Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Rex, Mel, Gary, Big Gray Dude, Howard Johnson and Harmony, a very pregnant Calico, are among the feral cats recently rescued from a vacant lot in Valley West. With complaints mounting, an emergency cat-trapping operation there has kicked into high gear.
The lot at 4635 Valley West Boulevard is just under an acre in size, and for sale at $135,000. It is located between two medical buildings. A grassy expanse on the street side gives way to dense foliage on the freeway-facing end, and that’s where a colony of 20 to 30 feral cats has lived for years.
A couple of animal lovers have kept the cat contingent in rough equilibrium. One has been feeding the cats to keep them healthy, and the other trapping them, getting them spayed or neutered and vaccinated, and then releasing them back into the area.
Recently, though, workers in the area have grown exasperated with the catfestation, and tensions between the businesses and cat lovers have reached the snarly stage, with police involved. Now, the cat feeder has been banished and the trapper is having to permanently remove the cats and find them homes – no small feat for unpettable, love-resistant, anti-social animals.
Growing up, Jan Carr spent most of her time on her grandparents’ ranch on Arcata Bottom, and as an adult has acted as something of a one-woman animal relief agency. She knows where the common cat-dumping spots are, and has trapped and treated hundreds of abandoned unfortunates, adopting dozens herself as a continuing compassionate practice.
The situation in Valley West now consumes most of her energy. It began a few weeks ago, when the sheer density of cats overwhelmed the Norcal Health Center cannabis clinic, located on the field’s north side.
According to Norcal Nurse Practitioner Gary Barsuaskas, the colony’s casualties, from adult cats to kittens, would turn up from time to time, creating a disease vector. Dogs, both stray and those being walked by guests at nearby motels, would often go after the cats. Clients pulling in to the parking lot were sometimes swarmed by cats who thought it was the woman who fed them for years showing up with dinner.
To break the cycle, police were asked to notify the cat feeder that she would no longer be allowed to bring daily dinners to the colony. According to Carr, the woman, whom she didn’t identify, was escorted from the property.
The businesspeople, police and some in the animal welfare community considered the cat feeder’s activity part of the problem. “The biggest issue was the woman feeding the cats,” said APD Lt. Ryan Peterson. He confirmed that the woman was contacted at the behest of area businesses, and told to stop the feeding operation. Barsuaskas said the colony had been started by the woman.
Carr disagrees. She says feeding the cats doesn’t increase their numbers, as long as it is accompanied by a simultaneous spay-neuter-release effort. Feral cats only live three or four years, and if not fed, they fight, and become bloody and diseased. She says the colony predates most of the businesses.
“These cats have been out here for decades,” she said. “They came from domestic cats, probably farm cats. And people dump here. It’s not the feeder’s fault.”
Nonetheless, Carr is accommodating the businessfolks’ desires and pulling the cats out as quickly as she can. Recently, Norcal contacted Humboldt Spay/Neuter network and asked that the cats be removed. Since then, Carr has trapped, fixed, vaxxed and returned an estimated 40 cats to the site. She knows them all, especially the ones she’s processed, since their ears are tipped while they are anesthetized for the spay or neuter.
“We know that this works, because there are only 20 cats there now,” she said. That’s down from an estimated 40 when she first got involved. Without food, she says, “you’ll start to see 20 sickly cats. They’ll live three years, four at the most, and die a slow and agonizing death. It’s just a terrible situation all around.”
Worried that the cats might be trapped and killed, Carr has drastically accelerated her capture operation in recent weeks, hoping to reduce the population there to zero.
Feral adult cats are not family-friendly and are very difficult to place. They need an isolated place to live, such as a barn, and must be enclosed for at least two weeks and preferably two months. Otherwise, as cats will do, they just head back to where they came from.
But with persistence and using all her contacts, Carr is managing to not only capture, but adopt out up to two cats per day. Her successes and frustrations are documented on a Facebook page titled Cats In My Heart.
“One thing about Humboldt County is that this is an animal-loving community,” Carr said. “I went on Facebook hoping for options and ideas. Little did I know it would explode.”
Someone posted information on Craigslist, and “the animal community went crazy,” she said. “My phone started ringing off the hook. People were coming out of the woodwork.”
That’s what the cats do at the field. From the sidewalk, one can – or could – view multiple cats prowling in and around the dense foliage on the west side. Now though, Carr’s aggressive intervention has reduced their numbers. She’s allowed on the site once a day, to provide a nominal meal and pull out captured cats.
She uses three trapping cages. One is permanently left open with food placed inside to habituate the cats to the cage. The other two close on entry.
The Cats In My Heart page documents recent captures. A special victory was catching the pregnant calico cat, which was recently dumped there.
While Carr has become skilled at trapping the wild, special-needs cats, placing them is a continuing challenge. The animal shelter can’t lodge the unadoptable cats, which must be euthanized.
Along with the special circumstances the cats require, she has to make sure they aren’t being obtained for use in training pit bulls or other exploitative uses.
“I’m determined that this will happen, but I need the community’s help,” she said. “Right now I just desperately need homes.”
Employees at Mad River Community Hospital’s Home Health Service, located on the field’s south side, also experienced issues. That office declined comment, saying that the story had been covered “over and over.”
A KAEF-TV story stated that “the feral cat situation in Arcata was resolved,” but that was a bit premature. Seven cats of the were rehomed last week, and six more are headed for a ranch in Crescent City. A&L Feed & Garden Supply is assisting with a kennel.
“I think it’s all moving in a very positive direction,” Barsuaskas said.
“I will be feeding on this property until the last cat is adopted,” Carr said.
Contact Carr through her Cats In My Heart Facebook page. Contact Humboldt Spay/Neuter Network at (707) 442-7729.