if, had that been done, why didn’t anyone see the three cats?

But, the Florida Department of Agriculture investigated and “determined that there is insufficient evidence” and did not cite the fumigation company.

Holly Whalan: “It’s an ongoing issue. Like, when is it going to stop?”

Six dead cats in two months, but 7 Investigates discovered the issue has been known about for years by the City of Miami Beach.

In 2019, the city’s resident-run animal welfare committee proposed citing irresponsible fumigators with “cruel confinement” and a fine of $250 per dead animal.

The city manager at the time even sent a memo outlining the committee’s concerns, to include: “Fumigation instances where cats had died due to the improper care from contractors by not removing them from the premises.”

But, the proposal never made it to the city commission for a vote.

The reason? Miami Beach tells 7News, they cannot pass laws regulating fumigation companies because that is the state’s responsibility.

Fernando Valverde: “It is really sad. I’ve never experienced something like that in my life before.”

Holly Whalan: “Nobody in their lifetime should ever have to mourn the loss of three pets, ever.”

And they now wonder what it will take to protect the animals.


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