“There have always been feral cats, and there will never not be feral cats,” says Susan Simons of Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County. “The trick is to find ways to manage their population, and to coexist with them in positive ways.”
Fifteen years ago, when the Argus-Courier published a story about feral cats in the rural parts of Petaluma (see excerpt in sidebar), Simons was the chair of the Petaluma Animal Services Advisory Committee. At that time, the committee was putting together a task force on feral cats, to learn more about the existing colonies of cats, and to find ways to help colony caretakers work more efficiently with the Animal Shelter and other groups, like Forgotten Felines.
“There was distrust of the Shelter, though,” she allows, “so the caretakers really wanted to do more on their own, as with PETaluma Pet Pals.”
Over the last fifteen years, Simons says, though the number of feral cats in and around Petaluma has hardly been reduced to zero, a number of constructive developments have occurred among those organizations that work to care for local animals. A wider acceptance and use of spaying and neutering has helped, along with the development and gradually widening public embrace of microchipping. One of the most positive changes, though, Simons suggests, is that people have gradually accepted that not all feral cats are bad.
“There are many colonies of feral cats that are doing just fine,” says Simons. “We trap them when we can and bring them in to be spayed or neutered and microchipped, then we return them to their colonies. There was a time when they would simply be euthanized, because people saw them as filthy and scary. But believe me, at Forgotten Felines, a lot of the feral cats that come in look healthier and cleaner than cats who are owned and supposedly cared for.”
Simons says that one of the biggest problems is people attempting to interfere with feral cat colonies without being aware that, in most cases, the colonies are being watched and cared for. One such colony, living along the river banks near Dempsey’s on the Turning Basin, has a sign posted, asking people not to feed the cats or attempt to take them away.
“That is a managed colony,” she affirms. “Some people see them and say, ‘Oh, those poor cats.’ But they have been spayed or neutered, they have been microchipped, they are being managed, and they have everything they need. There are many colonies like that one all around Petaluma.”
Additionally, Forgotten Felines has a Barn Program, in which feral cats are introduced to rural areas, from farms to vineyards, to be “employed” as humane rodent control.
“We’re always looking for places to relocate these cats, and that’s something a lot of these cats could certainly be employed in doing, keeping down the rat populations,” Simons says. Acknowledging the recent reports of rodent infestations in the downtown area, near the off-limits railroad trestle, Simons suggests that enterprising business owners along the river might consider using cats to keep the rodent numbers down. Says Simon, “I think we could promote that idea more.”
By and large, though, the best change that has taken place over the last decade-and-a-half is that there has been a wider acceptance of the idea that not all cats need a home with humans in order to be healthy contributors to our local ecology system.
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
Too Many Cats: Neighbors band together to solve a feral cat problem
The neighbors on Sprauer Rd., northwest of Petaluma, were overrun with feral cats. Some of the animals were sick or injured, many were fighting with pet cats and all were marking their territories with spraying.
Last September, said Judy Reynolds of Petaluma Pet Pals, a woman called saying they had at least 100 feral cats in the Sprauer Rd. area.
“It’s a serious problem,” Reynolds said. And a potentially costly one. “They have to go all the way to the county animal shelter, and if they take a cat to be euthanized, it costs that person $125.
And most people, no matter how much they care about animals or where they live, can’t afford to take on the endless problems of feral cats. So, a new program, the Neighborhood Pet Alliance was formed.
“We created the idea of neighborhood watch,” Reynolds says. “We put letters in the mailboxes of about 50 families, telling them that we could loan them traps, train them how to trap the cats, and pay for having the cats spayed or neutered. Now we have six families trapping, coordinating, and helping each other out.”
(Excerpted from an article written by Katie Watts, originally appearing in the Argus-Courier on Feb. 26, 2003)