What Can Be Done To Reduce Feral Cat Population?
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
There are close to one million feral cats living in San Diego County. We discuss how the feral cat population got so big, and what's being done to prevent the number of stray cats from growing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. When people are forced to move or when they lose their homes, there are many consequences. One of the least talked about is an increase in the number of homeless cats. Residents in areas of San Diego that have been hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis know that there are more cats around than there used to be. Some neighbors wind up feeding those cats and trying to take care of them. But when those homeless cats have kittens, it's another story because their offspring usually become feral, and that can add to the colonies of wild cats around San Diego. All this hour, we'll talk about the issues surrounding homeless and feral cats, and take your calls about the cats in your neighborhood. I’d like to introduce my guests. Josh Hirschmiller is board member with East County Animal Rescue. Josh, welcome to These Days.
JOSH HIRSCHMILLER (Board Member, East County Animal Rescue): Thank you, Maureen, for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Sheri Randle is secretary and a member of the board of directors for the Feral Cat Coalition. Sheri, good morning. Thanks for coming in.
SHERI RANDLE (Secretary, Feral Cat Coalition): Oh, good morning. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Dan DeSousa is Lieutenant with the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services. Dan, good morning.
DAN DESOUSA (San Diego County, Department of Animal Services): Good morning, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And we’d like to invite our listeners also to join the conversation. Are you noticing more cats in your backyard or maybe near your garbage? What do you think can be done for the homeless and feral cats in your neighborhood? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Sheri, let’s start out by defining what we’re talking about when we’re talking about a feral cat. What makes a cat a feral cat?
RANDLE: Feral actually means wild. So that is – a feral cat is a wild cat, so a cat that has not been touched usually before 8 weeks old, a lot of times they’ll – actually touched by a human, they will actually start to become more wild. The mom will be telling it anything that’s larger than us is probably a predator and is probably going to kill you so big humans trying to come over and pet little kittens, they’ll run away. So…
CAVANAUGH: Does a cat that’s been abandoned, will that cat turn wild or feral?
RANDLE: A lot of times what they’ll do is they’ll like intermix into another colony and they’ll start, you know, getting the behaviors of the feral cat. And after not being touched by humans for awhile, they will start to act like a feral cat, absolutely.
CAVANAUGH: Now how many feral cats do you estimate live in San Diego County? I know that that’s a really tough question.
RANDLE: Well, actually we estimate a little bit under a million here in San Diego County. And I think Josh might say a little different though.
HIRSCHMILLER: I’m leading – tend to lead towards that I think there might be a few more. We’re out there quite a bit and we see – in one block area this year we’ve dealt with 90 cats in a one-block radius in El Cajon. And we pulled out 45 kittens and spayed and neutered 45 adults in one block.
CAVANAUGH: So your estimate is a million or more than a million…
CAVANAUGH: …feral cats in…
CAVANAUGH: …San Diego County. Why – It seems – Josh, you seem to be thinking that the feral cat population is growing. What are the reasons that you give for that?
HIRSCHMILLER: This year, we have had a tremendous amount of work. We’re just volunteers so someone’ll call and say there’s this feral cat or this cat that’s growling at me with kittens in my backyard. So we’ll go and try to help them and usually we’d love them to be able to do the work for us and trap their own cats and bring them in to Feral Cat Coalition. Sometimes the – they’re being evicted and they can’t stay or, you know, whatever the situation is. But so we’ll go out in special situations and a lot of times the woman will point to the cat and say that cat’s growling at me, and I’ll see it growl but it’s sitting there. And I’ll say, well, the cat’s probably abandoned, probably tame. And, I mean, I don’t suggest people do this but if I assess the cat properly sometimes I’ll walk up and pick the – and scruff the cat and pick the cat up because I’ve been doing this a long time…
CAVANAUGH: And you can tell the difference.
HIRSCHMILLER: …and I can tell the mannerisms of a cat. Because if it looks at me and it meows at me…
HIRSCHMILLER: …I’m pretty sure that it’s, you know, it’s just abandoned. It doesn’t have a home.
CAVANAUGH: Rather than just running away.
HIRSCHMILLER: Yes, but its kittens, on the other hand, they’re not so nice. They’re not used to people, period. They’ve never seen people a lot of times, and you have to handle them differently than you handle the abandoned adults.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Sheri, and I want to remind our listeners we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Sheri, what is the mission of the Feral Cat Coalition? What are you guys really trying to do?
RANDLE: Really to alleviate the suffering of homeless and feral cats. And the way we see doing that is actually by getting them all spayed and neutered so that there’s no offsprings (sic). So that’s our main thing, is we just don’t want any more kittens being born out in the wild.
CAVANAUGH: And what, also, aside from the spaying and neutering, what kind of problems do feral and homeless cats have when it comes to their health?
RANDLE: Actually, feral cats are healthier than most people would actually think. You know, they’re just animals living out in the wild like the other animals are. You know, we have every once in awhile some medical issues, you know, older cats, tom cats, their teeth, you know, being in a lot of fights, you know, their jowls, and just, you know, some certain wounds that they might have. But, honestly, for as many cats that we do, probably, you know, over 2,000 a year, we really don’t see that many medical. You know, thank God because, you know, we do help out a little bit. We do have a small medical fund but it’s very small because we just cannot put that kind of money towards it. Our main goal is to spay and neuter.
CAVANAUGH: A lot of people think about abandoned cats, cats that live rough and in the wild, that they’re dirty, they carry diseases, they’re filled with flies and all manner of – I mean, not flies but fleas, all manner of terrible things. Is that the case?
RANDLE: Actually, you know, yes, our feral cats will have fleas. Some of them don’t. At our clinics we actually give them all a dosage of Advantage. You know, they’re really – sometimes they’re dirty, you know, you’ll – you can tell that, okay, this one lives outside, you know, near – it’s working around on – walking around on oil or something. And other ones are actually not too dirty so, you know, sometimes they’re just living in the backyards of people’s homes.
CAVANAUGH: And, Josh, I want to give you an opportunity to talk about the goals of the East County Animal Rescue. Are they similar?
HIRSCHMILLER: Well, I’d like to touch on this…
HIRSCHMILLER: …point that you were just talking about. One of the things that we see, that I see, a lot is some of the injuries from feral cats, a lot of this is due to breeding, a lot of bite wounds on the back of females’ necks, a lot of, you know, bite wounds of males and you’ll hear people say that are out – that live near cats or whatever, say they were out fighting all night. Well, a lot of those are that those cats are breeding all night.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, yes.
HIRSCHMILLER: And they’re – the females call out to the males and the males fight over the females. So a lot of the – these problems, these injuries, can be diffused through spay and neuter because the males, after a month after being neutered, they lose the testosterone, a lot of it, that’s in their system and they, you know, not completely change their behaviors but they can, you know, change their behaviors quite a bit and not do a lot of the damage that they’re used to doing.
CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls about feral cats, feral and homeless cats in San Diego. And, anecdotally at least, the numbers are rising in at least some neighborhoods. And we’d like to hear what you think and how you’re dealing with the problem. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. And I want to bring in Dan DeSousa. He’s Lieutenant with the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services. And, Dan, what’s the county policy in regards to feral cats?
DESOUSA: The issue with cats is, unlike dogs, dogs have a leash law. There are no restraint requirements regarding cats so, therefore, we have no authority to go out into the communities and actually pick up loose cats. The burden then falls upon the people in the community. If they see a cat running loose, they can capture the cat either by a trap or if it’s friendly, like Josh said, just pick it up and bring it in to us and we’ll accept those animals that way. But we cannot go out into the communities and, you know, do a sweep and remove all the loose cats in the neighborhood.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Would you even have a place to put them if you did that?
DESOUSA: No, our shelters, like every other shelter, and like all the rescue groups, are overwhelmed with kittens, especially during the summertime, and cats. We would not have the space available to do that. You know, if what – if their estimates are true with a million cats, no, we do not have a million cat facility.
CAVANAUGH: Is there an exception to that rule, though? Is there a time when you might pick up a cat for one reason or another?
DESOUSA: If a cat is sick or injured, if it, you know, especially if it’s been hit by a car, yes, we will respond immediately to pick those cats up. If it is sick, you know, and it can be an upper respiratory infection, mange, anything like that, we will go out and pick those animals up.
CAVANAUGH: Do you ever contact the Feral Cat Societies that, you know, maybe if you spot a wild cat colony somewhere?
DESOUSA: We do not. We think they actually probably have a better heads-up on the cats than we do. You know, again, if one of our officers is driving down the road and sees a cat, they just say it’s a cat, you know.
DESOUSA: They’re out there looking for the dogs and things like that. So they probably have a better estimate of where the animal populations are than we do.
CAVANAUGH: Sheri, if you would, give us an idea of how feral and homeless cats survive. What do they eat? Where do they go? How do they manage not being taken care of?
RANDLE: Well, you know, they’re – actually hang out with the raccoons and the skunks and if they are feral, they’re truly feral and haven’t been abandoned, they usually will try to find some food source. Obviously, that’s what they survived on, that’s what their parents survived on. But our big issue is, you know, those poor cats that have been abandoned. They don’t know how to hunt for food. They don’t know what they’re doing. And, you know, a lot of times they’re very thin and they will die that way. So, you know, that’s why we will – we actually encourage people to go ahead and feed their feral cats and especially when it comes to trying to trap that cat. How are you going to trap the cat unless you have a specific time and place that you are feeding these cats?
CAVANAUGH: I see. So it’s one of your recommendations then if there are cats, strange cats in your backyard, to leave some food out for them?
RANDLE: Yeah, we actually tell the callers that now that they’re their caregivers.
RANDLE: So we ask them to, you know, take care of their ferals. And what’s really interesting is like a lot of times I’ve – you know, we have a hotline and I screen the hotline or I used to, I don’t do it anymore. And, you know, people would call and they would say, you know, hey, I have some cats out there and what do I do? And I would ask them if they’re feeding them. Oh, no. And then when I would explain to them that we really need them to be fed, you know, especially when it comes to trapping, and they would say, oh, actually I have been feeding them.
RANDLE: You know, but everybody told me not to feed them so…
RANDLE: …I’m just so used to telling people that I don’t feed them anymore.
CAVANAUGH: Right, right.
RANDLE: So that’s usually what happens. So most people do. I mean, you see a cat out there, you know, you put a little food out there and you start seeing it come by. You know, most people are very compassionate.
RANDLE: They love animals.
CAVANAUGH: We have a full phone bank of callers who want to get in to the conversation so let me tell you, 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Let’s hear from Charlene in San Diego. Good morning, Charlene. Welcome to These Days.
CHARLENE (Caller, San Diego): Thank you. Yeah, I think Sheri just answered my question. Should – My question was should I feed them? I can’t save them all. I do – We have a lot of feral cats, I’ve not seen them, in our neighborhood where my business is. And I put food out every day and we put out water every day. And we’ve caught several. As a matter of fact, I caught one last Wednesday and it was a kitten, and I caught it in a trap, took it to the vet, had it neutered, and shots and everything and now it’s at home in a kennel and I’ve got to probably add it to my collection. But should, you know, what should I do? We have all these cats. I feel responsible. Everybody else in the neighborhood has, you know, guard dogs, big guard dogs, and, you know, what do I do? I have found homes for probably a dozen. I’ve taken home three. I can’t keep doing that.
CAVANAUGH: Well, any suggestions, Josh?
HIRSCHMILLER: Yeah. Call the hotline, the Feral Cat Coalition hotline, which is – Sheri?
RANDLE: Oh, you think I would…
HIRSCHMILLER: I’m sorry.
HIRSCHMILLER: And get in touch with the screener. Someone will talk to you and find out, you know, what the situation is and work on getting the cats spayed and neutered. One – I mean, that’ll sl – that’ll stop the population increase and slowly, you know, the attrition will take over over a few years. But a lot of the smarter cats, they’re going to hunker down, they’re going to stay right where they are and you’re going to have, you know, several cats in that building as long as you feed them for, you know, 10, 12 years possibly.
CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. And I know growing up, I mean, I constant – got constant – I think many of us constantly heard don’t feed the cats, they’ll just come back, you know. But now what you’re saying is the humane thing is actually to leave some food out.
RANDLE: Yeah, and, actually you need to be responsible about that also. You know, we actually ask you to, when you put the food out, keep in out for like 15, 20 minutes and then take it back. Because, you know, we don’t want you to have all this food out there and now starting attracting, you know, raccoons or possums or any other animals that you don’t want to have around. So, you know, there is a lot of people that have a lot of different colonies that they’re feeding and they’ll go around and put the food out and then come back and pick up the food that’s left over. You know, that does happen a lot though. People will tend to overfeed their feral cats and, you know, we get some fat feral cats in.
CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue our discussion about homeless and feral cats in San Diego, what to do about them and who is helping out and really working with the problem. And we’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Josh Hirschmiller. He’s board member with the East County Animal Rescue. Sheri Randle with the Feral Cat Coalition, and Dan DeSousa, Lieutenant with the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services. We are talking about homeless and feral cats in San Diego, and taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Before we take another call, Dan, I’d like you to – I’d like to ask you about your suggestions to people who are perhaps concerned about having a colony of wild cats in their neighborhood.
DESOUSA: You know, best thing I can say is, you know, is do what they’ve all been saying. You know, contact the Feral Cat Coalition. If you have one or two cats, can you catch those cats and bring them in to us, yes. Now if these cats are truly feral, the likelihood of them ever being adopted is very slim. You know, we can adopt out cats if someone wants a barn cat for instance. The problem is, not too many barns in San Diego County. So, you know, if they want to do that, they can. We’ll always accept a stray animal like a cat like that. But we always would recommend, you know, going to the Feral Cat Coalition first and foremost. You know, try and get that cat spayed or neutered. Let it live out its life fat and happy, well, maybe fat and happy.
DESOUSA: And not, you know, have to be euthanized just because someone abandoned it, you know, a year or two ago.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Now are there colonies of feral dogs in San Diego?
CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right. Because you take care of that.
DESOUSA: Correct. We have the authority to go out and, you know, impound and bring in…
DESOUSA: …the dogs. We do not have any authority to pick up the cats.
CAVANAUGH: Do feral cats pose a threat to the pet cats who are let out to walk around the neighborhood?
DESOUSA: I would say not necessarily. I mean, cats are not really territorial to the degree that dogs are, so if there is a risk it’d be very minimal.
HIRSCHMILLER: One thing I’d like to state in that is the same thing we’ve been reiterating, is if your animal’s spayed and neutered it’s probably not going to have direct contact with feral cats because that’s – they’re trying to breed and…
HIRSCHMILLER: …and so they’re going to – You know, at the food dish, everybody’s the same, everybody’s an equal. You know, they just eat and then they go their separate ways, and we see it all the time. And I honestly believe that if you keep your animal spayed and neutered it’s going to – not going to be a nuisance.
CAVANAUGH: We’ll take another call. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Sally’s calling us from Sherman Heights. Good morning, Sally. Welcome to These Days. Sally, are you there? Good morning, Sally?
SALLY (Caller, Sherman Heights): Hi. Can you hear me?
CAVANAUGH: Yes, I can.
SALLY: Okay. I feed cats in Sherman Heights with a friend who provides the food and I provide the labor. We also trap when we can and we take them to the Feral Cat Coalition or to Neuter Scooter to get fixed. But trapping is a very intensive, time-consuming thing so we could use more help. But my call is about what is being done to help enlighten the immigrant communities in San Diego about the fact that cats are domesticated animals that need to be taken care of or fixed and neutered rather than treated like pests or like squirrels, like rats. Because that’s the attitude that we’re running into. When we feed, we are kicked down the road multiple times until almost we have nowhere to put the food. And we want to put the food out of compassion, and so that we can trap the cats and get them used to coming to a certain place. What is being done to help the immigrant community who come from cultures where animals are way, way, way lower down on the totem pole than they are in this country?
CAVANAUGH: Sally, thanks for the call. Is there a gap that you – you’re running into, Sheri, among different populations and how they feel about abandoned and feral cats?
RANDLE: Well, of course. It just depends on how you’ve been grown up, you know, how you look at animals. So I have – I do see what the caller’s saying, absolutely. In some communities, you know, you just do not neuter or spay your animals, you just don’t do it. But I’ll be honest with you, there’s organizations out there, and I’m pretty sure SNAP actually has a volunteer or actually a person who goes out to the different schools and tries to explain to them, you know, and enlighten them. And, you know, animals are here for, you know, you’re compassionate, you love them, they’re not just farm animals. You know, and that’s kind of how I think that they look at them. But I do see that they are starting to be aware of what’s going on. They are starting to get enlightened but not as enlightened as I’d like them to be.
CAVANAUGH: Josh, I’d like to ask you a little bit more about the trapping because we just heard Sally talk about how difficult this is. Now, this is something that you and, Sheri, I know that you do, too, you go out and you trap the feral cats in order to bring them in to have them spayed and neutered. How does that go? Is it a dangerous process?
HIRSCHMILLER: If you’re using box traps that have hard type traps or tomahawk traps, no, it’s generally not. When – if you try to corner a cat, yes, it’s dangerous. You can and generally, you know, if you try to corner a cat without any protection you can get scratched and bit. And I did – I did get bit this year and got a decent infection and learned a lesson, you know. Wear more gloves if I have to do that. But, yeah, no, it’s time consuming. It’s – But we – At the colony I told you about earlier where we’ve done – taken care of 90 cats this year, it was very difficult. We had to – the last couple of females, we had to catch them with their kittens. They’d have more litters and we’d grab – found their kittens and put their kittens in these safe box traps and put a – backed up another trap to it and the mother went for her kittens and got trapped. Then we could spay her and she wouldn’t breed anymore. But then we’d have her kittens to adopt out.
CAVANAUGH: So, Sheri, is this something that you recommend people try to do themselves?
RANDLE: Oh, absolutely because we’re an all-volunteer organization. We only have very few, like maybe four or five people who will actually trap, and San Diego’s a huge county. So, you know, actually when we talk to the call – when I talk to the caller, they’re like thinking we’re going to come out and, actually, no, I’m going to empower you to actually trap the cat. And I remember the first time I called the Feral Cat Coalition and how nervous I was. I’m, you know, oh, my God, I actually have to trap this cat? But, you know, I played around with the trap a couple of times and figured it out and, you know, it’s exhilarating. But I will say…
CAVANAUGH: Where do you get the trap?
RANDLE: You get the traps from the trap – from the Feral Cat Coalition.
RANDLE: We have volunteers that are called Trap Depots. And they’re all throughout San Diego County and, you know, they have a couple of traps, 5 to 10, 15 traps, and then they’ll loan them out for a $50.00 deposit. But one thing I wanted to touch on real quick is when it comes to actually trapping your cat, it’s like it’s one thing if it’s in your backyard but if it’s at your business, like the last caller, and that’s how I started, was from my business, I would never do it alone. And that we really encourage people to make sure that you have the buddy system because you’re usually trapping at night and, you know, just be smart. You know, bring your husband along. You know, just – and have your flashlight. Know what you’re doing.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Crystal is calling from Logan Heights. Good morning, Crystal. Welcome to These Days.
CRYSTAL (Caller, Logan Heights): Hi. Good morning. I’ve kind of got a little bit of a question-slash-a little bit of a beef with the Feral Cat Coalition. And that’s that I’ve lived over here in Logan Heights, which isn’t far from Sherman, for about two years and I have called and called and called and called and my roommate has called and called and called and called and we’ve yet to even hear back from you in regards to our cat issue. And we started out with, oh, two and now we have, I think the colony is up to like 9 or 10 cats that we take care of. We feed them, we give them water. And I’m just trying to get them in where we can get them to stop breeding. I’ve tried the Neuter Scooter and trapping with the Neuter Scooter. The problem is, is that a feral cat isn’t really necessarily on your schedule and you can’t necessarily – you don’t want to leave a cat in a trap for an entire weekend…
CRYSTAL: …to try and make an appointment Monday at five o’clock or whatever it is. And so my question is, is there a place to physically, when you trap a cat, that doesn’t work on necessarily human, you know, schedule of you have to make an appointment. But is there a place that you can – I’ve got my cat to have neutered, where can I take them when I have the cat and the cat is ready because…
CRYSTAL: …everything else is on human time and cats don’t work that way.
CAVANAUGH: Gotcha, Crystal. Is there any place – after someone has trapped a cat, where – what do they do then?
HIRSCHMILLER: Generally, we don’t suggest people trap a cat without a plan.
HIRSCHMILLER: Have a plan. Have something in place that, you know, have a vet set up or have – Contact Feral Cat Coalition. One problem with when you call the hotline, we are all volunteers, nobody – there’s no paid employees for our organizations. And it’s tough to find great volunteers but a lot of the problem with people calling in to the hotline is that if the person is saying that these cats are in my neighborhood, I hate them, I want them gone, we don’t even generally respond to a lot of those because we’re not there to remove cats and relocate cats for somebody. We’re there to spay and neuter a colony and if someone says – states that to the screener that they just want to get rid of this colony, a lot of the screeners are like, oh, my gosh, I don’t want to help them get rid of a colony.
RANDLE: Well, actually when it comes to – That’s why we call it screening. When people call the hotline, we screen them to make sure that this is not a pet, you know, and that these are actually abandoned or wild feral cats and, you know, a screener – We are getting, because it is so – And like, oh, this – we’re going to – Tomorrow, is going to – They’re going to have a lot of calls.
RANDLE: But we get really between, in the summertime, between 10 to 30 calls. You’ve got one person who’s picking up that many calls. It takes a long time to call all these people back, find them traps and get it going. And we do have screeners, it’s the hardest job we have. And a lot of screeners, they’ll do it for a couple of months and then they’re like they’re done. So we’re constantly looking for people to screen for us. We’re always needing volunteers.
CAVANAUGH: Just to make clear, though, if Crystal actually – if she wanted to get a trap from you guys…
CAVANAUGH: …she could get that trap and then she could call a participating vet who would spay and neuter?
RANDLE: No, that’s not actually how it works. You actually go through the Feral Cat Coalition. We have – What we have, weekly vet contacts and these are our volunteers that will deal with the vet’s hospital on their own. We don’t want the public calling the vet hospital because we really appreciate the vets hospitals…
RANDLE: …doing this for us because it’s all free. It’s all volunteer.
RANDLE: So we don’t want the public calling them. So what – the main thing is, if you have a cat that you want to get fixed, you must, you must, you must have an appointment before you do that. These are all volunteer vets. There’s, you know, it’s – it takes an arm and a leg for us to call everybody to try to find out if there’s an opening because we hate to see a cat in a trap. So, you know, there – and we don’t have a place yet. That’s what we’re really looking for. We want to open up a stationary clinic and if we can do something like that, of course we can tell this lady to come to us. But we don’t have – we don’t have a hospital.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
RANDLE: We have nothing so…
CAVANAUGH: I see. And just so we’re clear about something. We’ve made a reference a number of times to a Neuter Scooter. What is that?
RANDLE: SNAP has a…
CAVANAUGH: What is SNAP?
HIRSCHMILLER: Is Spay Neuter Action Project.
RANDLE: Thank you. And then they – it’s great. They’ve got actually two Neuter Scooters. And it’s a – they’re buses that were converted into vet hospitals. And so they will drive to different communities and, you know, spay and neuter dogs and cats there, and then they’ll do a couple of feral cats also.
DESOUSA: Yeah, most of the Neuter Scooter’s simply for a person that can’t afford to get an animal spayed or neutered on their own and the SNAP, the Neuter Scooter will come out to communities and do it at a very reduced price.
DESOUSA: They do not normally handle a lot of feral cats.
CAVANAUGH: I see. And the problem that Crystal has is she’s trying to coordinate trapping this cat…
CAVANAUGH: …with trying to make – having – doing it on the appointment schedule of the Feral Cat Coalition or some other group…
CAVANAUGH: …that would, indeed, give her a reference to where to take the cat.
RANDLE: Umm-hmm. Umm-hmm. And, you know, we hear – I’ve heard this as long as I’ve been at – with the Feral Cat Coalition, 11 or 12 years. You know, I’ve tried calling the hotline, nobody called me back. And my main thing to you is to ask you, please try calling back again and when you do, mark the day so at least we can know who that volunteer is, which would really be helpful for us. So, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: There you go. Okay. Let me tell everyone, 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Denise is on the line calling from La Mesa. Good morning, Denise, and welcome to These Days.
DENISE (Caller, La Mesa): Oh, good morning. I – Not all cats, clearly, are abandoned. Some are lost, and a year ago I lost my cat. And besides putting up signs and trying to locate the cat, you know, or going on websites and checking to see if animal control – someone dropped him off at animal control, what can I do to try and find my cat?
CAVANAUGH: That’s a question for you, Dan.
DESOUSA: The best thing I can say is you – sounds like you’ve done a lot of them. You know, Craigs List is a very valuable resource right now in trying to get you reunited with your animal. First and foremost, though, I would recommend microchipping of your animals. Any animal that comes into a clinic, or – can be scanned. Any animal that comes into one of our shelters, be it La Mesa, Chula Vista, County of San Diego shelters, they all get scanned for a microchip. That is the – that is the animal’s ticket home, plain and simple. If it’s microchipped, we’ll get it back to you.
CAVANAUGH: And you just mentioned a few minutes ago some statistics about the number of dogs that get microchipped as opposed to the number of cats that get microchipped and are returned to their owners when they’re lost.
DESOUSA: Well, and it wasn’t microchipped. We – Our county shelters take in about 26,000 animals a year. Half of those are cats. 30% of all the dogs are reunited with their owners. Only 3% of cats, and I’m puzzled by that. I don’t see why people don’t come and search for their cats like they would for their dogs. I’ve heard, well, we kept expecting for it to come home. You know, I’m sorry, if my cat gets out, I’m in the neighbor’s bushes with my flashlight trying to find it.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, yeah. That is a statistic. Well, as – again, 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Patricia’s calling from City Heights. Good morning, Patricia. Welcome to These Days.
PATRICIA (Caller, City Heights): Hi. Good morning. What I’m hearing is a lot of contradictions. Yes, cats do spread a respiratory disease to domesticated cats. That’s why we who have domesticated cats have to get them vaccinated. And also when you put food out, the idea of 15 minutes is really great but putting food out attracts skunks. We had a skunk problem in our neighborhood. Also, you cage the animals, you bring them back to the Feral Cat Coalition but they bring them back to the area, spayed or neutered, and where are the birds and lizards?
CAVANAUGH: Where are the birds and lizards?
PATRICIA: Yes, even fed cats eat birds and lizards.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Well, there are a lot of questions there, Patricia. Let me pose some of them. Yes, let’s make something clear. I want to talk about that respiratory illness in a minute because I’ve heard that from the vet as well. But, Josh, you bring – you spay and neuter the animals and then bring them back to the wild cat colony. Why is that?
HIRSCHMILLER: That’s where they came from. That’s where their home is at this point in time. Honestly, I mean, the truth is, is that this is, at this point in time, a manmade problem that, you know, people have let their cats breed and over-populate and the cats didn’t ask for this. So what we do is, when we find the colony or are told about the colony, we try to help people get the colony fixed so that if the colony over-populates you’re going to have more, you know, rodents and lizards, you know, eaten. Let’s contain what we have there already and work on what’s there. And we get it fixed so that it lessens the burden of society once you spay and neuter. Once you alter that animal, it doesn’t keep over-populating and move to other areas and new colonies because there’s too many cats in this colony.
CAVANAUGH: And, Sheri, is the idea of bringing the cats back spayed and neutered that eventually that’s going to make a dent on these wild cat communities.
RANDLE: Oh, absolutely.
CAVANAUGH: Do you see that happening?
RANDLE: Yeah, I’ve actually had callers, you know, who had, you know, 15 cats and they went, they got them all spayed or neutered and called me back like three or four years and said, you know, now we’re only down to ten but there’s a new one that just came in so we want to go ahead and get that one spayed. And, you know, so yes, it does happen. And there’s actually a thing called the vacuum effect that I wanted to kind of bring up and what it is, is so let’s say you have 10 or 15 cats here and you give them – you know, your little colony. You get them spayed or neutered. You’re going to have other feral cat colonies that are all around it. But if you go in and you take all those feral cats away, these other feral colonies are going to slowly merge back in there and really, within the next six months or a year, you’re going to have 10 to 15 other different feral cats that are in there. They’ll start breeding to a capacity and they’ll start doing it. So that’s why we, you know – so trapping and getting them killed, it just – it just doesn’t work in the long run. It really doesn’t.
HIRSCHMILLER: We got an e-mail about a month ago. Someone had removed all the cats from a trailer park a couple of years ago and they said that they – the cats were a nuisance, they removed them all, and now they’ve called us two years later and they said, well, there’s new cats back. Can we just spay and neuter them this time so that they don’t come back and over-populate? And we said, yes, we will help you do that.
CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break. We’ll continue our conversation about homeless and feral cats in San Diego and take your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS, and we‘re talking about homeless and feral cats in San Diego. My guests are Josh Hirschmiller. He is with the East County Animal Rescue. Sheri Randle is with the Feral Cat Coalition, and Dan DeSousa is Lieutenant with the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Dan, I’d like you to chime in on the reason why when feral cats are removed from a colony by these organizations, and spayed and neutered, it is absolutely necessary for the cats to go back to the same wild colony they were found in.
DESOUSA: For a couple of different reasons. If a cat is taken out, spayed and neutered and then put somewhere else, first of all, the cat does not know that territory, does not know where its feed supply is, things like that. But most importantly, if that cat does not have a caretaker, it is against the law, plain and simple, it’s abandonment of an animal and it is a misdemeanor in California state law.
CAVANAUGH: I’d like you to say that again because, in other words, to walk away from a family pet, just let them fend for themselves, that’s a crime.
DESOUSA: It is a crime, and we see that, you know, and we’ve seen that with the foreclosures and people being evicted. They will leave their animals behind. Yeah, and you can be criminally charged for that.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Sheri, when it comes to homeless cats, cats who have been family pets who have been left behind or for one reason or another they’re not being taken care of anymore, what special attention do you guys give to these cats? Because as you mentioned before, they really are not used to taking care of themselves.
RANDLE: So you mean the ones that are tame?
CAVANAUGH: Homeless, yeah.
RANDLE: Okay. Because, yeah, we have like the feral cats and then we have the tame – or the homeless ones that are tame.
RANDLE: So the ones that are tame, actually, you know, we will encourage the caller, if they see that the cat is tame, we will encourage them to actually try to find a home for them or actually adopt the cat. A lot of times they’ve just got so many that there’s just no way, and if the cat is just going to still be outside and they’re going to just care for it and just let it be an outdoor cat, then we will spay and neuter it for free. But if not, then we’ll ask them to go through Pet Assistance. But we are not an adoption agency. We have a lot of volunteers, like Josh is actually a volunteer with the Feral Cat Coalition, so we have a lot of volunteers that work with different rescue organizations and sometimes, you know, they help out.
CAVANAUGH: And, Josh, if someone does find a tame or homeless cat, one of the things I’m not hearing is bring it to the shelter.
HIRSCHMILLER: We – If it’s a nice cat – if a cat is adoptable, a shelter is a good place for it. It can be adopted. But if the cat has tendencies that make it not adoptable, a lot of those cats are euthanized at the shelters. And it just – it’s a fact, it’s reality, because they’re not – nobody is going to take an aggressive cat. Nobody wants to take home an aggressive cat. Nobody wants to take home a cat that’s going to pee all over everything, and there’s a lot of different things that make a cat non-adoptable through the animal control facilities and those shelters. And the other organizations tend to – Most of the rescues are no kill. Animal control doesn’t have that ability. You know, they don’t have the finances and they – they’re not – that’s not what they are.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Christine is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Christine, and welcome to These Days.
CHRISTINE (Caller, San Diego): Yes, hi, thanks for taking my call. I wanted to emphasize my biggest challenge in spay, neutering and returning feral cats to the wild, and that’s finding a climate controlled space to keep the cat while the cat is recuperating from surgery. We live in a home where we have other cats with health problems and usually when I’m collaborating with other neighbors they have a similar situation. I think a lot of volunteers have this challenge and I wanted to raise the issue and ask you if you had any ideas on how to find a climate controlled space where you could take a cat to recuperate from surgery after that?
HIRSCHMILLER: This is Josh. When people ask me about that, I say, you know, generally a garage or a shed is fine. If it’s hot out, you can keep the doors open and keep it somewhat ventilated. You do not have to have a climate controlled area. It just has to, you know, let’s say, get above 85 degrees or below, you know, 50 degrees or, you know, just be sensible about it. And anywhere that’s sheltered is pretty good in San Diego County. I mean, I have – when we do feral cat clinics, I have 30 cats in my garage in traps and they’re there for one or two days and then they release back out. But if it’s a hot day, I’ll crack my garage door and I’ll crack my back door to my garage so that the ventilation blows through, and have a fan in there and I haven’t lost anything and I’m very careful and I don’t need air-conditioning in there.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Katherine from San Diego. Good morning, Katherine. Welcome to These Days.
KATHERINE (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. You know, you guys just brought up a really good point. I’ve never trapped a feral cat. My situation is, is I have had an indoor-outdoor cat for 14 years, always have left food and water out for her during the day. She usually comes in at night. Never any problem. Then recently we had a about two-month-old that just showed up, took that cat in, and took care of that cat, kept him. Two years later, he came down with leukemia, unfortunately, when we did the blood tests on him. They said that he didn’t have any signs of that at the time. Anyway, he was indoor-outdoors as well. Now, we’re at the point where we have lost both of those cats, unfortunately, the older one to cancer, the younger one to leukemia, of course, and now we have two new ones that are like six months old.
KATHERINE: Those two, we want to, as well, they’ve been out but they come in and – but not out all day because they’re too young for that. They’re just kind of – they like to go out and romp around and I watch them. Well, come to find, we have a feral cat that I have discovered lives underneath our deck and so I’ve been told that the best thing to do with that is to take it – trap it, get it neutered, get distemper…
KATHERINE: …you know, and that type of thing. So I’ve never trapped before. I’m going to try to do that this Friday. I’ve got ahold of a vet to take it to on Saturday morning, hoping that we can catch the cat. And now you just brought up a situation where I was thinking when I got the cat home, I could just let it out. So is that the case? And then the second question is with the two that I have that are, you know, we’re wanting to be indoor-outdoor as well, is that going to be an issue having that feral cat around as far as leaving food and water outside…
CAVANAUGH: Let’s find out. Let’s find out.
KATHERINE: Yeah, and the other question, too, is I just got them the leukemia shots, they’ve had all their shots, I don’t have to have shots for them for another year. And then my other question would be is it okay to let them out like, you know, tonight when I get home and I – in the past when I’ve let them out, they just started finding this other cat and kind of playing with it a bit.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you for the call.
HIRSCHMILLER: So, yeah, you cannot let the cat out as soon as you get it spayed or neutered. It needs to be in there, males for 24 hours, females for 48 hours because their surgery is a little bit more invasive. If you let them out of the trap, they will – before it’s too early, they will fall and they will hurt themselves. It’s dangerous. With – This is a touchy subject but with a feral cat, one thing that we do, if a cat looks sick when we take it in to Feral Cat Coalition, we can ask them, if it looks bad, to test that cat for leukemia and FIV on a case-to-case basis. It isn’t done every single time. And if the cat tests positive for something, we would rather euthanize it rather than it die a suffering death out in the wild.
CAVANAUGH: And can they transfer – can feral cats transfer those – that disease to a non-immunized pet cat?
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, okay.
RANDLE: Well, and another thing, too, with this caller, I wanted to let her know that if she is going to get this cat fixed to actually tip its ear because if it’s going to be a feral cat and it might be roaming around like a couple of neighbors down…
CAVANAUGH: You don’t want to have that again.
RANDLE: We don’t want it to have to go under anesthesia.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Right.
RANDLE: And so, yeah, tip the right ear.
CAVANAUGH: Got it. Okay. Let’s take another call. Patricia has been on the line – Oh, okay. Tommy’s been – Tommy is on the line from Encanto. Good morning, Tommy. Welcome to These Days.
TOMMY (Caller, Encanto): Hi, good morning. Now I have really good experiences with the Feral Cat Coalition. Ten years ago, I lived in City Heights and I had a pack of cats, probably about 15, and I called Feral Cat Coalition – Coalition, rather. They provided me with the traps, the method of capturing the animals, and all 15 of those cats, they helped me with all of those. And I even ended up adopting probably about 10, none of those, the first 10, but kittens. And it was not a very difficult process for me. So I have nothing but positive things.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you. Thank you.
RANDLE: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Patricia’s on the line from Chula Vista. Good morning, Patricia. Welcome to These Days.
PATRICIA (Caller, Chula Vista): Good morning. Hello?
CAVANAUGH: Yes. Hi.
PATRICIA: Hi. I’m calling because I’m in a situation where I had a cat and I lived in the Rancho Del Rey area of Chula Vista and because of the economy, I had to move away from there to the west side of Chula Vista into an apartment, from a condo to an apartment. And my cat didn’t really like it. He was a very good cat, very gentle, loving, he was neutered, he was part of the family. And out in Rancho Del Rey we lived next to a canyon so he had a great old time traveling around there.
PATRICIA: So when we moved to the west side of Chula Vista, he ran away and, you know, I always kept it in my heart that he went back to his old prowling grounds. Well, two days ago my son’s neighbor had two kittens that he gave us and at the same time we got a phone call from my daughter’s, oh, good friend that her grandparents had found the cat.
PATRICIA: And she said that she looked at the cat. She knew that that cat was our cat and it’s around the Rancho Del Rey area right by Southwestern College.
CAVANAUGH: Patricia, we’re running out of time, so let me, if I can, condense what I believe your question is and that is can Patricia’s lovely pet cat turn feral after being without a home for quite some time?
RANDLE: Yes, it can. Absolutely. And we’ve had a couple of people who’ve called the hotline saying the same thing, the same story that she’s saying. And we will get them traps and, same thing, you got to start putting food out and, you know, trap the cat.
CAVANAUGH: And so even such a lovely pet as this doesn’t want to be touched anymore by human beings?
HIRSCHMILLER: I believe that, you know, you can reintegrate that animal back into your home.
HIRSCHMILLER: It will be much easier than integrating a feral cat into your home because it was, you know, tame at one point. It may take months. It may never happen. But I’m – You know, I can confidently say that it’ll probably integrate perfectly fine right back into the home. It may take a, you know, couple weeks, couple months, but I think it’ll happen.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Sheri and Josh and Dan, all three of you, you’ve been talking so much about the necessity to get wild cats, to get feral cats spayed and neutered in order to try to cut down on the populations and cut down on the problems that they can cause. Tell us a little bit more about this stationary clinic that you’re hoping to get one day. How would that improve the situation?
RANDLE: Oh, it’d improve hugely. So what our thoughts are. If we – We’re working on opening a space for a stationary clinic. We would need a minimum of $15,000 a month to be able to run it.
RANDLE: And that would be spaying and neutering 600 cats a month.
RANDLE: So the more money we get, the more money we can fix – the more cats.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
RANDLE: So that – that’s what – that’s our main goal.
CAVANAUGH: How far along are you on this quest?
RANDLE: We’re not as far along as we’d like. We’re really looking for – We definitely need more money. That’s a lot of money. We are such a small, grassroots organization, we don’t really get a lot of donations and so we’re, you know, if somebody’s out there, they got a special little building for us and they want to donate to us, we would greatly appreciate that.
CAVANAUGH: And how would that help San Diego, Josh?
HIRSCHMILLER: Oh, my gosh, it would – it would be incredible to have somewhere where, you know, because right now what we have to do is, we have to wait for a month before we can take anything in to a clinic and you prepare and all that. But if we have somewhere where we can, you know, someone calls in and they say I have a cat, a female cat that looks like she’s breeding, you know, we can go, oh, you can take her in on Tuesday because that’s when our…
HIRSCHMILLER: …our clinic opens.
CAVANAUGH: I’m afraid we are out of time. Thank you so much for coming in, talking about all of this. I want to thank my guests, Dan DeSousa, Sheri Randle, and Josh Hirschmiller, who also runs a piano tuning service and he tunes our piano here at KPBS for our live music performances and we’re very grateful, Josh. Thank you so much.
HIRSCHMILLER: Thank you, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: If you would like to comment, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.
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