Feral factor

Holly Kivlin

Photo By Larry Dalton

Holly Kivlin, a California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) caseworker at Sacramento City College, founded the

Kitty Committee four months ago as a humane method for dealing with feral cats on the school’s campus. Since then, she and her colleagues have managed to trap, test, vaccinate and neuter some 30 wild cats and kittens, many of whom since have been adopted and now live normal, domesticated lives. To adopt, donate or get more information, contact Kivlin at kivlinh@scc.losrios.edu.

How did the Kitty Committee originate?

Well, a bunch of us on campus had been trapping and feeding the cats secretly. And when the issue came up before executive council—somebody had complained about the cats going to the bathroom in the dirt in the baseball stadium—we decided to propose an official group.

Wasn’t there also a problem with them getting stuck in air vents?

Yes. I guess they have climbed into air vents, gotten stuck, gone to the bathroom and had kittens. I’ve never seen any of that, but apparently, over the years, things like that have happened. And we thought if we could reduce the population by getting them all fixed, then things like that wouldn’t happen as much. And so it helps the cats, and then it helps the campus, too.

How long does a trap sit there before a feral cat shows up?

It just depends on how hungry they are. I’ve had them go in a matter of five to 10 minutes. Other times, it’s taken two or three hours. Sometimes, they don’t go in at all, if they’re not hungry. We try to set the traps at feeding time.

Feral cats have a feeding time?

Generally, I think the people who have been feeding them tend to do it at the end of their work day. Cats come out when it starts to get dark to hunt. So, we set the traps when there are less students and staff on campus, and the cats aren’t as afraid to come out and go into a trap.

Are feral dogs also a problem in Sacramento, or is this really just a cat thing?

There might be, but generally, you know, cats can hide in small areas and in bushes along the river and hunt for mice. I mean, I don’t know what a dog would eat. They would have to hunt something. But there are tons of feral cats in Sacramento all over, and this is just one area that we’re trying to address, so that we don’t have litter after litter of kittens, which is what was happening before. The litters would be born, and then probably half of them would die, and the other half would end up breeding. One female cat, over the course of her lifetime—with their offspring having offspring—can produce 420,000 cats. So, it can get out of control quickly.

Is there anything good about being a feral cat, you know, as a lifestyle option?

I don’t think so. I mean, even after they’re fixed, and they get shots, and we do everything we can for them, they still can get hit by a car. You know, they don’t have someone to love them. They can’t sleep on a bed—they don’t want to, obviously, because they’re totally wild—but some of them probably started out as pets that were dumped by irresponsible owners, or they’re the offspring of those cats.

Some of your cats—Midnight, Sunshine and Gray Davis—have been returned to campus. What happens to these unadoptable cats?

We’ve done 30 cats now, and that includes the kittens. The cats we’ve returned are adult cats. We test them for infectious diseases, they get spayed or neutered, and then their right ear is cut slightly—sometimes you can’t even tell unless you get up real close to them. We have caught the same cat over and over again, many, many times, because they’re hungry. And so, if they get in the trap a second time, you just take a close look at that right ear, and you know whether or not they need to be fixed. And that’s like an international symbol of feral cats being spayed or neutered.

So, when you neutered Gray Davis, what was that like?

Well, he actually didn’t seem that wild. The vet told me he could be tamed maybe, that maybe he was someone’s pet at some time. So, I kept him at my house for a while in a giant dog carrier, thinking I could tame him, but it didn’t work out. He was just too wild, so we released him. And since then, I think he’s been caught once or twice in the trap again. And then he was found inside the piano-lab room, which is where the students practice their piano assignments. Somehow, he had gone through the ventilation system and fell through the ceiling tile into the piano room, and they called me, and we got him again. So, he’s a big problem.

Any idea what can be done about him?

I don’t know. Once he got neutered, I thought that was the end of it.