PITTSBURG – A handwritten sign on the wall of one bedroom read, “Please feed the cats,” but no one lived in the Pittsburgh home, and local animal rescue groups were trying to find out what to do with the abandoned cat colony.
Contra Costa County Sheriff’s MPs had recently discovered 29 of them in the Atherton Circle apartment while trying to deliver eviction notice to tenants.
Contra Costa County Animal Services officials were called but were unable to enter until the property manager unlocked the house a few days later.
“We looked at this as if it was a potentially inhuman case and an investigation found it wasn’t,” said Steve Burdo, spokesman for Animal Services.
The tenants had fed the cats and provided them with water. But they didn’t leave the colony with either of them when they apparently left.
Burdo said such cases “happen from time to time, whether it is one of community cats who have just had access and food and water on site, or someone who is a very compassionate person is that just want to help some of these cats bring them into their house, and then it doesn’t control the population. “
A similar situation occurred in Antioch about a week later, where police officers found 20 cats in a house, all of which had been turned over to Antioch Animal Services, according to George Harding, the shelter’s director. But in this case, officials found the cats to be pets and will later put them up for adoption if they are found healthy, he said.
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, many animals were placed in foster families or with rescue groups to “get animals out of shelters”. The Antioch shelter, which later only opened by appointment, was half or less busy, Harding said.
He said the pandemic resulted in more people using rescue groups and online resources like Petco Love Lost to reunite pets with their owners instead of calling shelters.
“It kind of changed the dynamic,” said Harding. “You call a lot of rescue groups first.”
Some rescue groups fear that with the end of the pandemic and the protection of the COVID-19 rents, more people will be displaced and animals will be left behind, possibly overwhelming accommodation and volunteer helpers in nursing homes who are already stressed because there is less fun and entertainment during the pandemic Neutral services result in a proliferation of births.
When East Contra Costa Furry Friends Pet Relief and independent rescuer Lisa Kirk were called to the Pittsburg eviction site, they barely had enough volunteers to deal with all of the cats. Contra Costa County Animal Services only took four to its shelter because they discovered the others were feral cats.
“With evictions increasing, nonprofits can’t stand the effects of all of this,” said Kirk. “Most of us have more animals in our homes than Contra Costa Animal Services in our systems.”
The shelter, like many others, including Antioch Animal Services, has a policy not to accept healthy wild cats. Instead, they are caught, neutered and returned to where they came from. Usually only sick and injured wild cats are admitted, Burdo said.
“Community cats are usually Ferale, they are not social cats and they are not candidates for adoption,” said Burdo.
When it comes to healthy wild cats, the County Shelter seeks to match them with someone who wants a barn or “working” cat for pest control, he said.
Otherwise, the county will rely on animal rescue teams to ease the burden, which often increases during the kitten season, usually March through September.
“They (rescue groups) play a huge role in protecting the health and safety of our communities, both for animals and humans,” he said.
But that puts a lot of weight on them.
“There’s a tremendous burden on County Shelter nonprofits (to care for animals),” said Erin Piña, director of Furry Friends Pet Relief.
Furry Friends removed 16 cats, including several kittens, from the Atherton Circle home and contacted four other rescue groups to provide them with medical help and support, Piña said.
Piña said the cats were found in the house and in a garage with some food left behind. Three of the kittens were sick and needed medical attention, and many had upper respiratory infections, a sign that they all likely had the same problem while others had eye infections, she said. Seven kittens were found dead.
Though the county’s animal control officials thought differently, Piña said the cats appeared to be house cats.
“They didn’t know where to go or what to do,” she said, noting that they were “just scared” and didn’t know how to look for food.
“Cats are difficult because of situations like this … cats that you know are scared and have a hard time finding foster families to rehabilitate cats,” said Piña.
Renee Emerson of Community Concern 4 Cats said trappers are seeing more kittens than ever because low-cost spay-and-neutrals programs were discontinued during the pandemic. And while the group had a record of 855 adopted cats and kittens last year, they fear many will return or later become homeless.
“It is heartbreaking to walk away from these situations when we are out of care or space to take in the animals,” she said.
As for the wild cats, Harding said it was best to leave the kittens exactly where they are with the mothers, while adult cats should be spayed or neutered and returned to where they were found.
“It’s an ongoing vicious cycle,” he said. “If you really want to solve the problem, you have to spay or neuter it to prevent it from reproducing.”