County Responds to Mooney Grove Cat Controversy

Healthy and happy — or a health hazard?
Healthy and happy — or a health hazard?

This is the second part of a two-part series on saving Mooney’s Grove’s cats. The first part focused on a volunteer group implementing the Trap and Release Program. This part focuses on the county’s response and how it plans to move forward.

In response to the Valley Voice’s article on the Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) program for the Mooney Grove cats, Supervisor Phil Cox had this to say, “I’m not happy with the whole aura of the article. I was offended that the county was portrayed as all we want to do is kill cats, which is far from the truth.”

I asked Supervisor Cox what was the truth. He said, ultimately the goal is to not have cats in the park but removed from Mooney Grove and adopted into private homes. Concerning the TNR theory that an established cat colony keeps out new cats, “I just don’t think that is true. Cats aren’t just going to walk into the park. Where are they going to come from? People are driving the cats to the park and dumping them there.”

Because of all the publicity given the cats through the Visalia Times-Delta and the Valley Voice, Mr. Cox feels that the TNR program will encourage people to dump their cats in the park. Now people believe their cats will be well taken care of because of the recent press. He feels that the TNR Program could actually increase the number of cats, not decrease the number as the TNR volunteers advocate.

“I’m offended as much by the cats being abandoned as I am being portrayed that I don’t care about cats,” he said. “My mom raised me right. We love our animals and we would never consider dumping a cat in the park. That’s what gets me so angry.”

Supervisor Cox pointed out the recent hardship put on the cats living under such extreme weather condition with the mercury dipping into the 20’s. “I just don’t think that’s humane. These cats came from someone’s home. Mooney Grove is not their natural habitat. They need to be in someone’s home.”

Tulare County now supports Trap and Release for Mooney Grove's geese population. The program would see the geese removed from the park and located elsewhere.
Tulare County now supports Trap and Release for Mooney Grove’s geese population. The program would see the geese removed from the park and located elsewhere.

The county is in the process of developing an updated ordinance about dumping animals in the park and the use of BB guns. They are consulting with their legal team to determine what is already on the books as illegal and what they need to expand upon before they post signs. Ultimately, the signs will state the new ordinances about dumping animals in the park and the legal consequences of perpetrating cruelty against any animal.

As for the ducks and geese, the county has no policy in place concerning whether to keep or get rid of them. John Hess, administrative analyst, responded in an email concerning Neil Pilegard’s use of a bow and arrow to hunt the fowl.

“This method of removing geese from the park was conducted in December 2012. Two geese were impacted. Due to the ineffective practice, parks staff is working with Fish and Game to implement a trap and release program. This would consist of parks staff capturing the geese and releasing them to a pre-approved Fish and Game location.”

THE PARK IS FOR THE PEOPLE

Supervisor Cox feels as strongly for his constituents as he does the cats. “The park is for the people.” He believes that the cats have become a public safety issue for the people that use the park, particularly the threat of spreading diseases. “I can’t imagine the liability if a child is running after a cat and the cat scratches them.” The cat would then have to be found, trapped and tested for diseases. If the cat were found to have a disease, that disease could be transmitted to the child. He also brought up the fact that when you sit down to have a picnic, the cats are attracted to the food and a child could try and pet the cat. “There are a lot of ‘what ifs.’”

We could probably do a better job of getting the cats adopted out.

Phil Cox, Tulare County Supervisor

Mary Lindsay, assistant county administrative officer, said that another public safety issue is the fleas. Two buildings had to be flea bombed in Mooney Grove, one of which the personnel had to be relocated. The Fire Dispatch and Communications Center is a 24-hour operation and the employees had to be relocated while the county bombed their building. The carpet in the Tulare County Historical Museum had to be replaced and that building also had to be flea bombed. All this came at considerable cost to the county.

“Another public safety issue is the litter that the people leave behind after feeding the cats,” said Lindsay.

I asked Lindsay why the county was paying for something they could get for free. The county’s costs include the park ranger’s time in trapping the cat, Tulare County Animal Control picking up the cat, feeding the cat, putting down the cat if it is not adopted, and finally, disposal of the body.

“This is a service that the county provides for the park,” said Lindsay. “The priority is to provide a clean, safe environment for people using the park.” The problem with the volunteer’s free service is that they bring the cat back to the park. “The goal of the county is to get the cats out of the park,” said Lindsay.

The county’s official response to volunteers helping with the cats was:

“We understand and share an interest in the well-being of these cats, and would welcome any additional resources to help us find the cats permanent homes outside of the park. The primary mission of parks staff is to prevent any activities or practices that may harm the park or its visitors. Establishing a habitat for the cats to live in the park has created a public health and safety issue for staff and the public. County staff, including Parks and Animal Control, would welcome the participation of any individual, group or organization who is interested in helping us find nurturing, permanent homes for these cats.”

THE COUNTY COMES UP WITH SOLUTIONS

“We could probably do a better job of getting the cats adopted out,” said Cox. He suggested an “Adopt a Mooney Grove Cat Day.”

Hess said that Tulare County Animal Control already keeps the Mooney Grove cats in a separate area and evaluates them individually. More people use the park in the spring and the adopting event could be held right in the park or coordinated with Valley Oak SPCA in front of Pet Smart.

I asked what will happen to the cats in the meantime. Will Tulare County Animal Control hold them until the spring event? Lindsay said, “Unfortunately, people continue to illegally dump cats in the park. This is a long-term problem.”

I asked how long Tulare County Animal Control keeps the Mooney Grove cats once they are trapped. The media contact referred me to the Tulare County ordinance that states that any impounded animal which is not wearing a license tag has not been redeemed within six days after being impounded, sold or adopted, may be euthanized by the Division of Animal Control in a humane manner.

An animal not wearing a license tag impounded pursuant to section 4-07-1215 shall be euthanized by the Division of Animal Control in a humane manner if, within six days after it is impounded, the owner has failed to make application to redeem the animal.

I brought up the fact that no one wants to adopt a half-grown, abandoned cat that may or may not be fixed.

“I don’t know that’s true,” said Cox. “We could make it an event and get the word out through our media contacts in the city and the county.” I asked if while organizing the event the county would agree to a moratorium on trapping. Cox responded, “I think this is something we could move on quickly. We could hold them in a separate area until the event.”

The media contact for Tulare County gave me this official response to my question that the county was taking happy, healthy feral cats out of the park and euthanizing them. “Due to a variety of concerns for the park and the cats, we believe that these cats deserve to be in nurturing, suitable homes and that Mooney Grove Park is not the appropriate environment for them.”

I’m not happy with the whole aura of the article. I was offended that the county was portrayed as all we want to do is kill cats, which is far from the truth.

Phil Cox, Tulare County Supervisor

I went by Tulare County Animal Control to see the Mooney Grove cats for myself. The lady in charge said that the Mooney Grove cats are kept in the back of the facility away from the public because they are feral or are sick. Right now they only had one feral Siamese, but I was not allowed back there because the cat was aggressive. She was not allowed to speculate about the cat’s fate because, “The Mooney’s Grove cats have become a big issue.”

She lead me into their very cozy adoption area where you could pick from a variety of cats. Jed Chernabaeff, Tulare County Media Contact, informed me that Tulare County Animal Control has an adoption event coming up on Saturday, December 21, at Petco in Visalia on the corner of Mooney and Caldwell, from 10am to 4pm where they will be adopting out cats and kittens. The cats remain there throughout the week and can be adopted during store hours. He also let me know that a total of 331 cat adoptions took place over the past 12 months.

Another suggestion by the county to reduce pet abandonment was to waive the fee for leaving your cat at the Valley Oak SPCA or Tulare County Animal Control. Mr. Cox also suggested they do a public education campaign that’s it not acceptable to throw your cat away at the park.

Seeing as cat lovers will make themselves heard through their vote, I asked Supervisor Cox if it would make a difference to him if 10,000 people signed the petition to implement the TNR Program. He said those people should adopt a cat instead of sign a petition. “The goal is not to have cats in the park. It’s more humane to place them in homes,” he said.

I asked about the possibility of returning cats to the park that have been fixed, de-fleaed and vaccinated.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

Referring to the volunteers that take care of the cats in Mooney Grove, “I don’t like the fact that they still come into the park.”

This summer the county and the TNR Program volunteers were close to starting a pilot project with one colony of cats that lived next to the museum. The county’s position is that during the implementation of this program, “a moratorium was not formally put in place to prevent county employees from trapping the cats.” So the volunteer working on the TNR Program had no standing in confronting the museum curator for trapping two mother cats.

Supervisor Cox explained that the curator of the museum was threatened by one of the women implementing the TNR Program. Because of that incident, the pilot project was called off. I mentioned that the individual who confronted the employee about trapping the two mother cats has since moved away.

“It doesn’t matter. They blew it,” he said.

2 thoughts on “County Responds to Mooney Grove Cat Controversy

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  1. Yes it is “Mooney Grove” but locals have referred to it as “Mooney’s Grove” since I can remember and we kind of like it that way. But newcomers you refer to it any way you please.

    I think it is a non point that ducks/geese have not been bow and arrowed since December of 2012 but stopping that practice was a good thing.

    In all the time the cats have been in the park has there been one child scratched by one of them and a resulting illness reported?

    The litter sounds like a human shortcoming as does dumping any animal. I agree there should be ample signs stating stiff fines will be exacted should anyone be caught doing either. If we are fined for throwing trash on our highways why is it not so for our public parks.

    I’d like to hear more about a solid plan to place the cats in homes or no-kill shelters but that sounds like an effort in frustration considering the number of cats involved. Once these cats are removed it is a fact that more cats will come and form a new colony, and they are not ALL dumped.

    Volunteers should be careful to avoid confrontation for all the obvious reasons.

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