Is feeding feral cats in parks the legal or moral choice?

May 27, 2019

DEAR JOAN: I have been walking an area of the East Bay Park system every morning for about 15 years now. It has become a relaxing and healthy ritual for me.

The area has always been somewhat natural and full of native wildlife including snakes, lizards, frogs and a multitude of bird life, which I have appreciated and enjoyed.

Over the last five years or so, I have noticed a large population of feral cats that have invaded the area and noticed that the native animal population is now almost non-existent. On my last few walks, I have found three dead snakes, several dead lizards and an alive but injured baby gopher on the trails. Seeing a live reptile is now a rarity.

There are several protected bird nesting areas within the areas I frequent and there are feral cats there, too.

I have noticed several people feeding these cats on a regular basis, and I wonder if morally, this is a good idea and if a permit is needed to feed feral animals near posted protected areas.

I am no cat hater and have had several house cats of my own over the years. I just find it so sad to see a healthy native population of creatures decimated by a handful of invasive predators in just a few years.

óS.Rodillas, San Leandro

DEAR S.: I wonít argue that cats can kill all sorts of wildlife, but we donít know for certain that they are entirely responsible for the decline youíre seeing.

Iím sure theyíve contributed to it, but there are other predators in the parks and open spaces, and letís not forget climate change and human interactions that also could be in play here.

I canít answer the morality of feeding feral cats. Itís difficult for some people, myself included, to see animals in need and not act. Some believe that by feeding the cats, they are saving at least some of the wildlife.

The issue of feral cats is a complicated one, and there is great debate on what should and shouldnít be done. I have no answers, however, the law is pretty clear throughout the state that dumping cats and feeding feral cat colonies in state parks is prohibited. The East Bay Regional Park District has a policy that bans the release and feeding of cats and other animals that are not part of the natural landscape.

In addition to the suspected cat destruction, naturalists also are concerned about the spread of toxoplasmosis, a protozoan parasite that is formed in the catsí digestive systems and excreted in the feces. Animals and humans alike can be exposed to the parasite, and once it is in the water, it can harm or kill aquatic animals as well.

The cats are blameless. They have a natural instinct to hunt, and for some, it is the only option they have to ensure their own survival. Itís the same as a hawk killing a songbird, a coyote killing a rabbit or a mountain lion killing a deer. Everything has to eat. What is different in this case is that cats are not part of the natural environment, and they donít always kill to eat.

Thatís why I encourage people to have their pets neutered and to keep them indoors or contained in backyards.



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