Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

The San Francisco Bay Area has a long and proud history of feral cat advocacy that continues to evolve to this day.

San Francisco

In the feral cat dark ages of the early 1990's, The San Francisco SPCA was the nation's first humane society to champion feral cats, and, with the help of a dedicated corps of passionate volunteers, implement comprehensive programs on their behalf. The SF/SPCA started the Feral Fix Program in 1993, offering free vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery, no strings attached, no questions asked, for any feral cat in the City. Skilled feral cat volunteers mobilized into Cat Assistance Teams (CAT Teams) to humanely trap the ferals, transport them to Feral Fix, provide post-surgery recovery care, socialize feral kittens and adopt them into loving homes. CAT members also traveled to feral cat hotspots around the City to provide expert advice and assistance to new caregivers or intervene with upset citizens. These efforts were supported by superbly crafted White Papers and magazine articles asserting the merits of Trap Neuter and Return (TNR) policies and proclaiming the right of feral cats to live their lives freely among the two-legged residents of San Francisco.

Stanford University

Thirty miles south of San Francisco, another group of advocates stepped up to save feral cats on the Stanford University campus.

Faculty and students formed the Stanford Cat Network in 1989 to stop a "round up and kill" program aimed at the growing population of homeless cats on campus. The Network's TNR alternative won the day, and the group's commitment to on-going care for free roaming cats on campus with spay/neuter, feeding and adoption programs assured the cat's future protection.

Foster City

Fast forward to Foster City, California, 2004. In what could be an unprecedented show of solidarity among traditionally hostile groups, a coalition consisting of the Homeless Cat Network, the Sequoia Audubon Society and the City of Foster City joined forces to form Project Bay Cat to reduce the feral population and protect the birds along Foster City's Bay Trail. (The Foster City shoreline is part of the Pacific Flyway, a route used by migratory birds in Spring and Fall. It also includes areas inhabited by the endangered California Clapper Rail.)

When Project Bay Cat began, 170 feral cats were living along the sensitive Trail. The Homeless Cat Network mustered its volunteers to undertake an intensive TNR program; two local private veterinary hospitals, San Mateo Animal Hospital and Crystal Springs Pet Hospital provided vaccinations and spay/neuter surgery.

At the same time, ten feeding stations were established to keep the cats well-fed and away from avian nesting sights.

Informational signs were posted along the trail to inform the community about Project Bay Cat, remind trail walkers about pet abandonment laws and enlist their cooperation in reporting any suspicious activities.

Two years later, Operation Bay Cat can proudly point to impressive results:

  • 92% of the cats living along the trail have been spayed or neutered (only nine remain unaltered).
  • The cat population along the trail has declined by 30%, down to 129 cats.
  • Over 60 kittens and friendly adult cats have been placed in loving homes.
  • The California Clapper Rail is thriving.

Volunteers continue to feed and monitor the cats and will try to sterilize the remaining nine animals.

(For more information about Project Bay Cat and a step by step tool kit, e-mail info@homelesscatnetwork.com.)

Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County, California, better known as Silicon Valley, has its own Cat Coalition in full swing.

Nearly 80 percent of the animals euthanized in Santa Clara shelters are cats, and the majority of them are either feral or too young to be adopted. Comprised of the Humane Society Silicon Valley, San Jose Animal Care & Control, Stanford Cat Network, Silicon Valley Friends of Ferals, Town Cats, Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority and Peninsula Fix our Ferals, the Santa Clara Cat Coalition aims to radically reduce the intake and euthanasia of unowned or feral cats at animal shelters through a public awareness campaign and targeted TNR programs.

Jon Cicirelli, Director of San Jose Animal Care & Control, has been laying the groundwork for some time. "Over the past two years, we've been evaluating stray cat intake and have broken it down by zip codes; we've pinpointed the one zip code where most of the cats are coming from-it was responsible for 1,000 cats in one year. We can even identify specific neighborhoods. This year we'll target specific apartment and mobile home complexes in contributing neighborhoods and approach the managers and owners with the hope that they'll work with us. We'd like to invite residents to feral cat classes where we'll explain the problem and the TNR approach, then teach them how to trap (we'll provide the traps). We're hoping to get one or two people within each complex who will support the program. Cat rescuers who already manage a colony will act as a liaison for each complex. We'll also try to pull in service groups like Boy Scouts to help trap and distribute flyers in our lobby to recruit others to help."

Spay/neuter surgeries will primarily be performed at Animal Care & Control's newly opened spay/neuter clinic.

In the meantime, the Humane Society Silicon Valley has produced a 30-minute documentary on homeless cats. The film will be shown at Town Hall meetings around the county this summer to generate public participation and support for the TNR programs.

Enlightened public officials have given the Coalition additional weight. In March, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution declaring 2006 "The Year of the Homeless Cat" and officially recognized TNR as the best method for managing homeless cat colonies. The Board also approved an additional $25,000 (on top of the $65,000 it currently provides) to subsidize homeless cat surgeries.