Despite local and international outcry against its shooting of 13 cats in October and November of 2020, the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) in Oakland, California, is continuing to greenlight lethal removal of cats in its extensive network of parklands. Alley Cat Allies is pursuing multiple options to stop the killing.

Alley Cat Allies fully supports the protection of ecosystems and wildlife in regional parks and everywhere. But the fact is we can defend all animals, including birds, without inflicting pain, suffering and killing on other animals.

In a meeting on February 25, 2021, the Park District’s Natural and Cultural Resources Committee voted to advance a new “Free-roaming Cat Management Policy” to the full EBRPD Board for a vote. However, on the most important details, the new policy would be no different than the old policy, because it retains the authority for the agency to have cats killed.

At the meeting, park district staff unleashed a stream of inaccurate information about cats and their relationship with wildlife and cited old science that has been debunked by credible conservationists, demonstrating a poor understanding of the animals about whom they were creating policy.

Under the proposed policy, park district staff will work with local animal shelters and animal control agencies to trap and remove cats found near and in sensitive wetlands and marshes. As we’ll explain, this approach is doomed to failure. Worse yet, parks staff, who have already shown a strong inclination to kill cats, could  condemn the remaining, untrapped cats as a potential risk to threatened and endangered species and again pursue lethal “removal,”  just as they did to start this controversy.

Science shows removing cats from their outdoor home is no solution. Some cats will evade capture, and others will move in to take their place because of a well-documented scientific phenomenon referred to as the Vacuum Effect.

One change EBRPD claims to be an improvement is that park district staff will no longer directly kill cats under the proposed policy.  Instead, the killing will be done by contractors. In our view, it is just as wrong to bring in someone else to kill as it is to pull the trigger yourself.

Even though the policy has not yet been voted into effect by the EBRPD Board, the collaborative efforts to trap and remove cats from areas bordering on a number of EBRPD parks is already in effect in a pilot run, according to Natural and Cultural Resources Committee Chair Colin Coffey.

EBRPD Releases a Questionable “Fact Finding” Report

Following a local TV exposé in early December 2020 into the EBRPD cat shootings, EBRPD Board Member Ellen Corbett and many members of the public called for a fulsome investigation. Instead of honoring this request, EBRPD released a memo written by one of its assistant managers to three of her colleagues. The subject line of the memo is “2020 Feral Cat Management at MLK Regional Shoreline Fact Finding Report.” The memo is now often referred to as a Fact Finding Report.

However, it is quite a stretch to call this internal memo a Fact-Finding Report given that it contains only those facts EBRPD wishes to share, detailed exactly how it wishes to share them, and sidesteps almost all core concerns raised by EBRPD Board members and the public. It is a defiant defense document, not an investigation.

Nowhere in the memo is any review of how communication with the media and members of public was handled, despite evidence – including some emails – indicating EBRPD made a series of misleading and untruthful statements.

The Fact Finding report inspires no confidence that the EBRPD will take humane change seriously. One grievous example of the pervasiveness of its cavalier attitude to killing cats comes in a footnote in the report: “When biologist advised park staff of the lethal removal of the feral cats, biologist used a euphemism (‘party favors’).”

It boggles the mind how a person can look at the corpses of over a dozen cats and have so little respect for the lives of these sentient beings. That he did so, without any indication of objection from others, proves the EBRPD needs a top to bottom re-education campaign.

Nowhere in the report is there any admission of fault or wrongdoing.

The woefully inadequate Fact-Finding Report, the rhetoric and advocacy by EBRPD staff, and the advancement of “new” policies that retain lethal control reveal a shocking lack of respect for the lives of cats that is deeply entrenched at EBRPD.

Those factors combined make it clear that humane change in the park district will be an uphill battle. But hard though it might be, it is a battle Alley Cat Allies is determined to wage. What is going on in EBRPD is entirely unacceptable, needless, and cruel.

We and our supporters in the East Bay are working around the clock to persuade the EBRPD Board to reject the draft policy and any and all future drafts that continue to allow for the killing of cats.

What We Know Now – The Grim Facts

From 2018 through 2020 alone, a total of 34 cats were killed, including by gunshot, by the EBRPD and a little-known agency within the United States Department of Agriculture.  These cats were killed in multiple regional parks along the San Francisco Bay.

The Fact Finding Report details the work of a “Park District wildlife biologist” on the dates the 13 cats were shot and killed – the first being October 28, and three subsequent nights each roughly a week apart.

On each night, the biologist set traps for the cats on marshland at Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, purportedly to remove them. On every occasion, he left the traps for only a single day. There is no indication that he communicated with the cats’ caregivers about his activity or that he had any expertise in effective trapping protocols for cats.

When there were, unsurprisingly, no cats in the traps within a day, the biologist pulled out a gun to hunt and kill them in the middle of the night. Four cats on the first night, three on the second, three on the third, and three on the fourth. The killing of cats was of so little consequence to the biologist that he didn’t even record the dates of his second, third, and fourth nights of cat hunting.

Based on the information that was shared, it is clear that the attempt to trap cats by the biologist was half-hearted at best. The biologist would set traps one day, return the next, gun and wading boots in hand, confirm that the traps were empty, and head into the marsh with his loaded 12-gauge shotgun to shoot cats.

The biologist, displaying a shocking lack of understanding about cats and cat behavior, said that there was no reason cats would be in the park other than to hunt. Cat experts can list a dozen reasons other than hunting that might bring a cat to walk and run through a small park found between office buildings and a boat launch area, complete with trash cans and other interesting remnants left by human

Even if he had been right that the cats were there to hunt, killing should never be a part of any process or approach concerning cats.

The biologist noted that he placed the bodies of the cats in a plastic bag which he tossed in a trash can.  That’s it. No checking to see if the cats were microchipped, no showing of the bodies to colleagues for their review, no colleague with him during trapping or hunting and body disposal.

Just one person out firing a 12-gauge shotgun in the deep of night killing cats and throwing their bodies out.  Zero accountability.  Were shots fired that missed? Could another “non-target” animal have been hit?  Could a cat have been hit and escaped, suffering alone? How long did it take after he shot each cat for him to check and confirm the cat was dead?  Did he check to confirm the cats were dead?  Were any photos taken of the cats either before or after they were shot? What sort of precautions were taken to ensure that no people entered the park while the biologist was shooting?  How well placed and baited were the traps the biologist left out for the cats?

The list of questions neither asked nor answered in the Fact Finding Report is staggeringly long.

The Bottom Line: EBRPD Needs to Stop Killing Cats

Whatever violations of policy occurred in the shooting of cats remain unnamed and without repercussion, as far as the public knows.  Further, there is a second category of violation that remains entirely unexplored in this memo and in the proposed policy – namely how many violations of the common trust, social mores, and local law occurred in the EBRPD’s execution of its policy last autumn?  As the flood of comments from the public to EBRPD’s Board show, many things which are permissible under EBRPD’s lethal cat control policy are unacceptable to the citizens whose tax-money supports the agency.

The cruelty exacted on these cats by EBRPD is horrific, and their response to the public outcry surrounding it is ineffectual and gives no indication that park staff understand the gravity of the situation, respect the voice of the people, or place any value on the lives of the animals they have slaughtered.

Alley Cat Allies is seeking a humane and effective policy to ensure no cats are ever subject to these horrors again. The killing of cats is not acceptable or justifiable under any circumstances, and lethal methods of cat population control must be off the table entirely. We call on the EBRPD to use independent research to form sound policies that rely on humane, proven methods for community cat population management, including Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).

We will keep you updated as we work to protect the lives of cats in the East Bay.