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Turf battle pits feral cats against predatory coyotes

July 14, 2008|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

Everyone agrees that coyotes -- at least two of them -- have recently been preying on the scores of feral cats that have lived for decades on the sprawling campus of Cal State Long Beach.

The dispute is over which animals should have to go.

University officials say the cats are attracting the coyotes, and it is the cats that need to be removed. That has outraged many cat lovers who fear the felines will be killed. They say the coyotes present the danger, so they should be evicted.

On Sunday, a small group of cat lovers lined a curb outside the university, waving handwritten signs with slogans such as "Save The Cats" and chanting their message as motorists hooted and whizzed by.

Cal State Long Beach spokesman Rick Gloady said he hoped that the cats could be "trapped and removed from campus," and that homes could be found for them in shelters.

University officials said in a written statement that the cats had been fed and well cared for. But the felines tend to cluster around the multiple campus feeding stations -- which coyotes had discovered and started visiting, leaving behind several dead cats.

There are also concerns for the campus community, in particular for children who attend child care and summer camps at the school, the statement said.

Fears over coyote attacks have risen following several attacks on children in the Inland Empire earlier this year.

The activists who care for the campus cats said they have been given 40 days to get rid of them. They insisted that moving the felines to shelters would spell death, and they argue that trapping the coyotes would be better than targeting the cats.

"They are spayed and neutered. Why would you kill perfectly healthy cats just to save two coyotes?" said Leslie Abrahams, who heads a campus animal assistance program.

"I want the issue to be taken care of in a more rational manner," said cat lover Pat Meredith. "I want to see the coyotes trapped."

Abrahams, who said she has tended the campus cats for the last 20 years, said 100 to 150 felines roam the university grounds. She said cats have lived on the premises since 1949, when the institution was established, and dismissed as "absurd" the notion that they were to blame for the presence of coyotes.

"Coyotes are all over the neighborhood," she said.

Meredith argued that possums, rats, raccoons and trash could also be enticing the coyotes to campus. "The coyotes are attracted to any food source," she said.

University officials said experts from the California Department of Fish and Game and specialists in animal behavior had advised that "if a predictable source of prey is removed, the coyotes will typically move."

Activists say the cats are scapegoats in this case.

"If they're concerned about the safety of people, get rid of the coyotes," said Bill Dyer, Southern California regional director for In Defense of Animals, a national animal protection group.

He stressed that he didn't want the coyotes killed, just relocated.

Laura Lewis' new cat Felix was on her mind as she waved her poster at passing motorists Sunday.

"I love cats," said the teenager, whose grandmother took her to the event. "I don't want them to die."

--

ann.simmons@latimes.com

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