Meow! Cats On the Prowl

Cats in Santa Cruz County: should we spay and/or neuter feral cats or should we euthanize them?

*Be sure to check the bottom of this page for upcoming animal events.

First, I would like to take a moment to correct ....

My sincere apologies…

I had heard something (from what I thought was a reliable source) that disturbed me. It worried me that the critters may never see the money donated for their benefit. Anyone who knows me, knows my main concern is the critters and not the politics.

My source gave me incorrect information (and an education). It also showed me that there is a fiercely loyal, dedicated group of volunteers out there. 

I apologize and I will try very hard not to let that happen again. If there is a problem, please educate me and post a polite note on patch.com to share a valid information source.

Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter (SCCAS) 

SCCAS is an “open door” shelter who will take in ANY animal, so they never know what situation they will find themselves in on any given day. Whether it is hundreds of cats or hundreds of reptiles, they will quickly house or find foster homes, provide medical care, feed, and whatever else is needed.

SCCAS contracts out to local cities (Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Watsonville), and the county, who pay SCCAS to provide services. Each entity pays SCCAS according to their population, but SCCAS frequently has special needs (remember Robert Brunette’s 50+ dogs or the pet store that abandoned dozens of birds?) that requires more outgo than SCCAS has income. 

You can donate or bequest to SCCAS and the money goes into a special account, separate from their general fund.

The will soon be getting a new overhang roof and new laundry facility with commercial equipment thanks to a large bequest from B. Jean Adams.

You can even donate specifically to their new Pet Parenthood program, last chance medical fund, or any of their other programs. In the next week or two, I will introduce you to Melanie Sobel, the new shelter director, who is implementing a lot of new ideas.

Your donation to SCCAS is tax deductible. If you can’t afford a cash donation, they have a wish list of items they need.



Herding Cats

There are 70 million cats in California, 38.5 percent of them are feral, estimates a study by John Dunham & Associates. According to a formula used by SC County Animal Services, there are approximately 65,213 cats in Santa Cruz County. Though there is no way to accurately count them, it is thought that there are as many feral cats as there are house cats.

Over 120,000 cats is a purr-fectly staggering number, isn’t it? 

Last year, SC County Animal Services sheltered 1,493 cats and 1,146 kittens. These were not feral felines – they were pets, housecats that someone once loved. SCCAS euthanized 806 cats and 266 kittens. I am not sure if feral cats are included in that number. Feral cats are deemed unadoptable and it is SCCAS policy to euthanize feral cats or send them to a rescue group if they can.


House Cats are your sweet little puddy tat that co-houses with you and is (hopefully) spayed/neutered with all its vaccinations.

Strays are house cats that are lost or abandoned. They can be friendly and approachable. Strays live alone, do not have any survival skills and usually die early from the stress and lack of survival skills.

Feral Cats are the wild child of the feline world. They are everywhere, live in colonies and they don’t really want anything to do with us humans beyond free food. There is a lot of controversy and contradictory information about feral cats.

Do feral cats upset the eco-system by eating the native birds? Some studies say yes, some say they do minimal damage compared to the damage caused by humans. Feral cats use your yard and playgrounds as a litter box. Also called “free roaming” or “community” cats, they live on garbage, insects, plants, scavenged material and the lucky ones get cat food.

Feral Cat Diseases

Feral cats are said to spread toxoplasmosis (a dangerous parasite), giardiasis (also known as Montezuma’s revenge), and camplyobacter (another intestinal ailment) to other animals and to humans. There are contradictory reports about this.

Feline HIV can be spread to your house cats. A study by Stanford University found that there are no known cases of humans getting rabies from cats and only three cats in all of California tested positive for rabies in 1998. The main way people get toxoplasmosis is from uncooked meat, not from cats.

Mating Season

It’s hard to tell when a cat is in heat. There are no outward signs except a change in personality…talk about a slave to hormones! An average unspayed female cat can be in heat for 15-21 days and that cycle can repeat every three to four weeks if she does not get pregnant. Most have two to four litters annually, giving birth to five to seven kittens per litter. That means 20-plus kittens per year per cat. Within a year, those kittens will be able to have their own offspring. You can see how fast the numbers multiply and why spay/neuter is a good idea.

Some statistics say that feral cats have an average life span of two to three years, some say 10 years. Regardless, 75 percent of feral kittens die in the first couple of months. Tom cats live the shortest lives. Spay/neuter significantly lengthens any cat’s life, plus it reduces wandering, mating and fighting.

There is more controversy regarding what to do with feral cats. Killing them doesn’t work. If trapped and euthanized, they are quickly replaced in the colony by other feral cats. More and more, TNR seems to be the way to go. Trap them, spay/neuter, then release them back to the same colony. They live healthier lives without reproducing. 

TNR—Trap, Neuter, Release

It costs an estimated $250 per cat to trap and kill feral cats, and only $220 to TNR, according to a study by John Dunham & Associates. If California replaced their current trap and kill policy with TNR, it would save taxpayers $5.58 billion a year!

Interestingly, PETA is the only animal advocate program that does not support TNR. I’m not sure why they favor euthanasia over TNR, but I’ll ask.

Project Purr’s TNR Program

Usually only $25, but FREE twice a year for two months each time (including the month of September). It includes spay or neuter, rabies and feline distemper vaccination, parasite package, and eartip to identify that the cat is fixed. SCCAS will loan you a trap for free.

So far, Project Purr has spayed/neutered over 700 cats this year with 60-70 percent being female.

What you can do:

  • Write to Santa Cruz County Animal Services and your County Board of Supervisors to ask them to require TNR of feral cats. Urge them to stop euthanasia of feral cats.
  • Trap and bring in feral cats for spay/neuter.
  • Donate to Project Purr. 

Special thanks to Lynne Achterberg.


Project Purr FREE Spay/Neuter of Feral Cats

Month of September


Eighty percent of kittens born in the county are feral! You can help! Just trap feral cats (Animal Services has traps you can borrow for free) and Project Purr will pay for the spay/neuter.


World Famous Popovich Comedy Pet Theater

Thursday, October 13 · 7:00 - 10:00 p.m.

The Rio Theater 

1205 Soquel Ave.

Santa Cruz, CA


The World Famous Popovich Comedy Pet Theatre is coming to Santa Cruz, and best of all, it will help raise much needed funds for our only local non-profit no-kill animal shelter —the Santa Cruz SPCA! 

This show is too amazing and all the animals are rescued from shelters. Check out a clip on YouTube!

A percentage of the profits from tickets sales made through the link below will be donated to the Santa Cruz SPCA! Please note that ONLY tickets purchased using this link will benefit the animals of the Santa Cruz SPCA.


Adults: $23
Children under 12: $16
Tickets will NOT be sold at the door so get them online while they last!


Party for Paws

Saturday, October 22 · 4 - 7 p.m.

The Marina Lounge, Fisherman’s Wharf

Monterey, CA

$30 per person (includes appetizers, live auction, raffle, live music)


Benefits AFRP, FOCAS (Friends of Animal Services), Peace of Mind Dog Rescue and Salinas Animal Services.


Happy Howl-o-ween Harvest Fair

Saturday/Sunday, October 8 & 9

9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Roaring Camp Railroads

Felton, CA 

$5 entry into costume contests and weenie bobbing. Raffle tickets are $1 each or 30 for $20. Adoptable animals pageant. Benefits local animal rescue groups. Parking and train rides extra.

About this column: Whitney Wilde is owned by a Belgian Malinois named GiGi and a parakeet named Squeak. She is Pack Leader for Woofers & Walkers (a collective of responsible dog owners in Santa Cruz County) and alpha dog of Spoil ‘em Rotten Pet Sitting & Dog Walking.

Melanie Sobel September 30, 2011 at 04:17 PM
As the General Manager of the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, I have to comment on your plea for people to: “Write to Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter, your city council and the County Board of Supervisors to ask them to require TNR of feral cats. Urge them to stop euthanasia of feral cats.” Cats are domestic animals that are nonnative to North America. Therefore, in the interest of the health and safety of cats living outdoors, TNR should require that there is a “caretaker” that will manage the feral cat colony, which is a commitment. A large percentage of the humane cat traps that we lend out to the public are for nuisance cats on people’s private property. You cannot “require” TNR if residents do not want stray cats on their property. Whenever someone comes in to rent a trap, we always verbally communicate to them the option of TNR and each trap has an attached permanent laminated information card with Project Purr’s information on TNR.
Melanie Sobel September 30, 2011 at 04:18 PM
As for your recommendation to your readers to “urge” us to stop euthanasia of feral cats, you are creating the message that we CHOOSE to euthanize over TNR. We cannot control the number of feral cats that come into our shelter. Most are brought in as nuisance animals by residents of Santa Cruz County and we accept any animal that comes to our doors. We adopt out or transfer out healthy, socialized cats to placement partner animal welfare agencies and also transfer out (and pay for spay/neuter and vaccinations) as many feral cats to Project Purr as they can take.
Jennifer Squires September 30, 2011 at 05:31 PM
Melanie, thanks for explaining more about how this process works. I imagine people who haven't had first-hand experience with feral cats causing a nuisance in their neighborhoods have no understanding about how the process works. I appreciate you clarifying so people have all the information.
larry dieter March 25, 2013 at 06:24 AM
I had a pet hen(chicken) on a nest. she found a flower pot on my back porch and layed eggs in it. One of my neighors let his tom cat out at night to hunt and it killed her. I had 8 chickens in a pen , a feral cat got in and killed most of them. I had a cottontail rabbit that lived in a flower bed in the front yard ,,,,, cat got her and her babies... they are nasty animals and need killed at every chance.
larry dieter March 25, 2013 at 06:27 AM
tnr should be as against the law as putting snakehead fish in the lakes and streams of the us. They are an invasive species and do great harm. By the way tnr makes them hard to catch because they have one time been trapped. I had to make a wood trap that they dont recongnize and by god it works now I would not actually kill one (its against the law)


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