Boca Grande and Its Cats
Tales of Island Life: May 2023
Periodically through its history, the Island has had its cat lovers and its issues with cats. A 1956 article from the Fort Myers News Press reveals that the nighttime howling of a number of cats was causing Gasparilla Inn occupants to lose sleep. An Inn spokesman explained that Paul Schwartz, an Island carpenter who had died two years prior, had a large number of cats who now roamed free. Many Inn visitors not only complained but threatened to leave if the cat concerts continued. To remedy the situation, it was claimed that someone had been hired to get rid of the culprits for $1 per cat eliminated.
Unfortunately, some of the cat victims may have been beloved pets of several residents. Agnes Wheeler, a Tarpon Street resident, reported that her yellow and white cat was missing as were the cats of Mrs. Harry Whidden and Mrs. Coram Lanier and others who are unnamed. It was also reported that Pete Hansen’s cat came home with a bullet hole through its body. The hole was healing and the cat survived.
The newspaper noted that Boca Grande was a bird sanctuary and that the discharge of firearms on the island was prohibited. Why the cats disappeared was being investigated by the Lee County Humane Society. No follow=up article has been found.
This article resulted in some discussion at the History Center. Both Trisha Lowe and Hazel Presley Singletary remember Agnes Wheeler. Agnes owned the Pelican Gift Shop which was located in the old bank building now the telephone building on the corner of Fourth Street and East Railroad. Trisha commented that it was a very nice shop with many lovely gift items.
Both ladies recall that Agnes regularly carried bottles of milk with her as she walked up East Railroad filling saucers for the town cats. Hazel adds that her mother, Charlie Mae Presley, also fed the local cats as well as the racoons. Florida Fish and Wildlife asked her to stop feeding racoons but Hazel believes her mother persisted.
Years later, your editor remembers the cats who would join customers at the upstairs porch tables at the Lighthouse Hole restaurant at Miller’s Marina especially on “all you can eat” fish nights as well as efforts made in the 1990’s to remove feral cats from the island. It appears that most of the current cat population is well behaved.