Chico’s new cat house
Chico Cat Coalition settles into new digs worried about future
As the CN&R reported last year (“Homeless for the holidays,” Dec. 8, 2011), the Chico Cat Coalition found itself without a home after 13 years in a repurposed barn amidst the orchards on the outskirts of west Chico.
The group’s search for a new location that would accommodate roughly 60 abandoned and feral cats was a difficult one—it faced restrictive zoning requirements from the city, a lack of volunteerism and nearly double the operational costs when the move was completed.
Once CCC volunteers settled into their new digs on March 1, however, they found it to be a better fit. The cats took quickly to their new environs, and the space was easier to keep clean and air conditioned.
But now the coalition’s longtime volunteers believe the city has turned a cold shoulder on their organization and warn of a looming animal-abandonment issue that, if gone unchecked, could quickly escalate.
“We’re a small organization, but the problem is huge,” said Frank Holtz, who has been a coalition volunteer for seven years. “We get calls every day from people who have some sad story. City Animal Control is overwhelmed. Butte Humane Society is overwhelmed. There is so much animal abandonment and irresponsibility out there, it’s hard to keep up with.”
Coalition volunteer Judy Alberico agrees Chico has no shortage of animals in need of a home, suggesting the CCC could “take in thousands” of cats if it had the means.
During a recent tour of the new facility, it was hard to imagine finding space for even a few more cats—every basket, blanket and scratching post was occupied. At the center of the warehouse-like space were shelves full of sleeping cats of varying adorableness; on the fringes, a few less-social specimens kept a wary eye on the proceedings.
Though operations at the sanctuary are running smoothly, for several months it appeared the CCC wouldn’t be able to find a home at all.
“There were a lot of issues coming up, people coming and going. It felt like maybe this wasn’t going to work,” Holtz said.
The coalition found the city’s guidelines for animal-boarding facilities limited the scope of their search. Greg Redeker, an associate planner for the city’s Planning Services Department, explained that in the “six or seven” zoning districts within city limits that allow kennels and boarding facilities, a use permit is required. For animal boarding, key conditions of approval include noise and odor levels and waste-disposal procedures.
Frustrated by the 10- to 12-week approval period and associated $3,000 fee, the CCC broadened its search to outside city limits. And, with the help of Butte County officials, it found a suitable location in south Chico but outside city limits.
Now that they have found a permanent home, the volunteers at the CCC are urgently trying to find families for their cats—if they don’t do so at a faster pace, they won’t be able to rescue animals still in need.
“When somebody calls and says, ‘I can’t take care of this cat anymore,’ we need to be able to help,” Holtz said. “Right now, we have to tell them we’re full, and we are.”
The CCC originally was created to address a feral-cat population explosion in Lower Bidwell Park. By trapping, housing and making the well-adjusted individuals available for adoption, the organization was providing a valuable service to the city.
“In the heyday, they were pulling cats out of the park by the hundreds,” Holtz said. “All it takes is two mamma cats out there, and all of the sudden you have 20 kittens.”
The CCC’s efforts have dramatically reduced the cat population in Lower Bidwell, Holtz maintains, but when the city assumed animal-control responsibilities from Butte Humane Society on Feb. 1 of this year, it also began managing the trapping and rescue efforts in the park.
“I think the city had a change of viewpoint because [feral cats in Bidwell Park] isn’t such a noticeable problem anymore,” Holtz said. “I don’t think they valued our services any longer, and I guess they figured they could do it cheaper.”
And, to “add insult to injury,” the city sent the CCC a letter late last year informing the agency it was no longer eligible to apply for community development block grant funding, instead referring it to the Chico Police Department for funding requests.
The CCC has since dedicated itself to rescuing cats in “the greater Chico area” rather than exclusively from Lower Park, although it will still respond to requests from Animal Services to extract animals from the park. Though Holtz believes the city has “dumped” the CCC, he emphasized the importance of cooperation between all of the area’s animal agencies. If they don’t work together, he said, the park’s cat population could get out of hand once again.
“What the city is going do when the problem comes back, I don’t know,” Holtz said. “But I know it will come back. Cats are going to reappear. I guarantee it.”