They say they are working together to manage the feral cat population at Hart Park.
And they are. They do.
But sometimes it seems Kern County Animal Services and feline advocate group The Cat People see the issue of cats in the park with different eyes and from different perspectives.
Following publication of last week's story about the hundreds of cats in the park and efforts to both feed them with one hand and move them with the other, two individuals associated with The Cat People told The Californian that the county had set a goal (or deadline) with some flexibility to remove hundreds of cats from the park by June.
Reached early Thursday, Cat People President Barb Hays took a more cautious view.
"I think that is their goal," Hays said of the county, "but we all realize that some of the really frightened, less sociable cats will be much more difficult to remove — those have to be trapped and most have been (trapped) at one point so it will be harder to do this.
"I would like to say that is a lofty but necessary goal," she said. "You should talk to county people."
Kern County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said any confusion is likely related to a mutual agreement between Animal Services and The Cat People.
"They've identified a six-month window, which ends in June," Alsop said, "mainly related to their safety and overall efficacy of capturing those they can to put up for adoption. There was never a deadline given or set by my office or made clear to anyone."
"The bottom line is that the feral cats out at Hart Park are a problem on several levels," he said. "Everyone involved agrees and we are working collaboratively together to manage the problem. Success ultimately is far fewer feral cats running around out there."
The county has a plan for improvements at the park — staggered each year over the next several. Improvements are in the works for bathrooms, trails, fencing, signage and overall public safety out at the park.
The effort to manage the cat population is a collaboration between the two entities, said county Animal Services Director Nick Cullen.
"Nothing was put on paper, as they (The Cat People) are not and cannot be obligated to help find these cats forever homes. But keep in mind, these volunteers love these cats dearly, and are passionate about them being well-taken care of long-term. As far as financial support, no. Logistical support comes when the cats come to us. We handle placement."
"The Cat People volunteers are bringing the cats to our Fruitvale shelter about five or 10 at a time," he said.
Through education and enforcement, if the county can manage to get people to stop introducing new cats to the park, and cat advocates continue to succeed in getting friendly cats removed and adopted, then the remaining neutered feral or unsocialized cats can live out their lives in the park.
Convincing people not to dump cats in the park could be difficult, but Cullen is willing to try.
Raising public awareness through the news media may help. And new signs warning people that dumping cats is not only unlawful, but cruel, may help spread the word. Video surveillance at the park, some periodic patrolling by Animal Control Officers, and the park rangers being aware of the issue should also help, Cullen said.
Fines for the criminal violation are typically set by the courts, but the maximum fine is $500.
Cullen said he doesn't know how many people have been cited for dropping off pets at the park. "We issue citations for animal abandonment relatively frequently, but it is not typical that it is issued for this particular circumstance," he said.
"We will typically cite for this when an owner vacates a property leaving an animal behind, or if someone allows an animal to go without care for a period of time," he said. "The logistics of actually catching someone as they are 'dumping' an animal, taking into account that it is likely done when (animal control officers) are not actively on duty, makes it very difficult to cite for."
Those who abandon cats in the park are guilty of more than a simple infraction, Jean Hughes Gutierrez, a pet and house sitter and animal behavior consultant, said in an email.
"Those of you rounding up cats and dumping them at Hart Park, this is terrifying to them," she said. "They will hide, freeze, and not eat or drink. Some will try to find their way home and get attacked by human and animal predators, hit by a car, injured," and more.