SPCA reminds City of Merced of cat colonies, abandonments



The cats at Applegate Park can sense when Merced SPCA volunteers are around. 

“They know the sound of our car in the morning,” said Florence Lambert. “You can see all these little ears appear as they scurry up from the creek and the bike path. They come from everywhere. It looks like one of those funny Super Bowl commercials.”  

But the cat colony at the park is not a funny situation, and it’s only one of many that can be found across the city. 

“When we first started the TNR at the park about 18 months ago, I couldn’t count them all,” Lambert said. “I remember counting 16 pure black cats alone.”

Lambert is the president of the Merced SPCA, a local branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that’s been saving animals since 1960.

After the local Merced SPCA animal shelter closed in 2017, volunteers initiated a citywide TNR program that  T (traps), N (neuters or spays), and R (returns) homeless or feral cats. 

This past year and a half, volunteers have fixed, vaccinated and chipped approximately 500 homeless cats, preventing  thousands of kittens being born and those kittens having kittens.

Recently, Lambert spoke to members of the Merced City Council and highlighted the problem at Applegate. 

She told them the SPCA had TNR’d 41 cats, provided medical treatment to 21 cats (above and beyond fixing and vaccinations), had 11 put to sleep due to injuries or illness, and had managed to get four tame cats into loving homes.  

“However,” Lambert told city leaders, “The colony continues to grow because of the unscrupulous people who are dumping these animals inside the park. We have received calls from several people who have witnessed it, and four of our volunteers have seen it done.” 

“In one instance, a grandma-type lady in a nice pickup pulled up, and two girls got out. They were about 7 or 8 years old. They each had a cat in their hands, and they went and threw them in the bushes, jumped back into grandma’s car, and away they went. … The SPCA volunteer called me and was just horrified. She said she didn’t know what to do. I said, “Don’t go after them. We can’t do that. If you got a license plate number, maybe we can report it to the police.’ ”

It’s a crime to abandon an animal in California, and that’s punishable by fines, and in some cases, jail time. It’s also a potential felony to maliciously kill, harm, maim, or torture a living animal.

Lambert asked the City Council to work with the SPCA and have signs placed at Applegate Park that will warn residents that it’s illegal to dump animals, and that violators will be prosecuted. Maybe the signs could also signal that security cameras are monitoring the area. 

“While I don’t believe the signs will completely eliminate this horrible situation, I do feel they will have the ability to lessen the number of animals dumped,” Lambert said.  

She told the Times that the cat colony at Applegate has been reduced to about 30 to 35 cats at present. But she added, “We fix five one week, and then somebody dumps six more.”

And that’s just at Applegate. Lambert has a list of nearly 50 locations — schools, apartment clusters, business parks, neighborhoods and private residences — where the SPCA has initiated the TNR protocol or otherwise responded to problems. 

Schools and parks are the main locations inside the city, she said. 

“Everyone wants to drop their cats off next to a school or a park because they think kids are going to pick them up and bring them home, and their parents are going to be so happy. That doesn’t happen. Maybe once in a while. If it happens two times out of a 100, I would be shocked.”

She said locations such as one along Collins Avenue are particularly worrisome because it’s a place where Merced High School merges with apartment buildings and office buildings. Unfortunately, cats are also abandoned when people move out of apartments. At one time, this area in central Merced had a colony of some 65 cats. The SPCA has cut that population in half, but it’s a constant battle.

A cat that is trapped under TNR protocol also gets one ear clipped and a chip imbedded for identification purposes. SPCA volunteers will also follow up with food for those in cat colonies they engage. 

For example, they have strategically placed feeders located next to Kiddieland at Applegate Park to monitor the colony there. There’s a sign on the gate in Spanish that warns others not to feed the cats in other areas of the park. Apparently, there’s a man who has been leaving mounds of cat food scattered around the park, but the apparent kind-hearted gesture is actually working against the SPCA’s efforts. 

Lambert says she does sympathize with neighbors who are annoyed with unwanted cats running around. The SPCA and local Animal Control officers do have brochures about what residents can do to keep cats away. There are special lawn sprinklers, various spray repellants, and sound devices that can work. 

People can also take pets to the pound; however, the local facility is significantly impacted by unwanted pets. There’s also word of a new effort coming to make the county’s Animal Shelter a “no-kill” location.  

Lambert doesn’t like the thought of pets being put down, but said: “I would rather have them taken to the pound and put to sleep than see them taken out to an orchard and become hawk bait, or coyote hors d’oeuvres, or just starve to death.”

The SPCA leader wears a T-shirt that says: “10,947 dogs and cats are euthanized every day in America.”

Meanwhile, for the Merced SPCA, spring means kitten season. Lambert says the organization is overwhelmed and in desperate need of volunteers to help with the TNR program and other activities. They have about eight people right now. 

The 78-year-old retired widow admits that heading up the SPCA is basically a full-time job. She would love to do more education outreach, particularly at local schools, but it’s hard to find the time. 

When she does talk to Mercedians, there’s always one message she delivers. Probably 100 times a week, she figures. 

“A cat didn’t wake up one day in front of a fireplace, with a food bowl and water dish, and a loving parent or owner, and say: ‘I don’t like living here. I’m going to go live out at Rahilly Park, or the Morgue, or Applegate.’ … No. … We did that to them. And we need to correct the situation. Humans are the ones who put these cats out here. They would have preferred to be left right where they were, or never be born. … We did it, and we need to correct it.” 

Stay tuned: There’s more to this story coming up in future editions of the Times.

Interested residents can go to the webpage Mercedspca@yahoo.com and fill out the application for membership. Or email at: Merced.spca@yahoo.com for information on joining and volunteering.


Merced SPCA President Florence Lambert stands next to a strategically placed feeder at Applegate Park, part of her organization’s Trap, Neuter and Release program to bring down the city’s population of unwanted cats.
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