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County says Rancho Los Amigos cats must go

October 24, 2008 | 10:46 am

Rancho_los_amigos_cats

The colony of cats -- some feral, some friendly strays -- wandering the grounds near the old buildings on the campus of the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center have stoked controversy for months. The cats have devoted caretakers -- they provide the food the felines above were snacking on in March -- and they have detractors, who said the cats were using the sand box of a nearby child-care center as a litter box and posing other health problems.

Los Angeles County, which owns the property, plans to raze the old buildings to make way for a high-tech data center. Early this year, county officials agreed to let a Downey nonprofit, Fail-Safe 4 Felines, embark on an ambitious project to trap and neuter the 150 or so cats and relocate them.

But, now, the county has decided the cats must go as soon as possible. For one thing, the trapping, neutering, and releasing approach didn't appear to be succeeding. The feline population count has gone up to 200, according to county officials. And in August, said county public health spokeswoman Sarah Kissell, "we found evidence of five new litters." Additionally, public health inspectors found fleas, flies and feces -- all associated with the cats -- near several buildings, including a children's day care center.

In a letter to the county, a public health official said feral cats had been associated with organisms that cause human diseases such as rabies and typhus.

Rabies?

"It's rare, but it has occurred," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Fielding said the decision to tell the county to remove the cats immediately was seriously considered.

"We're all animal lovers," he said. "These aren't steps that are taken lightly."

"This is kids over cats, plain and simple," said Supervisor Don Knabe -- whose district includes the Rancho Los Amigos property -- in a statement.  He has urged members of the public who want to help the cats to e-mail Animal Care and Control at animalinfo@animalcare.lacounty.gov.

L.A. County's Department of Animal Care and Control will trap the cats and move them to its animal shelter in Downey. The shelter will assess the cats to see which can be adopted out. Feral cats -- which are extraordinarily difficult to incorporate into homes -- sometimes can be placed in barns and equestrian centers that have rat problems. (Ferals are great at making rats vanish from the premises.)

"We notified several of the feline groups about what we were doing and asked them to help us rather than fight us on this," said David Sommers, a spokesman for Knabe's office.Greeneyed_feline_at_rancho

County Animal Care and Control officials said, in an Oct. 22 letter to the director of Fail-Safe 4 Felines,  that the group had failed to meet its commitment to find homes for the cats. One of the affectionate ones is pictured right.

The group's director and founder, Sheranne Jaeger, told the Downey Patriot that her group had found homes for 30 of the cats. But the arrival of kitten season along with the irresponsible dumping of house cats kept the numbers from shrinking permanently, she contends. Jaeger told the Patriot, "if we hadn't been there, there would be thousands of cats. It takes everybody to solve this and euthanasia isn't the answer."

-- Carla Hall

Photos: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times

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