A feral cat problem that plagued a Los Altos neighborhood for several months is reaching a conclusion that might leave some residents purring.
An alleged cat hoarder in a neighborhood north of Los Altos High School contributed to the breeding of more than 100 cats. Neighbors began noticing the problem in March. Approximately 30 cats were confiscated before the hoarder, a woman, moved in late July.
Although the woman took a few cats with her, she left the rest behind. The cats kept populating, and before long dozens of cats occupied the abandoned house and the yards of adjacent homes. The starving creatures hid under cars and prowled driveways. Crews for the builder renovating the house discovered cats coming out of kitchen cupboards.
Enter Suzy Heisele, a volunteer with Palo Alto Animal Services. Heisele spent approximately 80 hours over two months, from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1, rescuing 67 cats and finding shelters for their adoption. Heisele said neighbors and animal control officers rescued another 10 cats, bringing the total by Oct. 1 to 77 cats removed from the neighborhood.
“These cats were spraying our doorways and yards to mark their territories,” said neighbor Paula Sager. “Children’s sandboxes raised concerns with parents, since the cats use them and could expose their children to disease.”
Heisele used Sager’s backyard as a “base camp” at night to lure the cats with food and trap them.
“It was quite an involved process, and (Heisele) really knew what she was doing,” said neighbor Bronwyn Van Der Geest. “She sat in the dark with a string attached to her propped-up trap and would wait. She learned their habits and was very aware of the different cats and their lineages, knowing which mama had which kitty or which tomcat was the father.”
“I was really touched by the neighbors,” Heisele said, adding that the residents communicated well and joined forces to address the problem.
Looking for ‘forever homes’
Several neighbors, at Heisele’s urging, wrote a letter to the Los Altos Police Department documenting the problems with the cat hoarder.
Police spokesman Capt. Andy Galea said he was not aware of the matter, but he pointed out that animal abandonment is a violation of state law.
Residents declined to give the name of the alleged cat hoarder, who has since moved to Bakersfield after living in Los Altos for decades. However, some felt criminal charges should be filed against her and that she should pay for the cost of dealing with the cats.
Los Altos contracts with Palo Alto Animal Services for animal control services. However, budget cuts have crippled the agency. Heisele said paid agency personnel alone could not have handled such a massive feral cat problem. The cats are spread throughout area shelters, but Palo Alto Animal Services has plenty available for “forever homes,” as she put it.
Those interested in adoption can visit the agency’s Facebook page at facebook.com/animalservices or visit 3281 E. Bayshore Road, Palo Alto.
Heisele thanked the neighbors for their support.
“Some of you sent me very kind cards,” she said. “Your kind words kept me warm while I was sitting and waiting for these poor cats to show up at night.”