HUGHSON -- Three feral cats, groggy from surgery, stumbled around a pen on Jim Singleton's 10-acre ranch on Mountain View Road.
John Pinkerton, who runs Friends of Turlock Animals with his wife, Lee Anne, pointed to small mound of fresh-churned dirt.
"Prime example of why Jim wants ferals," Pinkerton said.
"Yup," Singleton said. "Gophers."
The local rescue group is trapping unwanted feral cats, having them spayed or neutered, and releasing them where ranchers and owners of large pieces of land can put them to work.
"They're gopher control," Singleton said. "They'll sit (next to a hole) for hours just waiting for that gopher to pop his head out and smack," Singleton swung his hand like a cat's paw, "that cat will pull him right out."
Many groups trap and neuter or spay feral cats, then release them. But where the cats are released is a heated question, Pinkerton said. In parks and woodland areas, birders and biologists tend to take issue, because cats essentially are predators that prey on wild game. In some neighborhoods, people can take issue -- gardeners particularly don't like what a big Tom can do to a flower bed.
By releasing cats on ranches that need gopher control or warehouses and orchards with rat problems, it's a win-win for everyone, Pinkerton said. The Turlock homeowner who wanted the feral cats out put $15 each toward getting them fixed and immunized, the rescue group put up $20 for each cat and Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital did the work at a reduced cost.
Pinkerton said he has plenty of ferals, but needs more landowners who want working cats.
For years Singleton had a minx on his property that kept the gophers in line, then for a few years coyotes did the work. Now he's betting on his three new wild cats.
"I may have to get a few more," he said.
Five, he said, should keep those gophers under control.
For more information on the feral cat program, call 634-6714.
Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2391.