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Feral Cat Care Causing Controversy
Lisa Martinez and her friend Wendy have been caring for a feral cat colony at Jacob Myers Park for the last year despite other views that the cats should not be at the park.

"We've always loved cats and that's how it started," said Wendy. "We also know the more you feed an animal, the more they'll reproduce."

Because of that awareness, the pair's efforts involve more than feeding the cats. They have teamed up with Alley Cat Guardians of Modesto for humane traps, sterilization, and vaccinations before releasing the cats back into the park.

Nicole Montroy, CEO and Executive Director of Modesto's Alley Cat Guardians, said that the trap-neuter-return (TNR) method is embraced by animal welfare and animal control agencies across the country as the most humane and effective method for controlling feral cat populations.

Alley Cat Guardians is a non-profit organization that does not receive federal funding, relying on private donations and volunteers for its operation. Montroy stated that since opening, they have done over 2500 sterilizations with a part-time licensed veterinarian and three veterinary technicians.

Montroy was very complimentary of the two women and said, "They take great care of the park cats, finding homes for the tame, adoptable cats and making sure there are no more litters from the feral cats."

Martinez said she has found homes for about 22 cats she has trapped at the park, but that 12 cats are still in the colony.

"As of this week, all the cats in the colony have been sterilized and vaccinated," she said.

In describing how the cats are captured, Martinez said she uses a humane-style trap that has a door that closes on the feline after it has been lured in with food. After the door closes on the cat, they cover the trap with a sheet to calm the animal. After the cat is sterilized and vaccinated, Martinez keeps the cat at her home for one to two days until it recovers before releasing it back into the park.

"We're out there in the rain, sun, cold and 110-degree temps," added Wendy.

In addition to spending $20 of her own money every time she rents the traps, Martinez estimates she and Wendy spend about $150 per month in food to feed the cats.

Martinez vehemently opposes the City of Riverbank's position of trapping the cats and taking them to the Oakdale Animal Shelter where, if not adopted, the cats are eventually euthanized.

Riverbank City Manager Rich Holmer said he has been made aware of fecal matter from the cats found in the playground areas and that one cat had kittens behind a park vending machine.

"We have certain codes that say they can't be there," Holmer said. "But I'm not heartless and I would like to see them (the cats) relocated in a humane way."

Holmer said that the Oakdale Animal Control Shelter has a lot of success with its home placement of stray cats and estimated a 60 percent adoption rate.

Friends of Jacob Myers Park President Marilynn Zinner, who described the cats as "very sweet," said she was contacted by the city for input about the cat colony. At a meeting the topic was voted upon and the group decided the cats had to be removed from the park.

"The vote was very divided," Zinner admitted. "Personally, I was not in agreement, but I have to go with the group decision."

Ric McGinnis, a member of Friends of Jacob Myers Park, said he feels the city doesn't want the cats at the park and supports the city's position of having Oakdale Animal Control handle the cat population.

"It's not very safe conditions," said McGinnis. "Feral cats, besides not getting along with people and children, can carry disease."

Martinez disputed the claims, stating that all the cats of the colony have been vaccinated and that the cats all stay in one area, away from any of the playground areas.

"Many other wild animals come into the park, too," she said. "Sometimes cats are also just dropped off there."

In an attempt to work out the problem, Holmer scheduled a meeting with Martinez, Animal Control, the Humane Society, and Riverbank Chief of Police Bill Pooley.

"I would give the group time to relocate the cats," Holmer said. "There are many stakeholders that need to get resolution."