Neighborhood returns to normal after feral cat problem

Bruce Barton/Town Crier
Suzy Heisele, a volunteer at Palo Alto Animal Services, visits with kittens she rescued from a Los Altos neighborhood. A cat hoarder contributed to the felines’ out-of-control population growth.

Residents looking to recoup their costs for damages incurred after feral cats overtook their neighborhood may have no one to go after.

According to a Palo Alto Animal Services official, the alleged cat hoarder, whose unfixed pets unintentionally created a cat population swelling to more than a hundred, recently died.

The Town Crier reported last week on the efforts of Animal Services volunteer Suzy Heisele, who trapped and rescued two-thirds of the cats over a two-month period, from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1. However, the article erroneously reported the suspect to be alive and noted that she recently moved out of the overrun neighborhood, located just north of Los Altos High School.

Connie Urbanski, superintendent of Palo Alto Animal Services, said she is documenting the neighborhood’s months-long cat problem, a report she plans to present to Los Altos Police Chief Tuck Younis. Younis said he’ll consider what action to take after viewing the report.

Palo Alto Animal Services, responsible for animal control in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, has been under contract with the two communities the past 18 years.

The house where the alleged hoarder lived has since been purchased and renovated by a developer for resale. The Town Crier is withholding the woman’s name out of respect for the family and at the request of neighbors.

Urbanski said a number of factors led to the overpopulation problem. Construction crews for the developer of the alleged hoarder’s house shooed the cats outside instead of immediately calling animal control. Neighbors failed to contact animal control services until the problem became obvious.

“If you see a bunch of animals you haven’t seen before, you need to call us,” Urbanski said.

Another problem is that the cats attracted additional unwanted animals to the area – coyotes have now been spotted in the neighborhood. Two weeks ago, a family reported that a coyote killed their 12-year-old cat.

Rescue operations

The neighborhood is returning to normal, thanks mainly to volunteer Heisele’s efforts. She spent approximately 80 hours setting out food and traps, and waiting in the dark for the cats to come out. Heisele rescued 67 cats and is arranging their adoptions. She also facilitated better communication among neighbors.

“We haven’t had the staff to go out and trap,” Urbanski said. “(Heisele) is incredible.”

Meanwhile, Palo Alto Animal Services continues to operate under the threat of further budget cuts.

The city of Mountain View’s decision last year to drop the agency and go with another provider cut its budget by a third. The city of Palo Alto is pushing for the agency to cut its budget by another third – $500,000 – this fiscal year.

As a result, staffing has been reduced from 13 to six, and those remaining are performing multiple jobs, from cleaning kennels to answering the phone.

“It’s been very difficult,” Urbanski said.

“We are very satisfied with the services they provide,” Younis said last week. “We have not seen an impact on their services.”

Most of the cats from the neighborhood have been adopted or are ready for new homes, and neighbors are relieved that the stench left by cat byproducts has since dissipated.

“We all learned a lot from this,” Urbanski said.

Palo Alto Animal Services’ contract with Los Altos and Los Altos Hills is up for renewal in June 2014. The nonprofit accepts donations and has scheduled a fundraising event Nov. 16.

For more information on the agency, call 496-5971 or visit

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