MODESTO — Mike Noordewier, chief executive officer of United Sign Systems in Modesto, wrote to ask about trapping and disposing of wild, feral, stray, outdoor pick your favorite term cats.
"I think cats are great, but there are simply too many of them," he said. "We are being overrun with them in our neighborhood and our place of business."
Besides the nuisance factor, Noordewier said, he believes the feral cats at his home near Oakdale along the Stanislaus River are "taking a terrible toll on wildlife. I feel I should do something, and I believe it's legal to trap them, but I would prefer to drop them off at a no-kill shelter and I don't think there are any that are still accepting cats."
He's concerned about the "epidemic" of feral cats. "I think we need to organize and deal with it or there will be just more and more suffering more kittens, less food, more starvation and lack of care. It is just appalling," he said. "What are the city and county rules on this delicate matter, and what options are open for those of us who want to do something short of killing dozens of cats?"
I put the question to John Bear, supervisor of the Modesto Police Department's animal control unit. In a thoughtful and thorough reply, he first pointed out that his department doesn't exist to solve every animal-related problem. Instead, he said, "Our primary function is to enforce the state and local laws concerning animals. As an example, it is a violation for a dog to run loose (stray dog), so we respond to calls for service concerning loose dogs. There is no such law pertaining to cats. We do not respond to stray cat calls."
If cats go onto someone's private property, he said, "they are considered a private nuisance. Property owners have the legal right to abate this private nuisance by humanely trapping the animal and transporting it to their local animal shelter. This legal trapping only applies to citizens trapping on their own property."
Last week, the Modesto City Council adopted an ordinance that says folks who trap cats on their property have 24 hours to return them to their owners or take them to the county's animal shelter; they can't trap a neighbor's cat and release it in a park across town, as some people have done. The ordinance doesn't apply to registered feral cat caretakers.
Bear what a great name for an animal control supervisor said he isn't an expert on the impact of cats on wildlife, but agreed with Noordewier's assessment that the region has a cat overpopulation problem.
"This is our fault as a society; we don't get our cats spayed/neutered," Bear said. "They roam freely unsupervised, and they're going to do what nature expects them to do reproduce. All the local shelters, rescue groups and trap-alter-release programs are overwhelmed."
Steve Fielder, operations supervisor for Stanislaus County's Animal Services Agency, said the shelter rents cat traps and will accept any cat that is trapped. But, he said, after 72 hours, or five days at most, if the cats are not domesticated enough for adoption, they are euthanized, a softer word than "killed."
Annette Patton, executive director of the agency, said last fiscal year, from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, 3,570 cats were euthanized, including 2,541 identified as feral cats. That's 71 percent.
"When it comes to feral cats, there aren't many options," Fielder said. "Alley Cat Guardians are no longer in business."
There is at least one cat rescue place open that accepts any feline: Last Hope Cat Kingdom in Atwater. "The animals are safe in our place," Renate Schmitz said of the 18-acre shelter.
The Last Hope folks like it if people will pay for a low-cost spay/neuter procedure and take the cats home, but if not, they will try to find homes for them or keep the cats until they die. Call (209) 947-2242 for more information.
But Patton said state law requires people to take cats that don't belong to them to the county shelter.
"You have to allow time for owners to reclaim their cats," she said, even if you believe they are feral cats. Rescue groups can pick up the animals after the waiting period for no charge. But, she acknowledged, almost all feral cats are euthanized.
You can rent a cat trap for $2 a day, plus a $65 refundable deposit, from Stanislaus County's animal shelter. You can purchase one for $25 from Harbor Freight Tools in Modesto.
If you want to trap, neuter and release feral cats, Abandoned Cat Team in Stockton offers spay/neuter surgery plus a rabies shot and other extras for $30. Contact them at (209) 462-7729.
And if you want to adopt a domesticated cat or kitten, the county shelter charges $45, which includes the spay/neuter surgery, a microchip and vaccinations, and often a free bag of food. The agency is at 3647 Cornucopia Way, near Crows Landing and Service roads, and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, call (209) 558-7387.
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Send questions to Sue Nowicki at firstname.lastname@example.org, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.