Living with four cats doesn't make me a cat lover; it just means I'm married to one.
Even so, I almost jumped out of my chair when I read my colleague David Haldane's story last week about the pest control company that dumped two stray cats in Peters Canyon Regional Park near North Tustin.
Admiral Pest Control, based in Irvine, had trapped the cats and hauled them off from the Boeing Co. in Seal Beach at Boeing's request. The cats would be safe at Peters Canyon, Admiral said.
Breakfast for coyotes and foxes is more like it.
My first reaction was: Why didn't the pest control people just wrap plumber's wrenches around the cats' necks and pull their little heads off? That couldn't have been any more inhumane than leaving them at the mercy of wild animals. If you've been to Peters Canyon, you know it's not some picnic grounds where maintenance workers mow the grass weekly. It's thick with brush and weeds and predators, if you're a cat.
But things aren't always so black and white, and it turns out the pest control technician who dumped them at least had good intentions. And this cat tale has a semi-happy ending, thanks to a powerful corporate executive, who will see to it that it's not repeated.
So let's start at the beginning, at Boeing in Seal Beach:
Care of Cats Was Allowed
For five years, several employees have been caring for about five cats on the premises, with management's approval. The only condition was they had to have the animals spayed or neutered.
Now these are "feral" cats. That's an important word; it means they are considered wild and not domesticated. But after five years of being babied by the employees, two of them, Woody and Jabberwocky, became so tame you couldn't tell them from house cats.
Last week, someone complained about the cats. So some executive called up Admiral to set traps to get rid of the animals--either disregarding the agreement or forgetting about it.
Jabberwocky got lucky; he was at the vet. Woody was doomed.
Now here's the deal: Admiral was supposed to take the cats to the Huntington Beach Animal Shelter, as part of its agreement with Boeing. But Admiral called the Seal Beach Animal Shelter and discovered it wouldn't take "feral" cats, no matter how thin that dime's worth of difference between one of them and your favorite house kitty.
Admiral's general policy, said spokesman Brian Jones, is to take cats to the Orange County Animal Shelter. But this technician was an animal lover and thought that meant certain death for both cats. Not so; you'd have four days there to track them down before they're scheduled to be destroyed. But the technician may have been right about the end result.
So he thought he was saving their lives by turning them loose in the wild.
"If we'd known ahead of time that these cats were being cared for, we would have certainly gotten them back to the employees," Jones said.
Once Admiral did learn, the remorseful technician agreed to meet with some of the Boeing workers at Peters Canyon to show them where he dumped out Woody and the nameless cat.
"It was impossible to find them out there," said Debbie Woods, who'd been feeding Woody for five years. "I doubt there's any chance they survived."
I agree. I spent a good part of Wednesday traipsing around Peters Canyon on the off chance I'd find a cat. But if you get off the trails at all it's brutal territory.
Nevertheless, the employees are putting up fliers in that area this weekend with Woody's picture, hoping for that longshot chance that someone might have befriended him and taken him in. (The workers say the second cat was too shy to be tamed.)
Admiral isn't the only one that feels bad about the mix-up over the cats' care. So does Jim Albaugh, and he's doing something about it.
Albaugh is president of Boeing Space and Communications, which controls the Seal Beach facility.
In a letter to employees this week, he apologized for the whole thing:
"The situation was handled very poorly, and I am personally disturbed by what happened. I've issued instructions that this will never happen again."
He goes on to hammer whoever ordered that the cats be removed: "Despite the mistakes of a few, Boeing is made up of thousands of individuals who truly care about the welfare of all animals."
Turns out Albaugh has four pets at home and loves animals. On his orders, the original agreement with workers for the care of feral cats at the Seal Beach Boeing facility will remain in place, without any calls to pest control.
Jabberwocky is safe as long as Albaugh is around.
Jerry Hicks' column appears Monday and Thursday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling (714) 966-7789 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.