City officials, animal lovers and volunteers work together to care for Foster City, Calif.’s stray cats
Foster City, California. It’s a typical quiet Sunday morning in late November. The early morning fog shrouds the majestic Mateo Bridge and the sun attempting to break through the mist gives picture perfect clarity to the rocks and tall undergrowth along the Bay Trail that hugs the gentle curves of the coastline. The only movement in this tranquility comes from fishermen casting rods along the rocks and an elderly couple strolling the pathway with their muddy chocolate Labrador.
A silver SUV drives up and parks at a spot known as Kitty Beach. As local resident Cimeron Morrissey climbs out, the sound of her voice and the rustle of a carrier laden with cans of cat food instantaneously changes the quietude of this ‘Kodak moment’.
Suddenly, drawn by her presence, cats of all different shapes, sizes and colors emerge from hiding places between the rocks and the camouflaged comfort of the tall underbrush. Some come running and flop at her feet. Others stroll casually closer, while more furry faces appear and just watch and wait from their posts. Within minutes, the entire area is bustling with felines. There could have been twenty, possibly more.
As Morrissey seeks out a big black tomcat named Brutus and mixes his daily medication into a can of food to treat his respiratory problem, she greets the others by name, petting them as they gather around patiently waiting for a treat of wet food too.
Yes, by description, this is a feral cat colony; dozens of cats living in the shadows of the bridge and on the edge of a community that has abandoned them.
But Project Bay Cat, as its known, is very different. It’s an officially managed cat colony and the first of its kind in the world. Its success is the result of the on-going co-operation between the municipality of Foster City, a rescue group known as the Homeless Cat Network and the Sequoia Audubon Society. Further, it has the backing of Foster City’s District Attorney’s office as all animal abuse, neglect and abandonment cases are rigorously prosecuted and the offenders brought to justice.
Until three years ago, Cimeron Morrissey admits she had no idea what a feral cat was. As a high-powered public relations executive, her focus was on her corporate career goals. Nevertheless to de-stress, she made time on a daily basis to go kite boarding and enjoy the outdoors.
“I’ve been windsurfing and kite boarding along the Bay Trail for years. I’d always seen a couple cats but they always looked so healthy and happy that it never occurred to me that there were no houses close by,” recalls Morrissey.“ Then one spring day, my husband and I took our boards out and holy smoke – there were kittens everywhere!
“My first reaction was to rescue them, which I did. I got them altered and I found them good homes.”
“But then there were more kittens… and more kittens …”
“I talked to a friend who owned a veterinary hospital and he told me what feral cats were and explained the obvious, namely, that unless you get the adult cats fixed, there will always be kittens. But he was also a terrible prankster and told me that the best way to catch the adult cats was with a pillowcase.”
After two weeks of rushing around the trail flapping a pillowcase and naturally coming up empty-handed, a very frustrated Morrissey went back to him. Realizing her serious commitment, he gave her a humane trap and taught her how to use it.
At the same time, other residents spotting the cats and kittens had been inundating local officials with phone calls. The concerned local Audubon society, fearing that the cats would decimate the bird life along on the trail, was also looking for solutions to control this growing cat population.
The result was a public meeting. Morrissey went along and listened to various viewpoints that included poisoning or shooting the animals. Also present was a local organization called the Homeless Cat Network. They explained how TNR (trap, neuter and return) programs could help to stabilize a feral cat population. That’s when Morrissey stood up and told them that she had been doing that single-handed and it was working.
In an unprecedented move, the Foster City municipality decided to officially joined hands with the two organizations to create and manage the world’s first managed feral cat colony. Project Bay Cat was born and Morrissey, no longer a single crusader, gave up her high-powered job to freelance and signed on as Director of the Homeless Cat Work.
The city organized signs to be put up along the trail explaining to the public that this was a managed colony and any interference is punishable by law. The Homeless Cat Network built ten special feeding stations along the trail and the Sequoia Audubon Society set about promoting the concept that cats and birds can live together in peaceful harmony.
“To date, the project has only cost Foster City taxpayers $500– the cost of the signs,” says Morrissey. “We have 25 volunteers including doctors, lawyers and even a millionaire entrepreneur who take turns to feed the cats on a daily basis. While Homeless Cat Network provides the food, and necessary supplies, many of the volunteers pay for their own supplies, which helps a lot. We discourage the public from feeding because that makes it more difficult for us to trap the cats.
“However, without doubt the backbone of the success story is the network’s relationship with Dr. Kim Haddad the of San Mateo Animal Hospital and Dr. Lloyd Wilson the Crystal Springs Pet Hospital who spay and neuter all cats brought to them for free and also treat any diseases and ailments on an on-going basis.”
The veterinarians have had to remove a fishhook from a cat that obviously ingested it along with a fish found on the trail (another reason to discourage the locals from feeding), treated a cat with a herniated iris of the eye as well as cats being ravished by squamous cell carcinomas. They are also constantly de-worming and treating for fleas. Morrissey monitors health checks on a weekly basis.
In fact, these cats have everything a domesticated cat would have except a permanent roof over their heads.
“Most people have such incredible misperceptions about feral cats. It’s eye-opening to see them as happy, healthy, and sometimes very friendly creatures,” says Morrissey. “The public needs to be made aware that there are feral cats everywhere and educated to understand that they are everyone’s responsibility.”
Since the inception of the project just over two years ago, many of the more people-friendly felines have been adopted into permanent homes reducing the population on the trail by 30 per cent. Of the remaining 123 cats living along the trail, 95 per cent of them have been altered and returned. And most importantly, no kittens have been born here in over a year.
“Project Bay Cat is not a cat sanctuary,” explains Morrissey “The ultimate goal is to humanely manage the cats that live there and let them live out their lives in peace and good health and ultimately have the colony cease to exist.”
Recently, when Morrissey was returning a cat that had just been neutered, a runner on the pathway saw her and thinking she was trying to abandon an animal, ran up to her screaming and waving his cell phone, threatening to call the police and have her charged with animal cruelty and abandonment.
“I could have kissed him,” says Morrissey. “ It was such an endorsement that the message is finally getting out there.”
Finally, you know you have your work cut out for you when your name reflects your job description. Recently, on a visit to the San Mateo Animal Hospital, Morrissey encountered a new veterinary technician who told her he’d heard all about her work with feral cats and wanted to know why she’d changed her name.
Confused, Morrissey confirmed she’d done nothing of the kind.
He looked amazed and told her that Cimeron means feral in Spanish…
To find out how to implement similar projects in your area, go towww.cimeron.com and click on “PBC Toolkit.”
This article is from CatFancy Magazine