California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Cat Rescue Movement vs. Wildlife Defenders

By Pat Roberto

Transcribed from California Coast & Ocean, (Summer 1995), with permission of The State Coastal Conservancy.

Feral cat colonies have become established in parks and other wildlife habitat areas with the help of advocates dedicated to saving them from "death row." But to wildlife defenders these cats are unnatural predators, destroying vast numbers of birds and other small creatures.

When she lived in Forestville, a small town in Sonoma County, Marilyn Davis was known as a friend to cats. She took in strays at the house she and her husband had built by a creek and in time there were twelve. The Davises and the cats lived happily enough until Marilyn saw a troubling pattern: rabbits, quail, varied thrushes, even snakes and frogs were being dragged over her threshold from the creekside. Because she was also a friend of wildlife, Davis reluctantly confined the most active hunters indoors, but the other cats only seemed to take up the slack. More and more wildlife arrived DOA on her doorstep. More and more cats were brought inside for good until only a few old fat ones were left lolling around on the deck. Whatever flew over their heads, though, they swatted and swallowed, almost in one motion. Finally she faced the truth: "This is their nature, every one of them. They're hunters."

In 1987 the Davises moved to a new house in Bodega Harbour, a residential community next to the salt marsh at Doran County Park. She knew that the marsh was important to wildlife and was therefore alarmed by the sight of many free-roaming cats. A neighbor, a member of Forgotten Felines, had established a feeding station for them at the 16th hole of the community golf course, with the manager's consent. She explained to Davis that all God's creatures deserve an equal chance. Davis, mindful of what she had seen with her own cats, consulted wildlife biologists at Bodega Marine Laboratory. What she learned changed her life, and it may help to save coastal marshes and parks from a deceptively endearing predator.

Davis still loves cats. But now she devotes enormous energy and effort to saving wildlife from their predation. This has pitted her against a movement for cat protection that seeks to change custom and, where necessary, laws so that feral cats might live in the wild.

What's A Cat?

Feral cats are a growing subject of controversy around the country. Depending on who is talking, they are (1) domestic animals adapted to living on their own in urban areas or in the wild; (2) introduced, and increasingly common, predators that are decimating bird and small animal populations in parks and wildlife areas; (3) homeless, lost, or abandoned pets that have a right to live on their own and whose effect on other wildlife can be minimized with a little help from their human friends.

About the only point not in contention is that feral cats in California — an estimated 3.5 million in the state, or 35 to 40 percent of the total number of "domestic" cats (Felis catus) — have become a highly troubling issue in wildlife management.

Thousands of cats now reside in parks and open spaces in cities and suburbs, especially along the coast, where most Californians live. They find shelter around and under buildings, on university campuses, on the grounds of hospitals, museums, and shopping centers. They survive in woods and along the edges of marshes and rivers that provide ever-diminishing habitat to wildlife. They roam coastal wildlife sanctuaries, preying on endangered waterbirds.

"Feral cats are everywhere," Diane Allevato, director of the Marin County Humane Society, told the Environmental Forum meeting in Novato on June 8. "You can't see them because they're nocturnal. But they are behind restaurants, at grocery stores, at dumps, in office complexes, and in our parks. Wherever there's a food source, cats will gather."

In many places, food to sustain entire cat "colonies" is provided by cat welfare groups. During the past few years such groups have become so widespread that they constitute a popular movement. They are dedicated to the support of feral cats as an alternative to euthanasia, and are waging an advocacy campaign that is forcing understaffed and underfunded public agencies to face unpopular choices and irate partisans.

Biologist Victor Chow of the Bodega Marine Laboratory, who has encountered the cat movement in the course of his studies of cat predation, observed that "this movement has a huge network. Environmentalists don't know yet what they're up against."

Like Marilyn Davis in her days as cat lady, cat advocates are motivated by compassion for an animal that has a special place in our society. "I can see homeless people on the street and I don't bat an eye, " Donna Best of Forgotten Felines in Sonoma County told this reporter. "But the plight of the feral cat is pitiful."

United by a commitment to saving feline lives, cat rescue groups, locally based and only loosely organized, consist almost entirely of dedicated volunteers. They are highly motivated and politically active. Some of their tactics are familiar from other popular movements-civil rights, anti-abortion, gay rights, property rights, environmental justice. They communicate on the Internet, work to shape government policy, do not hesitate to take direct action when they see it as morally necessary, and have gone to court in defense of their cause.

In Virginia last year, Alley Cat Allies, a national feral cat protection group, sought a U.S. district court injunction to stop the National Park Service from removing free-roaming cats from the Riverside Park area of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, near Mount Vernon. They argued that trapping and removal "will mean the likely death of these cats and will cause much hardship and distress to the Plaintiff," who enjoyed visiting the cats. The Park Service, however, removed 28 cats and 2 kittens from the park before the matter was heard, and the case was dismissed as moot.

Taking the legislative route in Santa Cruz County and the city of Las Vegas, cat groups campaigned alongside wildlife and humane societies for spay-and-neutering laws, then negotiated exemptions for themselves to provisions that define anyone who feeds a cat as its owner. Thus they could feed feral cats without being held responsible for them.

At a national conference in Washington last year, Laura Nelson, attorney for Alley Cat Allies, suggested to cat care groups that they "start making a county-wide, or a community-wide, or a state-wide effort to get legislation in place, without telling anyone particularly what you're doing . . . Once there is a law on the books that says 'I am allowed to do that,' that's when you can come public."

A Cat Welfare Program

It is in its promotion of feral cat management programs, however-programs that wildlife biologists and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) view as both unrealistic and harmful-that the cat rescue movement has generated the most controversy. Its programs often use an approach called TTVAR (for Trap, Test, Vaccinate, Alter, and Release), which was developed in Europe, particularly Great Britain, for several interconnected reasons, including public health and cat population control.

Many cat groups in the United States work to persuade public and private land managers to adopt TTVAR when complaints about feral cats reach a point where action is about to be taken to reduce their population. They step up, describe the program, and offer to help carry it out. This means that they agree to trap all feral cats at a particular location and have them tested by veterinarians. Diseased cats are put down; the rest are vaccinated for rabies, distemper, and feline leukemia and sterilized. If any are found suitable for adoption, the cat care groups try to find them homes. The rest are returned to their turf to be fed daily by one or two volunteer caregivers, at personal expense. TTVAR requires that each cat be recaptured for revaccination.

Advocates of this program contend that releasing cats where they were found is not only a kindness, it is necessary. A band of healthy vaccinated and sterile cats, numbering from 6 to 100, will hold their territory against other cats that might wish to invade. As feral cats live only three to five years, the argument goes, their numbers will soon dwindle. Daily feeding will reduce the inclination to hunt. Hence the cats get to live out their lives, while predation and disease are minimized.

"Our whole program depends on sterilization," said Best, of Forgotten Felines, who stated that her organization cares for 6,000 feral cats in more than 100 colonies in Sonoma County, some of them on public land, under contract with public agencies and local governments.

To wildlife biologists and other critics, the trap-and-release program is impracticable if not downright fraudulent, a Trojan Horse full of cats being shunted onto public lands.

First, they say, it is almost impossible to trap all feral cats within a given area at once. Indeed, a member of Happy Tails in Sacramento acknowledged to reporter Tracy Bryan of KCRA-TV that not a single cat had been captured in three colonies this cat group managed. Moreover, cats trapped once will tend to avoid a second experience, thus evading booster shots.

Second, feeding does not prevent hunting; in fact, it may increase the cat's advantage over prey and native predators, including the great horned owl, long-tailed weasel, and gray fox.

Third, evidence is lacking that cats will band together to protect territory; indeed, there is much literature and observation to the contrary. "It's common for new cats to show up at feeding stations," said Ron Jurek of the nongame Bird and Mammal Program, California Department of Fish and Game. The very existence of colonies attracts more cats as they become dumping grounds for unwanted pets.

Fourth, sterilization-a step universally applauded-does not appreciably reduce the feral cat population. Biologists Victor Chow and Peter Connors of the Bodega Marine Laboratory argued this point to the city of Santa Rosa in attempting to dissuade it from accepting the TTVAR program. There will always be nonsterile cats around, they said; the program really only enhances the survival rate of kittens.

A SURE WAY TO CATCH A FERAL CAT

At Salt Point State Park in Sonoma County, there were some 50 resident cats at one campground a few years ago, according to State Ranger Dan Winkelman. "It was unbelievable. They would almost attack you, they'd scream at your campsite until you'd throw them some food."

Something had to be done. Ranger Winkelman devised an effective strategy for capturing the cats. After a rain, when the sun came out again, he would heat up a tin of cat food and place it in a raccoon trap on a picnic table. The cats would be hungry, for the rain had kept campers away. Winkelman said he "couldn't set the trap fast enough." His only problem was finding a cage big enough to hold the cats until the animal control officer arrived.

"To some people this might seem heartless," the ranger said. "But it's heartless to leave the cats there to multiply and starve."

The problem at this particular campground was solved, for a while at least. But it exists in almost every campground in the State Park system, Winkelman has found in his 15 years with State Parks. "And we will continue to have this problem as long as people keep dropping cats off in parks. They think they have a wild animal who can adapt, but these cats depend on a human food source. In the campgrounds they become moochers, not hunters. They depend on campers and dumpsters, and they multiply over and over until the campground is overrun. When the campers leave they start to starve. It's a very cruel situation."

The Meaning of Mercy

Eric Sakach, director of the Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington regional office of the HSUS, sees such programs as "a form of subsidized abandonment." He says they "don't prevent the suffering of cats, they perpetuate it. Virtually every cat that has been trapped, vaccinated, and released will die some sort of really rotten death-under the wheels of cars, at the hands of someone who does not like cats, from disease, infected wounds, in cat fights. When they can no longer make it to a feeding station they end up dying a miserable death.... We believe that a stray is best helped when it's taken to a shelter to be adopted or humanely euthanized if it is diseased, not approachable, or not suitable for adoption."

Even if TTVAR worked in theory, critics say, the burden and expense placed on caregivers would be too great for all but the most dedicated to bear. Feeders often drive daily to a distant site to feed cats at their own expense. They must know all the cats of their colony to identify newcomers that need to be trapped and removed and to keep track of inoculations. Sustaining a cat colony through years can amount to holding down a half-time job, one caregiver said. Some cat rescuers carry through on the commitment. In Alameda County, Evelyn Schlichtung, who at age 80 has the energy of a teenager, has for years been feeding cats regularly at three locations. She knows them by name, knows their food preferences and their history. They are her friends. But at Sonoma State University, where Forgotten Felines had a TTVAR program, student caregivers disappeared at spring and summer vacations. After a campus visitor was bitten by a feral cat and sued the university, the program was disbanded. Edna Nakamoto, director of human resources at Sonoma State, said the cat population had actually increased in the year of the program's operation. "I finally had to tell them we weren't running a cat zoo," she said.

TTVAR got better reviews at Stanford University, where 300 cats-some mangy and belligerent-were saved from the pound in 1990 following an uproar within the university community. "We had alumni calling threatening to stop their donations," said the university's facilities director, Herb Fong. Employees formed the Stanford Cat Network, and the university agreed to permit them to feed the cats and care for them. Fong said the campus cats are now much healthier and friendlier and that complaints about cats are "way down." Their numbers remain at 1990 levels, however, and trapping to remove newcomers is "constant."

The question of whether TTVAR delivers what it promises is further complicated by the refusal of caregiver groups to allow scientific studies. Investigators are routinely told that the locations of colonies and feeding stations must remain secret to prevent people from dumping unwanted cats. This reasoning is hard to rebut, but it serves to insulate the hundreds of feeding projects around the state from public as well as scientific scrutiny.

Conflicts between cat groups and wildlife advocates are so fundamental they extend to the very definition of the animal in question. What exactly is a cat? Wildlife biologists say it's a domesticated animal whose survival strategy was to adapt to humans, a pet with no other ecological niche than the sofa or the front porch. Many cat advocates disagree, citing the writing of Roger Tabor, a British biologist and a major theoretician of the movement. In The Wild Life of the Domestic Cat, Tabor contends that the cat is, uniquely, both domestic and wild. Like the pigeon, it depends on food made available largely by humans. "The feral domestic cat is certainly part of our wildlife and has been so for a long time, whether we admit it or not," Tabor writes. It is "just filling the place of the declined wildforest cat."

Ron Jurek at Fish and Game calls this bunkum. "Cats are domestic animals bred for companionship with humans. They fill no niche in the wild except that carved out for them by people. Cats have no place whatsoever in parks." (Like most leading opponents of trap and release programs, Jurek is a cat owner, disproving a cat movement allegation that the issue pits "cat lovers against bird lovers." Four cats live in his home, but do not roam beyond the deck.) Left to their own devices, cats must spread thinly and range widely to eke out a short and miserable existence. Far greater densities quickly become the norm wherever cats are fed in groups. "Even a small group of six cats roaming over a few dozen acres of open space exists at a population density greater than all local native mammal predators combined," Jurek said. The result is an inexorable depletion of ground-nesting birds, small rodents, reptiles, and amphibians including salamanders and frogs.

In coastal areas, from Humboldt County to San Diego, this is precisely what bird watchers and wildlife managers are witnessing wherever appreciable numbers of cats live in the wild.

Predation Along the Entire Coast

The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is habitat to more than 200 species of wild birds and mammals-and 12 to 15 feral cats. People from around the country and abroad come here to admire this model environmental project, a marsh created during the past two decades with the help of the Coastal Conservancy at the site of a former dump. Now, though, the cats are "threatening the very species we are trying to provide with sanctuary, " said environmental resource specialist Julie Neander. The sanctuary's staff and volunteers must stand by helplessly: not only do they have no policy regarding cats, but the city does not even have an animal control officer. The volunteer trapper who used to remove the cats has left the area. Visitors feed them, not realizing the implications for vulnerable wildlife.

Along the entire coast, cats are preying on the endangered light-footed clapper rail and California least tern, on rodents including the endangered Pacific pocket mouse, and probably many other species now so rare that predation patterns are impossible to document. Well-fed and -maintained coteries of cats are blamed in large part for the disappearance of quail from Stanford University campus and from Golden Gate Park. San Francisco's famous park is "essentially an island surrounded by cats," observed Mark Rauzon, chairman of the Pacific Seabird Group, who has been working on feral cat problems on central Pacific islands.

CAT OWNERS' ALERT

At the Animal Rehabilitation Center of the Lindsay Museum in Walnut Creek, a placard at the admissions desk shows a cat pouncing on a chick. "Four to five million birds are killed by cats each day in the U.S."reads the message below. "Please keep your cat indoors during baby bird season. It will save countless wild lives."

Susan Heckley, the center's director, says cats from the suburban environs cause about a third of the 7,000 casualties brought to her facility each year, leaving tell-tale puncture wounds on birds' bodies. These figures do not include prey killed outright. However, 80-90 percent of birds that survive a cat attack die within a few hours, infected by a bacterium, Pasteurella multocida, picked up by cat claws and teeth from decaying carrion. A few survive if antibiotics are promptly administered.

Heckley makes no distinction between feral and domestic cats. Either will kill given the opportunity, and both must be controlled. "Fifteen years ago, we saw far fewer birds but many, many more species," she said. "Now most of the species are gone and what we see are your typical urban birds, swallows, and mockingbirds."

On a recent summer evening a mottled white-and-brown female and her gray calico kitten drank at a dripping water spigot by the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, vanishing behind a dumpster at the approach of humans. From behind the statue of Giuseppe Verdi on Kennedy Drive, a gray tiger tom stepped out to the evening tune of song sparrows.

Such scenes sadden Luis Baptista of the California Academy of Sciences, one of the world's foremost ornithologists. He has been studying the local dialects of the white-crowned sparrow and other songbirds and presently advises the Mexican government on controlling cat predation against birds on the Socorro Islands.

"When I first came here in the 1960s, the rabbits and the quail could be seen on any lawn. White-crowned sparrows were so thick on Strawberry Hill I had trouble isolating the voice of any one of them with my parabola reflector (microphone). Now the ground birds and rabbits are just about gone. I haven't seen a cottontail for years here, and there is only one pair of quail left, inside the arboretum." Baptista points to the cat feeding stations that become operative at morning and early evening in many parts of the park.

At a hearing on the subject of cats in the park before the San Francisco Commission of Animal Control and Welfare in January 1993, 15 of 18 speakers identified themselves as cat colony managers, and most offered other explanations for the disappearance of birds and small animals: other predators, parasites and infections, removal of underbrush, drought, and automobiles.

Baptista accepts none of these theories. The few predators in the park other than cats are far less efficient hunters. Furthermore, cats leave evidence: wings and legs, which raccoons and possums would consume. The nesting habitat in the park is still there, but the birds are gone.

Meanwhile, in Morro Bay, Judy Sullivan, a writer and bird watcher, held her peace for years watching good-hearted cat feeders at Morro Rock State Ecological Preserve, where nesting birds include the white-crowned sparrow, snowy plover, and endangered peregrine falcon. Every morning an elderly couple served a sumptuous breakfast of fish, roast turkey, and gourmet cat food to some 45 cats. Evenings, an elderly man brought a simpler supper. Then, last spring, Sullivan and a friend spotted some white-crowned sparrows that, at first glance, they took to be mutants: they had no tails. Looking more closely, they realized that "the feathers had been mauled by cats." Shortly thereafter, the sole peregrine falcon fledging seen that spring vanished from its nest in a rock crevice. Sullivan knew she had to take action.

She persuaded the three feeders that neither birds nor cats were well served by cohabitation on the Rock. Together, Sullivan, her young son, and one of the feeders borrowed traps from the local cat welfare group, Homeless Animal Rescue Team (HART). (In 1994 HART had received a $2,500 grant from the city to catch and sterilize cats, with permission to return them to the Rock. State park officals have since prevailed on the Morro Bay City Council to rescind that permission.) With these traps Sullivan and her allies captured 45 cats within a year. HART could take only 20. So Sullivan found adoptive homes for 12, and took the remaining 13 to the local animal shelter. Two cats eluded capture but were later shot by unknown vigilantes. While the trapping was under way, state park staff posted a sign warning against abandoning or feeding cats at Morro Rock. City police caught a HART leader attempting to scratch out the "no feeding" message.

Similar conflicts are occurring along the entire coast. On the Famosa Slough in San Diego, active nests of the endangered light-footed clapper rail have been observed during the past two springs, but not fledglings. "They always get eaten," said Jim Peugh, president of the San Diego County Audubon Society. Because endangered species were being threatened by predators, the Animal Damage Control unit (ADC) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture set out traps. On each of five nights of trapping, some traps were stolen, disturbed, or destroyed, according to Susan Wynn, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which funded the roundup. ADC nevertheless removed seven skunks, two possums, and 16 cats to the Humane Society. Peugh subsequently saw a few black-necked stilt fledglings. Now a nearby resident has begun to feed cats on the slough channel and will not be dissuaded.

Public Health Concerns

As cat colonies proliferate, there is concern that they might become disease transmission sites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that free-roaming cats can pick up fleas infected with plagues from rodents and ferry these fleas to humans. In the December 1994 issue of Infectious Disease Alert, a newsletter published by American Health Consultants, Dr. Stan Deresinski listed 21 cat-associated infections of humans. Cats can transmit parasites, such as roundworm, as well as toxoplasmosis, a severe infection of the blood that is especially hazardous to children, AIDS patients, and pregnant women.

There is also concern that wild species may be infected with domestic cat diseases. Raccoons, foxes, possums, and other wild animals are attracted to food bowls. In 1993 a mountain lion that staggered onto the Sacramento State College Campus and died was found to have feline leukemia-the first recorded case in cougars in North America.

Despite these concerns, Alley Cat Allies, Forgotten Felines in Sonoma County, and Happy Tails in Sacramento all argue that destruction of habitat, other predators, and herbicides take a far higher toll on wildlife than cats do.

Nobody disputes the fact that the decline in bird populations has many causes, especially habitat destruction and toxins in the environment. As habitat shrinks, however, and the human population grows-along with the populations of pets-the impact of cats gains in significance. The ratio of cats to humans in this country is conservatively estimated at 1 to 3.

In their proud exhibition of captured prey, cats are often their own worst enemies. A study of house cats in a village in England by Peter Churcher and John Lawton, who counted such displayed trophies for one year, concluded that cats kill about 70 million animals annually in England. In a similar but smaller study at the University of Richmond, ecologists Joseph Mitchell and Ruth Beck estimated that Virginia's one million cats kill three million birds a year. At the Bodega Marine Laboratory, Peter Connors estimated that half a million birds are lost to cats annually in Sonoma County alone.

Studies notwithstanding, the need to find a political solution acceptable to armies of cat lovers has often made the cat movement's agenda palatable to state and local officials. In Sonoma County, Forgotten Felines won contracts to maintain colonies at Bodega Dunes Campground at Sonoma Coast State Beach, Spring Lake County Park, and several municipal parks in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

Hard to Resist

Robert LaBelle, the Russian River/Mendocino District Superintendent for the California Department of Parks and Recreation, read the literature from Forgotten Felines and decided to try their approach. Although state regulations prohibit keeping nonnative species in parks, LaBelle believed that having the cats altered, vaccinated, and fed by willing volunteers was better than doing nothing. With feral pigs, poachers, and increasing violent crime to contend with, LaBelle said, cats were simply not a high priority. So he sent Forgotten Felines a signed agreement.

Then a fat manila envelope from Marilyn Davis landed on his desk, with research papers and published criticism of trap- and-release programs. A letter followed. "I suggest you send another letter to Forgotten Felines, which begins, 'On second thought... ,'" Davis wrote. And LaBelle did.

The work of Davis and her small band of allies was crucial to the passage of an ordinance in Sonoma County last May that requires alteration of all free-roaming cats, prohibits feeding on county lands, and makes animal abandonment a misdemeanor. However, Forgotten Felines won an 18-month extension on some feeding programs while they look for homes for the cats.

In March 1995 Davis founded the Native Species Network to alert the public about the harm introduced predators do to wildlife. She has tirelessly studied the activities and tactics of the cat movement and has mastered much of the scientific data available to refute their claims. A small, intense woman with delicate features, sparkling blue eyes, and a bold profusion of white hair, she has a passion for preserving parklands for wildlife that equals the care groups' passion for cats. She tries to bring her case for the right of wildlife to live in a cat-free environment to every jurisdiction, public or private, where cat groups are managing colonies with official approval. Tirelessly, Davis delivers the evidence that cats will hunt and kill wild species. She attends community meetings and writes to park directors. She urges officials to make the politically difficult choice to remove cats from public areas, delicately adding some points about their legal liability for hosting a cabal of unpredictable, antisocial clawed animals.

If Sonoma County is any example, the Native Species Network and other wildlife advocates have their work cut out for them, not only in fighting cat colonies, but also in convincing the ambivalent-including park staff, who should be on their side. But rangers at understaffed parks often welcome cat rescuers because, as activist Donna Best said, "They don't have the resources; they don't have the manpower; they don't have the will" to deal with the problem.

Dan Knapp, director of the Sonoma County Humane Society, says his staff are demoralized by the sheer numbers of throwaway domestic pets they must kill. Sympathy for cats translates into the sabotage of traps and a lack of commitment to trapping programs. Unless another approach is tried, said Knapp, himself a cat movement activist who lectured on political tactics at the 1994 conference in Washington, feral cats will continue to exist and their populations will expand. "Then you get a group which has tremendous resources and tremendous commitment to this (TTVAR) program, and you think, well, let them try." His position is at odds with that of the 2.5-million-member HSUS, which has taken a firm stand against the trap-and-release programs. Local humane societies are autonomous.

Is There a Kind Solution?

The single-mindedness, energy, and determination of the cat groups is both admirable and disquieting to those who have encountered them. "If only we could redirect the wonderful energy of these sincere and good-hearted people," said Luis Baptista.

What, then, can be done?

In the long run, the answer will lie with public education. People tend to love what they know. Most people know cats and dogs and have little knowledge of wildlife. In today's fragmented society, many people look to pets for the contact and affection that children and family members used to provide. Daniel Evans, executive director of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, thinks that many people project a human value onto cats, developing an emotional attachment that clouds their view of the larger picture. More good studies on cat predations are needed, especially in California, he said, but funding is hard to obtain for such potentially unpopular research.

Cat owners, individually, can make a big difference by keeping their pets indoors. "We urge that shelters make that part of their educational message," said Samantha Mullen of HSUS, in Washington. "Some shelters will not allow cats to be adopted unless there is agreement they will be kept within the owner's home. That's the trend now." Those who understand the problem can educate their neighbors and friends. "Sometimes the best we can provide for [stray or feral] cats is an easy death," said Erik Sakach of the HSUS.

Communities need to adopt regulatory measures to require cat owners to assume responsibility for their pets. Toward that end, the city of Novato, in Marin County, now requires that cats be licensed and implanted with an identifying microchip.

Cities, counties and park authorities need to adopt feral animal policies; feral animal removal must become a permanent, regular feature of wildlife management, wildlife biologists agree.

Communities can set heavy fines for failure to spay or neuter cats, abandonment of domestic animals, and feeding in public places. The Sonoma County ordinance adopted in 1994 does all three.

Current laws that prohibit feeding animals in parks need to be enforced. This would thin out colonies and undercut the cats' advantage, biologists Chow and Jurek say.

In the end, the choice seems to be between two unpalatable alternatives: sacrificing wildlife to cats, or euthanizing unowned and unclaimed cats.

It's a tough choice, says Daniel Evans, at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, but "the main problem is that we are losing wildlife, and cats are a major cause. People have to decide if they want to go to the park to see wildlife or to see cats."

Pat Roberto is a free-lance writer who lives in Berkeley.


This article was originally published in California Coast & Ocean, Vol. 11, No. 2, pages 31-40. Summer 1995.

California Coast & Ocean
is published quarterly by the State Coastal Conservancy in association with the University of California Press.

State Coastal Conservancy, 1330 Broadway, Suite 1100, Oakland, CA 94612.

Questions or comments to Kent Smith at the CDFW.