Saturday, December 1, 2007

Guest blogger: Deb Grabien

*This just in: This New York Times Magazine article went deeper on the cat vs. bird episode I blogged about a few entries down ("A Cat Shooting in Texas," Nov. 17). This is yet another side of the ecosystem battle Deb blogs about. Its a war of the worlds, isn't it?

Deb Grabien may be best known for her musical mysteries, the lovely "haunted ballad" series, of which the latest New-Slain Knight is just coming out now. And she's got a rock and roll series in the works, too. But she and I talk cats a lot. Because Deb does what a bunch of the folks in my own new Cries and Whiskers do – she works with feral cats. And therein, dear readers, lies a tale:

I opened my email yesterday morning, staggering in the post-Thanksgiving wind-down. My brain has spent the past week focused on the Business At Hand: feeding a small army of people, and keeping them happy.

The first email was from a friend with the San Francisco SPCA's TNR feral cat program in Golden Gate Park. There was a video attachment, taken on her cellphone in the early hours of the morning: A full-grown male coyote, circling a dumpster ten feet from the children's carousel in the Park, as a terrified raccoon huddled on top of the dumpster.

Recipe: take one urban park, with a fully contained biosystem. Add breeding coyotes and an Animal Control department headed up by a political appointee who, in 23 years, hasn't secured a single conviction for animal abuse.

The stew that bubbles up is called

You know what's sad, and infuriating, and makes me want to reach for my crossbow?

This is nothing new. Animal Control has known about the coyotes for a year. And they've done nothing at all.

A little history:
My husband and I are addicted to cats. Our house is full of them, all rescues. We also take care of two feral colonies. One is in San Jose, 50 miles south; every other night since 1999, we've driven down and back to feed them. We've found homes for many, grieved at the inevitable attrition, done what we could for the rest.

The second colony gets fed every night, as part of the SPCA program; these are the Golden Gate Park cats.

Last year, people began noticing something odd in the Park; coyotes. In our nightly feedings, we'd seen foxes, possums, cats, owls, gophers, skunks, and raccoons. The coyotes were newcomers, and it took no time at all to realise that the rest of the wildlife was disappearing.

People called Animal Control. Not just the TNR late-night cat feeders: people walking their dogs at night, jogging, driving. Everyone was seeing them. Since the sightings were often a mile apart in less than three minutes, it became obvious that the coyotes were just that: plural. They were breeding.

The normal biosystem began disappearing. The foxes went first; coyotes' first order of business is taking down their competition. The possums disappeared next. That had a serious trickle-down effect: possums naturally control yellow-jacket and wasp populations by eating the nests, and the insects began swarming. Skunks became rare sightings. The various ground birds (ducks, herons) were elsewhere at night, when the coyotes were prowling.

And then, there were the cats. We lost one to the coyote predation, a sweet little tabby called Ghost, a housecat someone had dumped in the Park, with no reason to think anything would hunt her. She was wrong.

Among our nightly regulars is a black cat called Dark. She's another ex-housecat someone dumped. She's cautious, but friendly; she rubs up against me, waiting while I open cans, purring when I skritch behind her ears, realising suddenly OMG a HUMAN is TOUCHING MEEEEE! and backing up. Never too far, though; she wants to come home with us.

Ghost was Dark's hangout partner when we first started feeding them. And then Ghost was gone, bits found in the morning, leftover from a coyote attack.

We called Animal Control: DO SOMETHING. Their response was an eye-rolling insult piece in the San Francisco Chronicle. They've made it clear: they will do nothing.

We've heard it all: coyotes are indigenous to the area. So? Velociraptors were indigenous to the Badlands - would dropping one into a playground in Omaha be a good move?

We're working to get the cats out of the Park, into no-kill shelters, trying to find homes for them. We've relocated some. The rainy season is coming, and the coyotes are breeding. The foxes are gone, the possums gone as well. And the coyotes are hunting the cats.

I'm writing a YA novel right now, called
Dark in the Park. I just hope the cat for whom the narrator is named can survive the winter and the coyotes long enough for us to find her a home.


DebGrabien said...

Clea, with all due respect, the article is incredibly bigoted and one-sided. I mean, hello?

"It occurred to me that this was the crux of the feral-cat problem. If you came at the feral-cat advocates with blunt force — with feeding bans or old-fashioned trap-remove-and-kill programs — they would fight, claws extended, in the political arena. But if they lost, they wouldn’t give up. They would vanish into cracks and crevices, slinking out to feed their cats when the coast was clear."

This is not only insulting and bigoted - it's inaccurate. I'll be happy to bitchslap this idiot with the same amount of noise and up-frontness as I used on Animal Control or the San Francisco Chronicle's science editor not too long ago, on the same subject.

Also? His extrapolated math is not only wrong, it's ludicrously sourced. Extrapolate THIS, buckaroo: I have two outdoor cats, a male and a female, both fixed. They showed up at different times, obviously abandoned housepets or strays. I can't bring either of them indoors because they're both very avoidant of other cats; they manage a detente with each other, but indoors, all hell would break loose.

Puff, the female, has been here eight years. She kills mice outside, should they happen to cross her path - but in eight years
here, she has caught two birds.

Bill, the male? He doesn't hunt at all. Never caught a damned thing and doesn't try. He prefers his Science Diet.

"All cats hunt", my ass.

Where can I write this idiot?

Clea Simon said...

No need to apologize to me, Deb! I didn't write it, I just thought people should know about this ongoing debate. Write to the NYT!