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Ablang
January 14th 06, 04:15 AM
Happy Tails scratches and claws its way to success in sterilizing
Miller Park's feral cats - now if it can just control humans
By Blair Anthony Robertson -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PST Saturday, January 7, 2006
Story appeared in Metro section, Page B1

When scores of volunteers from Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary finally
managed to spay or neuter the entire feral cat colony at Miller Park -
one trapped cat and one surgical procedure at a time - they considered
it a milestone.

But it was hardly the end of the story or the struggle.

In the best of worlds, sterilizing cats and returning them to the park
along the Sacramento River would ensure no more litters, no legacy of
untamed animals trying to survive apart from human companionship.

What these helpers could not control was the far larger population of
humans who dump their cats off at the park, betraying a pet and
violating state law.

The phenomenon is keeping the volunteers busy.

Happy Tails, which began 12 years ago when founder Melinie diLuck
researched a story on throwaway pets for a national cat magazine, now
spends about $1,000 a month on food and veterinary bills for the cat
colony at Miller Park.

The nonprofit group adopts out tame cats and maintains a cage-free cat
sanctuary in east Sacramento, complete with music as background noise.

Miller Park's prominent cat colony is simply the best known piece of a
far larger puzzle.

Claudia Schlachter, who runs a countywide feral cat program and helped
coordinate the effort at Miller Park, says she has 180 colonies in her
database. Since the Miller Park campaign started in late 2003, more
than 100 cats from the park have been sterilized with help from the
city's Animal Control. At monthly clinics that springboarded from the
Miller Park idea, 800 feral cats from throughout Sacramento County
have been altered.

Miller Park became ground zero for feral cat problems years ago,
Schlatcher said, when people began feeding the colony. But the kibble,
scattered along the ground, caused all kinds of problems - skunks
joined in the feeding and their population exploded out of control.
Cats began marking their territory and disrupting park visitors.

"Part of the project was to educate people about abandoning cats,"
Schlatcher said. "But there's still a constant inflow of cats. People
still go down there to dump."

In fact, diLuck was reluctant to talk about the Miller Park colony,
fearing it would encourage more such dumping. She noted that
abandoning a cat or other pet is against state law, with penalties
that include up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The cats at the park are wary of humans and slink away when people get
too close. Two cat houses provide a gathering place and shelter from
inclement weather. During a visit Friday, several cats climbed to the
roof of the shelter and ate out of several bowls.

Becky Maclay is one of the most consistent volunteers, often showing
up twice a day to feed the animals. She finds the work rewarding -
until she spots a newly dumped cat.

"It's very depressing," she said. "People think it's better than
taking them to the shelter, but it's not fair to the cats."

New cats that are tame can be shunned by the colony or attacked and
are susceptible to any number of diseases. The lucky ones demonstrate
their tameness by meowing when people approach. They're often adopted
out to new homes by Happy Tails.

The feral cats don't meow and don't allow humans to touch them. Still,
Maclay says she senses a connection to the animals whenever she
visits.

"There's something about cats. There's almost a human feeling when you
look into their eyes," she said. "You can see them thinking and
feeling."

http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/14046781p-14878207c.html

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