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On the Prowl : Cat Lover Traps Strays to Save Them From Overpopulation--and the Animal Shelter

April 11, 1993|ANTHONY MILLICAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A whiff of mackerel proved too tempting for the sleek, black cat to resist. It pounced on a piece of fish at the back of a wire cage, tripping a trapdoor that closed behind the animal.

Mytyl Glomboske, who some call the Cat Woman, had caught her quarry.

Working in the dead of night last week, she and a partner trapped 10 wild cats that had been roaming Mobil Oil Corp.'s refinery in Torrance. The refinery is home to a colony of feral felines that are being relocated to a cat ranch in Kern County.

In the finicky world of cat lovers, Glomboske, 65, is known as a trapper; she volunteers several nights weekly to catch wild cats and have them spayed or neutered in an effort to curb animal overpopulation.

Like other trappers, she views her work as a service to cats, since controlling cat populations means fewer felines will be hauled into animal shelters and likely destroyed. It is an obsession that takes her to dark alleys, parks and the backs of shopping centers.

She will often wait hours for the tell-tale click of a trap door. Then, she springs into action, covering the wire cage with an old towel or sheet. The coverings have a calming effect on the terrified animals. They become still, thinking that if they don't make a sound, they will be left alone, she said.

The cats, some of whom are strays and others who were born in the wild, can become dangerous when cornered. A feral cat once bit Glomboske on her left thumb, opening a wound that required three stitches.

"It was like my initiation," she said, holding out her thumb as a badge of honor.

Glomboske began trapping 2 1/2 years ago, shortly after she retired from her job as a stenciler at Hughes Aircraft in El Segundo.

"This is my community involvement," she said. "I love animals. I hate to see them euthanized."

Glomboske, who shares her Lomita home with two cats named Hardly and Problem, is part of a network of 20 Los Angeles-area cat trappers. The trappers have the animals spayed or neutered through a litter abatement program funded by the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

After the feral felines are spayed or neutered, they often are returned to their habitats. They are not held for adoption because they generally do not make good house pets after having been in the wild, said Edward C. Cubrda, president of the Los Angeles SPCA.

In the South Bay, the SPCA started paying for the spaying and neutering of feral cats in 1987, after noticing a population explosion in feral colonies. Until then, individual trappers had been using their own funds for such efforts.

"We were aware (trappers) were stretching their pocketbooks," Cubrda said. "We were also aware that they were afraid to bring them in to us, thinking that (the cats) would be destroyed."

In the last 2 1/2 years, the Los Angeles SPCA has paid for the spaying or neutering of more than 4,600 feral cats. The SPCA hopes the surgical procedure will result in fewer animals ending up in shelters, where they would likely face destruction.

"Those of us who operate or manage the shelters have (long) accepted euthanasia as a solution to animal overpopulation," Cubrda said. "Now we feel that is wrong. We want to move away from that. (Spaying or neutering) is not the ideal solution to reducing the pet population problem, but this is the best solution for the time being."

Glomboske takes her cats to Animal Birth Control of Los Angeles County, a private veterinary clinic in Lomita. The clinic has a viewing room, where she can watch the cats during surgery. The clinic handles the highest number of feral cats in the SPCA's Los Angeles area program, Cubrda said.

Glomboske alone said she has taken more than a hundred cats to the clinic. Last week, she and a friend, Bill Watt, began rounding up cats at the Mobil refinery in Torrance, where up to 100 felines have been living.

Mobil officials hope relocating the cats to a cat habitat in Inyokern will end a controversy that erupted a year ago, when four cats were trapped and destroyed. (Glomboske did not take part in that trapping.)

Mobil has donated $25,000 toward building the habitat and caring for the cats. An additional $3,000 grant from the Mobil Foundation was awarded to the SPCA. This money may be used to offset spaying or neutering costs, said Mobil spokesman Barry Engelberg.

Nevertheless, W. Marvin Mackie, owner of the Animal Birth Control clinic, said Mobil's cat problem will not be solved by relocating the cats.

"It won't stay cat-free because there will be a void," Mackie said. "Nature has a way of filling the void."

And Glomboske said she doubts she will catch all of the cats in the Mobil colony. Some feral cats are too smart to follow food trails all the way into the traps.

The smart cats are most often female, Glomboske said. "The males usually seem to go right in," she said.

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