Feral cats take up residence in public works facility

by: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego Facilities Manager Rachael Petersen holds up a log book the city plans to use to track cat sightings at one of its maintenance facilities, where several feral cats have reportedly taken up residence.Lake Oswego’s maintenance facilities have gone to the cats.

A small but possibly growing group of feral felines has taken up residence in the big barn off Jean Road that houses the city’s public works equipment and heavy-duty vehicles. The cats are feeding on mice, leaving behind tufts of fur in the vehicles and marking their territory in other, smellier ways.

City officials are quietly dealing with the problem.

“We want to do whatever is the most humane thing we can do with them,” said Jim Bateman, superintendent of streets in the city’s operations division. “The problem is they’re spraying in the cabs of the equipment, because it doesn’t lock up. And it stinks.”

It’s unclear where the cats came from. Unlike strays, feral cats are the untamed offspring of lost or abandoned pets. The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are as many as 50 million of them nationwide.

Bateman’s crew took notice of a few cats more than a year ago, he said, but the population seems to ebb and flow, only recently remerging as a noticeable presence. Employees have spotted at least three full-grown tomcats in recent weeks, but there could be VERN UYETAKE - The city's equipment barn, on Jean Road, has long been considered in need of replacement. Officials say it'd be difficult to seal off the old building's bays to keep out feral cats, who have been dining on rodents, and sleeping and spraying in the cabs of heavy-duty equipment.

“I was told last year there were some kittens out there,” he said. “We’re not knee-deep in cats, but it’s enough to be a problem. We’d definitely like to get it taken care of before there are other litters.”

Rachael Petersen, the city’s facilities manager, said she’s hired extermination companies to get rid of ants, rodents or birds in the past, but never cats.

She hit a roadblock trying to find a suitable solution. Organizations such as the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon will come trap the cats and then neuter or spay them, but they bring the fixed cats back.

“That doesn’t really help us,” Petersen said, “because the cats are still there.”

Dana Lionel, who runs a no-kill shelter, The Oregon Cat Project, in Lake Oswego, said it is a definite benefit to the cats if they can go back to the place they’ve been living.

“We love to be able to return them,” she said. “It’s an environment they’ve been successfully living in. But an environment holding five or 10 cats just may not hold 20 cats, and they’ll keep repopulating.”

At the same time, Lionel said she understands returning the animals might not suit every situation. Her shelter takes in feral cats in addition to strays, running a sort of rehabilitation and recovery program for those initially deemed unadoptable.

“We let them decompress here,” Lionel said. “We have a 70 percent turnaround rate,” meaning almost three-quarters of the feral cats she receives are eventually placed in homes.

As for the remaining 30 percent, Lionel works with farms and other rural property owners to give them new lives as barn cats. While the barn cats still have access to food and essential care, they’re typically fearful of people, she said. That trait, common among feral cats, also makes it difficult to pinpoint the size of their populations.

“If you see five, there’s probably 20,” Lionel said.

It’s unclear how many the city of Lake Oswego is dealing with in the equipment barn. For now, city workers plan to track their cat sightings in a log book. Petersen expects to review the data in about three weeks and then figure out what to do.

“None of us has ever dealt with this before,” she said. “Knowing cats, they’re probably reproducing and marking their territory. We don’t want any wild animals, whether cats, dogs, mice or other rodents, in our operations facility.”

But if not for the cats, what about those rodents?

“We’ve never seemed to have a big problem with them,” Bateman said. Not yet.

Kara Hansen can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 107. Follow her on Twitter, @LOreporter.

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