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Feral cats in Mountain View’s North Bayshore prompt surge of complaints,

Hiding in plain sight, Silicon Valley is home to thousands of stray and feral cats that freely roam creeks, parks and trails. And in Mountain View, a possible uptick in free-roaming felines has revived a controversial debate over how to manage colonies of bite-sized predators.

At the Santiago Villa mobile home park, North Bayshore’s only residential area, residents are noticing more cats showing up and the reaction has been mixed. Some have been quietly feeding the cats, while others — upset with the furry invaders — have complained to park management.

In a mobile home park newsletter published in September, resident Bee Hanson wrote that some 20 cats had been trapped and taken from the park as a means to contain the problem, but that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Meanwhile, it’s causing a schism and plenty of heated arguments among neighbors over what to do. Some argue the cats must be removed, and amount to an unnatural predator that’s killing off sensitive bird species. Others call for a compassionate approach, and bristle at the idea of removing or euthanizing cats.

“In the last few months in the park we had been having a lot of difficulties with feral cats,” Hanson said. “There were so many complaints that the office started looking for people who could do something about this.”

Feral cats have a history of igniting passionate debates in Mountain View, often pitting bird advocacy groups like the Audubon Society against local cat organizations. Google employees had previously run a cat program in North Bayshore with feeding stations to support the cats, but that effort has reportedly ended.

Unlike most suburban neighborhoods in the area, managing feral cats in North Bayshore has some pretty high stakes attached to it. Protected species like the California Ridgway’s rail, the salt marsh harvest mouse, the western snowy plover and the western burrowing owl are all found in the area, raising serious concerns about predation. The precise impact of the cats has not been measured, but there are reports from 2015 of a cat mauling one of the few burrowing owls left in the area.

Hanson said it’s been difficult to deal with the anti-cat sentiment among her neighbors, and she worries for the health and safety of the felines roaming around the mobile home park. Some are quick to call for cat removal or euthanasia, which she vehemently opposes.

“Environmentalists say cats kill a lot of birds, but what are we going to do about that? Kill the cats? That’s not a good answer,” Hanson aid.

Cat advocates have instead rallied behind the strategy of trap-neuter-release (TNR), in which cats are trapped in a cage and taken to a shelter or animal control facility to be spayed or neutered before being released back where they were found. The method does little to solve the problem immediately, but prevents a further explosion in population growth caused by breeding cats.

Hanson said she herself has trapped four cats in support of TNR, but that it feels like an uphill battle. She has a fulltime job and can’t be leaving throughout the day to check traps across the park. Meanwhile, complaints are still flooding in, with residents angry to find cat poop in their gardens or accusing felines of spreading fleas, she said.

“I don’t know what to do about it,” Hanson said. “But don’t blame me, and don’t blame the cats.”

A tough problem to solve

Local trappers in the Bay Area say there are far more feral cats than meets the eye. And while it’s difficult to get an accurate count, it’s possible that the numbers are up this year.

The COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 forced many local animals shelters to temporarily close, making it difficult to get cats fixed. Even though many of the TNR programs continued, it was poorly advertised and left people thinking that TNR efforts…

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