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Feral cats in Mountain View's North Bayshore prompt surge of complaints, raising tough questions about cat colonies

Feral cats in Sunnyvale eat food under a trap that was left out so they could get accustomed to it. Courtesy Vanessa Forney.

Hiding in plain sight, Silicon Valley is home to thousands of stray and feral cats that freely roam creeks, parks and trails. And in Mountain View, a possible uptick in free-roaming felines has revived a controversial debate over how to manage colonies of bite-sized predators.

At the Santiago Villa mobile home park, North Bayshore's only residential area, residents are noticing more cats showing up and the reaction has been mixed. Some have been quietly feeding the cats, while others -- upset with the furry invaders -- have complained to park management.

In a mobile home park newsletter published in September, resident Bee Hanson wrote that some 20 cats had been trapped and taken from the park as a means to contain the problem, but that it's just the tip of the iceberg. Meanwhile, it's causing a schism and plenty of heated arguments among neighbors over what to do. Some argue the cats must be removed, and amount to an unnatural predator that's killing off sensitive bird species. Others call for a compassionate approach, and bristle at the idea of removing or euthanizing cats.

"In the last few months in the park we had been having a lot of difficulties with feral cats," Hanson said. "There were so many complaints that the office started looking for people who could do something about this."

Feral cats have a history of igniting passionate debates in Mountain View, often pitting bird advocacy groups like the Audubon Society against local cat organizations. Google employees had previously run a cat program in North Bayshore with feeding stations to support the cats, but that effort has reportedly ended.

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Unlike most suburban neighborhoods in the area, managing feral cats in North Bayshore has some pretty high stakes attached to it. Protected species like the California Ridgway's rail, the salt marsh harvest mouse, the western snowy plover and the western burrowing owl are all found in the area, raising serious concerns about predation. The precise impact of the cats has not been measured, but there are reports from 2015 of a cat mauling one of the few burrowing owls left in the area.

A rare Ridgway’s rail pops its head out from under some pickleweed during high tide in the marsh at the Palo Alto Nature Preserve Baylands on Jan. 12, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Hanson said it's been difficult to deal with the anti-cat sentiment among her neighbors, and she worries for the health and safety of the felines roaming around the mobile home park. Some are quick to call for cat removal or euthanasia, which she vehemently opposes.

"Environmentalists say cats kill a lot of birds, but what are we going to do about that? Kill the cats? That's not a good answer," Hanson aid.

Santiago Villa resident Bee Hanson demonstrates how to set up a trap in the mobile home park in Mountain View on Oct. 27, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Cat advocates have instead rallied behind the strategy of trap-neuter-release (TNR), in which cats are trapped in a cage and taken to a shelter or animal control facility to be spayed or neutered before being released back where they were found. The method does little to solve the problem immediately, but prevents a further explosion in population growth caused by breeding cats.

Hanson said she herself has trapped four cats in support of TNR, but that it feels like an uphill battle. She has a fulltime job and can't be leaving throughout the day to check traps across the park. Meanwhile, complaints are still flooding in, with residents angry to find cat poop in their gardens or accusing felines of spreading fleas, she said.

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"I don't know what to do about it," Hanson said. "But don't blame me, and don't blame the cats."

A tough problem to solve

Local trappers in the Bay Area say there are far more feral cats than meets the eye. And while it's difficult to get an accurate count, it's possible that the numbers are up this year.

Feral cats in Sunnyvale. Courtesy Vanessa Forney.

The COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 forced many local animals shelters to temporarily close, making it difficult to get cats fixed. Even though many of the TNR programs continued, it was poorly advertised and left people thinking that TNR efforts had to be put on pause during the public health crisis.

Vanessa Forney, who has been trapping cats since August 2020, said there are too many requests for too few trappers in the South Bay. Her Facebook group is inundated with requests for cat trapping, and a quick look at Nextdoor shows residents are constantly stumbling into stray felines -- often mistaking them for lost pets. At one point, she said San Jose animal shelter staff said they had hundreds of cats more than usual.

"There are just way more cats than I thought here, I have to put blinders on because there are so many," Forney said. "It sounds like a lot, but if you go by a house and there are three cats, take what you see and multiply that by five or ten. That's usually how many there are there."

The root problem is that irresponsible people are giving away unfixed kittens, Forney said, and those cats are either being abandoned or run away and begin breeding, which can get out of hand quickly. And it doesn't help that sympathetic residents are opting to feed these outdoor cats rather than taking action to get them fixed.

"There are people who do mass feedings of cats and they consider themselves rescuers, but really they're creating suffering. These kittens are dying, these kittens are sick," Forney said. "My first reaction when I see a cat is that it needs to be fixed, whereas others say, 'Oh, I need to feed it.'"

The number of cats coming in from trapping are "slightly" higher than usual right now, said Janet Alexander, a staff member of Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, which serves as the animal control agency for Mountain View and surrounding cities. She said the impact of COVID was limited because they only shut down for a few weeks, and doesn't handle the same massive volume that San Jose does.

For years, Silicon Valley Animal Control has adopted TNR as its official method for handling the local feral cat population, and cat trappers are encouraged to bring in cats to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, treated for fleas and de-wormed. Many of the kittens go into foster care and are ultimately adopted, while older cats are returned to where they were found.

While it rankles some to see a perceived nuisance brought back rather than relocated or placed in a foster home, Alexander said there isn't much choice. Cats have a difficult time adjusting to a new location, and rarely have another place to go.

"They're familiar with the area they come from and when you try to relocate them its very difficult to acclimate to a new surrounding, especially the cats that are relying on being fed in the area," Alexander said.

The term feral cats is a somewhat loaded term, and Silicon Valley Animal Control has since started calling them "community" cats -- a catch-all for the mix of stray cats, feral cats and outdoor cats that make up the feline population. They encompass domestic mixes of all breeds and colors, including tabbies, tortoiseshells, Siamese, black and white cats.

Alexander said her agency does not actually do trapping of its own, and that it relies heavily on community members to carry out TNR and control the local feline population. She encouraged anyone interesting in helping out to learn more and pick up a trap courtesy of Silicon Valley Animal Control.

"It takes a village and while we certainly do our part, we do depend on people for help to trap the kitties," Alexander said. "We adopted TNR a few years and I think it's worked, but there's a lot to do out there."

A threat to birds

Is trapping and releasing cats really enough to tip the scales? According to bird advocates and some studies, the answer appears to be no.

Feral cats and outdoor housecats account for upwards of 1 billion bird deaths per year across the U.S., according to the American Bird Conservancy, amounting to a "stunning level of predation" that threatens bird species that already on the ropes. A 2011 study of bird deaths in the Washington D.C. area found that 79% of the deaths were due to predators, and 47% of the known predators were domestic house cats -- regularly decapitating birds and leaving the bodies uneaten.

There is overwhelming evidence that feral cats are a serious threat to wild birds and other animals, said Matthew Dodder, executive director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. And feral cats in Mountain View's North Bayshore area do find their way to Shoreline Park, where they have prayed upon burrowing owls. Migratory birds in search of a nesting location arrive to encounter predators they haven't adapted to, and end up being easy pray.

Burrowing owls at Shoreline Park in Mountain View in 2011. Courtesy Tom Grey.

"There are far more of these introduced cats, these feral cats, than ever before," Dodder said. "As far as wild birds are concerned, they are an unfamiliar threat -- they haven't evolved to deal with these introduced predators."

Dodder said the Audubon Society strongly opposes outdoor cats, and encourages pet owners to keep them inside at all times in order to protect native birds, mice and amphibians from being attacked. But when it comes to feral cats with no owner, the solution gets more complicated. Dodder said TNR may eventually cut down on the number of cats, but it's unlikely to curb the number of avian deaths when the cats are simply being fixed and returned.

"TNR is taking them out of their environment and putting them right back," Dodder said. "You are preventing them from reproducing, which is good, but you're still returning it to the environment where it will continue to do damage."

Dodder was quick to say that the organization does not recommend euthanasia, but he said there needs to be some way to get cats out of the environment, whether through beefed-up adoption services or some other method to keep them inside.

The Audubon Society links to a 2010 publication that roughly comes to the same conclusion, namely that trap-and-release does not work on its own. It suggests that "no real-world example of an eliminating a colony" through TNR exists, and that a cat colony would take four to 10 years to fully die off.

But differing from the Audubon Society, the same study makes the case that "integrated pest management," including nonlethal and lethal means, is the most effective approach in dealing with feral cats. That includes trapping with euthanasia, "kill-trapping" and shooting.

"These methods provide an immediate reduction in the population and may be necessary when feral cats are over-abundant and causing significant impacts," according to the study.

Dodder acknowledged that the feral cat problem can inflame tension and get like-minded people into arguments, and that his hope is that education can help pro-cat groups understand the need to protect vulnerable bird species. There's an instinct to help the cats and feed them, he said, but they shouldn't be prowling around North Bayshore to begin with.

"We bump into this issue all the time and it is inflammatory," Dodder said. "It causes friends to argue, but ultimately I'm hoping that we can all agree that the natural world is preferable to an artificial environment."

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Feral cats in Mountain View's North Bayshore prompt surge of complaints, raising tough questions about cat colonies

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Nov 16, 2021, 9:14 am

Hiding in plain sight, Silicon Valley is home to thousands of stray and feral cats that freely roam creeks, parks and trails. And in Mountain View, a possible uptick in free-roaming felines has revived a controversial debate over how to manage colonies of bite-sized predators.

At the Santiago Villa mobile home park, North Bayshore's only residential area, residents are noticing more cats showing up and the reaction has been mixed. Some have been quietly feeding the cats, while others -- upset with the furry invaders -- have complained to park management.

In a mobile home park newsletter published in September, resident Bee Hanson wrote that some 20 cats had been trapped and taken from the park as a means to contain the problem, but that it's just the tip of the iceberg. Meanwhile, it's causing a schism and plenty of heated arguments among neighbors over what to do. Some argue the cats must be removed, and amount to an unnatural predator that's killing off sensitive bird species. Others call for a compassionate approach, and bristle at the idea of removing or euthanizing cats.

"In the last few months in the park we had been having a lot of difficulties with feral cats," Hanson said. "There were so many complaints that the office started looking for people who could do something about this."

Feral cats have a history of igniting passionate debates in Mountain View, often pitting bird advocacy groups like the Audubon Society against local cat organizations. Google employees had previously run a cat program in North Bayshore with feeding stations to support the cats, but that effort has reportedly ended.

Unlike most suburban neighborhoods in the area, managing feral cats in North Bayshore has some pretty high stakes attached to it. Protected species like the California Ridgway's rail, the salt marsh harvest mouse, the western snowy plover and the western burrowing owl are all found in the area, raising serious concerns about predation. The precise impact of the cats has not been measured, but there are reports from 2015 of a cat mauling one of the few burrowing owls left in the area.

Hanson said it's been difficult to deal with the anti-cat sentiment among her neighbors, and she worries for the health and safety of the felines roaming around the mobile home park. Some are quick to call for cat removal or euthanasia, which she vehemently opposes.

"Environmentalists say cats kill a lot of birds, but what are we going to do about that? Kill the cats? That's not a good answer," Hanson aid.

Cat advocates have instead rallied behind the strategy of trap-neuter-release (TNR), in which cats are trapped in a cage and taken to a shelter or animal control facility to be spayed or neutered before being released back where they were found. The method does little to solve the problem immediately, but prevents a further explosion in population growth caused by breeding cats.

Hanson said she herself has trapped four cats in support of TNR, but that it feels like an uphill battle. She has a fulltime job and can't be leaving throughout the day to check traps across the park. Meanwhile, complaints are still flooding in, with residents angry to find cat poop in their gardens or accusing felines of spreading fleas, she said.

"I don't know what to do about it," Hanson said. "But don't blame me, and don't blame the cats."

A tough problem to solve

Local trappers in the Bay Area say there are far more feral cats than meets the eye. And while it's difficult to get an accurate count, it's possible that the numbers are up this year.

The COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 forced many local animals shelters to temporarily close, making it difficult to get cats fixed. Even though many of the TNR programs continued, it was poorly advertised and left people thinking that TNR efforts had to be put on pause during the public health crisis.

Vanessa Forney, who has been trapping cats since August 2020, said there are too many requests for too few trappers in the South Bay. Her Facebook group is inundated with requests for cat trapping, and a quick look at Nextdoor shows residents are constantly stumbling into stray felines -- often mistaking them for lost pets. At one point, she said San Jose animal shelter staff said they had hundreds of cats more than usual.

"There are just way more cats than I thought here, I have to put blinders on because there are so many," Forney said. "It sounds like a lot, but if you go by a house and there are three cats, take what you see and multiply that by five or ten. That's usually how many there are there."

The root problem is that irresponsible people are giving away unfixed kittens, Forney said, and those cats are either being abandoned or run away and begin breeding, which can get out of hand quickly. And it doesn't help that sympathetic residents are opting to feed these outdoor cats rather than taking action to get them fixed.

"There are people who do mass feedings of cats and they consider themselves rescuers, but really they're creating suffering. These kittens are dying, these kittens are sick," Forney said. "My first reaction when I see a cat is that it needs to be fixed, whereas others say, 'Oh, I need to feed it.'"

The number of cats coming in from trapping are "slightly" higher than usual right now, said Janet Alexander, a staff member of Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, which serves as the animal control agency for Mountain View and surrounding cities. She said the impact of COVID was limited because they only shut down for a few weeks, and doesn't handle the same massive volume that San Jose does.

For years, Silicon Valley Animal Control has adopted TNR as its official method for handling the local feral cat population, and cat trappers are encouraged to bring in cats to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, treated for fleas and de-wormed. Many of the kittens go into foster care and are ultimately adopted, while older cats are returned to where they were found.

While it rankles some to see a perceived nuisance brought back rather than relocated or placed in a foster home, Alexander said there isn't much choice. Cats have a difficult time adjusting to a new location, and rarely have another place to go.

"They're familiar with the area they come from and when you try to relocate them its very difficult to acclimate to a new surrounding, especially the cats that are relying on being fed in the area," Alexander said.

The term feral cats is a somewhat loaded term, and Silicon Valley Animal Control has since started calling them "community" cats -- a catch-all for the mix of stray cats, feral cats and outdoor cats that make up the feline population. They encompass domestic mixes of all breeds and colors, including tabbies, tortoiseshells, Siamese, black and white cats.

Alexander said her agency does not actually do trapping of its own, and that it relies heavily on community members to carry out TNR and control the local feline population. She encouraged anyone interesting in helping out to learn more and pick up a trap courtesy of Silicon Valley Animal Control.

"It takes a village and while we certainly do our part, we do depend on people for help to trap the kitties," Alexander said. "We adopted TNR a few years and I think it's worked, but there's a lot to do out there."

A threat to birds

Is trapping and releasing cats really enough to tip the scales? According to bird advocates and some studies, the answer appears to be no.

Feral cats and outdoor housecats account for upwards of 1 billion bird deaths per year across the U.S., according to the American Bird Conservancy, amounting to a "stunning level of predation" that threatens bird species that already on the ropes. A 2011 study of bird deaths in the Washington D.C. area found that 79% of the deaths were due to predators, and 47% of the known predators were domestic house cats -- regularly decapitating birds and leaving the bodies uneaten.

There is overwhelming evidence that feral cats are a serious threat to wild birds and other animals, said Matthew Dodder, executive director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. And feral cats in Mountain View's North Bayshore area do find their way to Shoreline Park, where they have prayed upon burrowing owls. Migratory birds in search of a nesting location arrive to encounter predators they haven't adapted to, and end up being easy pray.

"There are far more of these introduced cats, these feral cats, than ever before," Dodder said. "As far as wild birds are concerned, they are an unfamiliar threat -- they haven't evolved to deal with these introduced predators."

Dodder said the Audubon Society strongly opposes outdoor cats, and encourages pet owners to keep them inside at all times in order to protect native birds, mice and amphibians from being attacked. But when it comes to feral cats with no owner, the solution gets more complicated. Dodder said TNR may eventually cut down on the number of cats, but it's unlikely to curb the number of avian deaths when the cats are simply being fixed and returned.

"TNR is taking them out of their environment and putting them right back," Dodder said. "You are preventing them from reproducing, which is good, but you're still returning it to the environment where it will continue to do damage."

Dodder was quick to say that the organization does not recommend euthanasia, but he said there needs to be some way to get cats out of the environment, whether through beefed-up adoption services or some other method to keep them inside.

The Audubon Society links to a 2010 publication that roughly comes to the same conclusion, namely that trap-and-release does not work on its own. It suggests that "no real-world example of an eliminating a colony" through TNR exists, and that a cat colony would take four to 10 years to fully die off.

But differing from the Audubon Society, the same study makes the case that "integrated pest management," including nonlethal and lethal means, is the most effective approach in dealing with feral cats. That includes trapping with euthanasia, "kill-trapping" and shooting.

"These methods provide an immediate reduction in the population and may be necessary when feral cats are over-abundant and causing significant impacts," according to the study.

Dodder acknowledged that the feral cat problem can inflame tension and get like-minded people into arguments, and that his hope is that education can help pro-cat groups understand the need to protect vulnerable bird species. There's an instinct to help the cats and feed them, he said, but they shouldn't be prowling around North Bayshore to begin with.

"We bump into this issue all the time and it is inflammatory," Dodder said. "It causes friends to argue, but ultimately I'm hoping that we can all agree that the natural world is preferable to an artificial environment."

Comments

Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Nov 16, 2021 at 7:18 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2021 at 7:18 pm

Eating protected or endangered species - DNA to the (research) rescue. And cat poop as 'the evidence'.


Ebabe
Registered user
another community
on Nov 16, 2021 at 9:54 pm
Ebabe, another community
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2021 at 9:54 pm

The sad part is there is not enough funds for the City to manage the feral cat population. Some programs help like Trap and Neuter but unfortunately most shelters are full and there is not outside shelter for feral cats, etc. People are volunteering on their own and non profit shelters, SPCA, and some shelters help with spay and neuter a but also have a waitlist. Why not offer more services or shelters for feral cats if you are trying to manage and lower the population. Why not feed them so they don't feed on other wildlife. They are cats and are not being domesticated or socialized to live indoors. It's takes alot more to fix the problem besides euthanasia. There will always be more cats if left to breed.


Lyn
Registered user
Shoreline West
on Nov 17, 2021 at 12:32 pm
Lyn, Shoreline West
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 12:32 pm

People need to spay and neuter their cats, and stop dumping them off in parks when they do not want them anymore. We need more low cost spay and neuter animal shelters available everywhere. There are too few of them and they are overwhelmed with cats. I have found that many of the shelters do not answer the phone to help people. This can be very frustrating and cause people to just give up. We need more foster homes and more public awareness and education on how to help the problem. Feeding colony cats is very expensive. Animal shelters could be helpful by giving colony feeders a bag of dry food once a month. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this problem. People acting responsibly and not dumping unaltered cats in a park or near protected wildlife, would be a start.


Louis
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2021 at 1:02 pm
Louis, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 1:02 pm

You should have a leash law like they do for dogs or would that make too much sense, and if you cant afford the cat or dont want him take him to a shelter dont take him.I know in this country nobody takes responsibility anymore but these are living things,treat them as such.


Mr. T
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Nov 17, 2021 at 2:32 pm
Mr. T, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 2:32 pm

Feral=wild. Feral cats are an invasive non-native species in the wild (and suburbs) and should be treated as such. [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Steve Syracuse
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Nov 17, 2021 at 4:36 pm
Steve Syracuse, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 4:36 pm

most animal welfare organizations now use the term ‘community cats’ to describe free-roaming, unowned cats. Included under this umbrella are feral cats who are too poorly socialized to be placed as a typical pet.

· ASPCA Position Statement on Community Cats: link
· A Closer Look at Community Cats: link

There are a number of articles out there debunking the myth that community cats are the leading cause of bird species declines in the United States. Here are some links:

· Humans: The Number One Threat to Wildlife

· Debunking bogus studies blaming cats for wildlife depletion:

o Smithsonian-Funded Junk Science Gets Cats Killed PDF

o The Wisconsin Study: Bad Science Costs Cats’ Lives

o Firing Back at The University of Nebraska “Feral Cats and Their Management” Report

o Breaking Down the Bogus Smithsonian Catbird Study



Lauren
Registered user
another community
on Nov 17, 2021 at 4:48 pm
Lauren, another community
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2021 at 4:48 pm

Well it seems that Mr.Dodder is unaware of the fact that with most rescue groups that TNR, when a cat is brought in before they get neutered, they recieve a general health checkup and they are scanned for a microchip.... If there are any health issues that are considered untreatable and or are considered a danger to other felines around them, then yes, they will generally be euthanized, for the safety of other free roaming cats....Then If they are chipped, then the owner is contacted.... If the owner is able to be reached then they are either reunited with their owners, OR since they have obviously been owned previously... They are put up for adoption for another family to bring them in....If they are not chipped there is usually an attempt to be made for socializing most of the others (mainly ones that are not aggressive towards people or other cats). That is the difference between a stray cat an a feral cat. Stray cats have typically had some sort of human contact in their life or are just very scared of everything. Strays can generally be socialized with humans and other cats (which is what a good majority of fosters do)....Where as feral cats to them they see humans as a predator....They can be very aggressive, sometimes not at all....But to them we are potential predator. So a little bit of an education for those who think TNR is all about bringing everything trapped back to where it came from....


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Nov 19, 2021 at 2:20 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Nov 19, 2021 at 2:20 pm

Thanks for the extra information Lauren. "TNR" = Reduce (neuter), Reuse (strays/adoptions), Recycle (feral).

Trying to collect all 'out and about' cats into "community cats" is mind and thought-process numbing. Social and asocial are not the same and it 'seems' to me should not be treated the same. Over the last decade there have been several "wandering house cats" with tags around my neighborhood. Outdoor cats - with nearby homes, who always seemed to be frendly, curious, and figured out how Not to get run over!

It is a shame that these (semi)domesticated animals can be treated like throw away trash by some irresponsible people.

peace / love / and purrs

(BTW - my local tree rats do not really take kindly to any cat)


Raymond
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Nov 19, 2021 at 9:03 pm
Raymond , Monta Loma
Registered user
on Nov 19, 2021 at 9:03 pm

Cats are not endangered.
A lot of bird species are endangered.


Missy Phillips
Registered user
another community
on Dec 5, 2021 at 4:37 pm
Missy Phillips, another community
Registered user
on Dec 5, 2021 at 4:37 pm

I suspect that many of the feral cats are un-spayed/non-neutered and rapidly reproducing on their own.

On a positive note, would it be safe to assume that the North Bayshore region is relatively free of mice and rats?


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