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Pussy Whipped: When someone told us this story was about 'ferals' we thought it was going to be about doughnuts. Damn!


Going Feral

Seacliff State Beach is a great place for walking along the sand and taking in the waves--unless of course you are a cat, in which case you'll want to run away from the ocean, up the cliffs and into the nearest dry hole.

That at least is the direction that most cats have taken on being abandoned at the beach, joining strays who have drifted from cliff-top residences or escaped from pet-carrying RVs that rangers allow campers to bring into the oceanside park. The result? A feral cat colony that scratches out a living on the cliffs behind the beach.

For the last eight years, this colony has been tended by feral cat advocate Susie Stevens, who has fed, trapped, sterilized, found homes and paid the medical bills for 106 cats, while continuing to feed the remaining colony, which she says now numbers between about a dozen and 30 cats.

Nüz met three of these kitties last week, when Stevens--looking appropriately catlike in black velvet stretch pants, fluffy pink sweater and diamante-encrusted sunglasses--tempted them out of their cliffside hidey holes with generous helpings of Friskies cat food.

This particular trio was the picture of phat and sass, a testament to Steven's undying devotion to the kitties. This is the passion that led her to gaining what she calls " a good faith agreement" in 2000 with the rangers to continue doing her work, despite a ban on feral cat colonies in state parks.

But now it's December 2002, and the current chief state park ranger Ralph Fairfield says State Parks is moving to enforce the ban, on the grounds that feral cats decimate bird and lizard populations, even though he admits to not having any proof of that on the part of Steven's well-fed colony.

Says a frustrated-sounding Fairfield, "We are not questioning Steven's commitment, but something isn't working here. Because after eight years of her doing this, of finding 106 homes, which translates into about 13 cats a year, we still have a cat problem, so her work alone clearly doesn't take care of the problem. So we are looking at taking extra measures, which involves working with two nonprofits--Silicon Valley Animal Rescue and Project Purr--to recruit people to adopt the remaining cats."

But this move has Stevens worried that some cats won't be found suitable homes and so will be euthanized.

"They need indoors-only environments, free of dogs and small kids for at least a couple of years, otherwise they will bolt and get into fights with neighborhood cats and go feral again, only this time without me and the colony there to support them," Stevens says.

Rebecca Trevino of Silicon Valley Animal Rescue, which mainly sterilizes and vaccinates cats, says the aim of both nonprofits is to lower the amount of killing in public shelters, 80-90 percent of which involves cats.

Acknowledging that ordinarily her group wouldn't advocate relocating a feral colony, since that creates a vacuum into which other cats will move, Trevino adds, "The state has the power to trap cats and dispose of them, but is offering a humane solution by putting us on notice to remove these cats. Part of that program involves finding homes."

Though she prefers indoor placements, Trevino thinks backyards can work, too, "or somewhere that cats can be contained in for about 2-3 weeks along with a buddy or two, while they go through the imprinting process."

But Lynne Achterberg of Project Purr, which provides traps, hutches and transportation, insists that feral cats should be kept outdoors.

"If the cats later choose to come in, fine, but at least this way they don't bolt the minute the back door is left open," she says, adding that feral cats are great for people who like cats, but have allergies.

"But we can't move forward until we have the homes. Otherwise, the cats will be taken to a shelter, held the mandatory four days, and end up being euthanized, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid."

Meanwhile, Fairfield hopes to have all cats in homes by Christmas, but insists, "If that doesn't happen, we'll only trap as many cats as we have homes. And though we are going to post 'No Feeding' signs, we are going to allow Susie to carry on doing her work, because we recognize she's on track."

Veterinarian Dr. George Hall says State Parks' insistence that the whole colony be removed is unrealistic.

"There are always gonna be people dropping cats off at the park, particularly unsterilized ones," says Hall, who has helped Stevens trap feral cats--a process that in some cases has taken years. "And if you have no cats in the park, what's to discourage new ones from moving in? As for ferals as pets, some give companionship, but many are hard to deal with, making it harder to instantly place them in a home."

As for Stevens, who works as a psychic when she's not feeding cats, she predicts she will go as far as she has to in her quest.

"Over my dead body will I ever stop feeding the cats," says the feisty 54-year-old, whose idol is Joan of Arc. "And since we can't find homes for all the cats, what's wrong with trapping, spaying and releasing them back to the colony?" she asks, adding that unlike either nonprofit she does not request $100 per cat. "I don't think euthanizing them or sending them to the pound is the answer. Why should they be punished for being abandoned? I've promised the cats I won't abandon them, and if I have to go to jail to do so, so be it."

So, let the miaow fest begin. If you have a suitable indoor home, call Stevens at 831.588.9801 for a free feral cat. If you have an outdoor space and can afford a $100 medical cost, call Silicon Valley Animal Rescue at 650.303.7310 or Project Purr at 831.423.6369.

More White Lines

An anonymous tipster wrote Nüz the following update about our Nov. 27 Nüzlet concerning a mysterious white powder on Cooper Street that had county health officials conducting on-the-spot tests before confirming that said substance was nothing but flour.

"Although I prefer to remain anonymous, I will confirm that the flour mentioned was indeed for a beer run (OK, beer amble/brisk walk really), and that the trail in fact ran all the way to Cayuga Street. There were additional marks in chalk in some locations as well. Those responsible will be deeply embarrassed when I send them the article clipping. Hee hee," wrote "a loyal reader" going under the handle "AF."

Meanwhile, another tipster named Marley Fowat wrote to say he couldn't help noticing the spate of "Pro War" posters that apparently have appeared in various places downtown.

"I've seen them as far north as the clock tower and as far south as the boardwalk. I presume that whoever hung them intended some irony. The ones I saw looked like vintage World War II posters and said stuff like 'March into your place' and 'Are you doing all you can, brother?' and 'Keep em flying!'" Fowat wrote. "No doubt whoever hung them intended them to raise awareness that we are at war, distant and removed from our lives as it may be, that bombs ARE really falling and people ARE really dying."

Marley seems to know an awful lot about whoever hung them. We're just sayin.'

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the December 11-18, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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