L.A. Animal Services’ Brenda Barnette Floods L.A. with Feral Cats

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Cats make you sneeze and wheeze? Fleas drive you crazy? Adore cats but it hurts to see them under greasy cars and dodging traffic? Paw prints on your just-waxed ride, smelly poop in your garden or yowling cat fights at night get on your last nerve? Well, stock up on Benadryl, get some ear plugs, and brace yourself.

 If you live, work or own property in the city of Los Angeles, you may soon find a “feral cat colony” (i.e., a large group of wild/stray cats) legally located on your block—or even in your yard--if Los Angeles City Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette, Councilman Paul Koretz and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa get approval of their proposed “Cat Program.”

A proposal by GM Brenda Barnette to legalize trapping, neutering and releasing feral cats (TNR) everywhere in the city, (except “in or adjacent to a public park or Significant Ecological Area”) is on the Tuesday, August 14, agenda for  the five-member citizen Animal Services Commission meeting, all personally selected and appointed by Mayor Villaraigosa.

Putting a convoluted plan into plain English, Barnette’s “Cat Program” would allow private “trappers” with no required training, permit, license or background check to go onto private or public property anywhere in the city to trap, neuter and release feral (wild) cats and then go back to feed them at that same location—even if that location is privately owned.


These individuals or groups are not required by this report to obtain prior permission from the owners of private property nor to obtain their agreement to having unowned, unsocialized cats released on/near their property. The ‘trappers,” as they are known, do not need any special experience, identification nor certification by the City to engage in trapping these feral/wild animals, other than the blanket authority granted in this proposed “Cat Program.” 

Apparently the trappers and the City believe they are absolved from liability for nuisance, or public health/ safety issues involved with feral/abandoned cats they trap and then re-abandon at the same or another location. So who is liable for any hazards the cats or the trappers create on your property?  Several attorneys have opined that the owner retains responsibility for any condition existing on his/her land.

We also wonder how the City Attorney approved this circumvention of CA Penal Code Sec.597s (a) which reads, “(a) Every person who willfully abandons any animal is guilty of a misdemeanor.”After all, the trappers have taken legal possession of the cats, transported and allegedly signed for surgical sterilization, and then they “dump” them back in the streets.


Besides ignoring private property rights and public health and safety, another major flaw in the City’s proposed “Cat Program” is that no part of it addresses or imposes any punishment for the lack of cat-owner responsibility that creates feral cats.

The source of the feral cat problem in Los Angeles is simple--leaving an owned cat outside, neglected and unaltered so that it is forced to revert to primitive survival instincts. It then produces offspring that have no socialization and which multiply at a rapid rate.

There is no mandate or penalty in this program for everyone who owns a cat to microchip and license it to prove rabies vaccinations, as there is for dogs. The reason given is that owned cats are “supposed to be kept inside.” However, laws regarding cats (and the city’s excuse for not responding to frantic callers for help with cat problems) is that cats are legally “free roaming.”

We can’t have it both ways! If we don’t even make an effort to shut off the faucet that floods the city with feral cats, all the “Cat Programs” in the world are a waste of time and money.


Who is really benefiting from this proposed “Cat Program”- those who are paid $52,000 from private donations diverted to create a “clearance” report, or those who subsequently get “measured support” from the City for a non-city program?

 General Manager Barnette’s plan will change the long-standing restrictions on use of privately donated money to the Animal Welfare Trust Fund and the Spay/Neuter Fund (which is partially funded from dog licensing also.)

 Since its establishment, in order that donations for animals could not fall into the hands of political officials, this money has been restricted to use for “pets” impounded at city shelters and to assist low-income pet owners. Both the Animal Welfare Trust Fund and the Spay/Neuter Fund currently have substantial six-figure balances, according to reports by the L.A. Animal Services Department.

Barnette’s “Cat Program” would immediately allow diversion of $52,000 to an “environmental clearance” report and other City “animal” projects.  Was this the intention of those past/current donors or the deceased who have made bequests?

This is a little tedious, but worth understanding. If City officials get their hands on these thus-far protected Funds, the word “pet” will be changed to “animal,” which means the money is no longer limited to helping owned, lost, or impounded pets, as intended and promised.

 The summary states,”…the Cat Program is intended to legalize TNR and the Department’s measured support for it without the Department embarking on a major TNR program of its own.”  It would appear that means the City could donate a “measured” amount of money from the Animal Welfare Fund to, or for use by, some other entity.  Is that what donors intend?

CAT KENNELS “FOR ANY PURPOSE” – A BOON TO BREEDERSThis proposal would also essentially remove the legal limit on the number of owned cats that could be living next door to you because it proposes to change the current zoning code which requires a “cat kennel” permit for four or more cats.  Barnette’s “Cat Program” would increase that number to “six or more cats” before your neighbor needs a permit.

Alarmingly, the proposed change does not require any of the cats at a cat kennel to be spayed or neutered. This means that FIVE (5) UNALTERED adult cats AND UNLIMITED KITTENS would be legal in every yard in the city. Doesn’t increasing the cat allowance in this manner risk creating more stray/feral cats?

Here’s another confusing part of this program. The report states, “… ‘cat kennel’ shall not include any outdoor location where feral or stray cats are living in, and are maintained as, a colony”—meaning anyone can have an unlimited number of feral cats on his/her property.

So—since increasing the cat-kennel limit isn’t about ferals--it appears the “Cat Program” is intended to have ancillary, unmentioned benefits to a category of people to which Barnette belongs—BREEDERS.  (Don’t forget that Brenda Barnette is a former dog breeder and legislative representative of the American Kennel Club.)


Cats—especially feral cats—are a major source of rabies cases because of their frequent interaction with bats and other infected wildlife. Feral cat colonies increase this risk because the food left for them by their “caretakers” attracts other wildlife, including skunks and raccoons, which carry and transmit rabies to the cats and other animals (including dogs) and, increasingly, to humans.

“While cats make up a small percentage of rabies vectors, they are responsible for a disproportionate number of human exposures,” according to Steve Holmer, Senior Policy Analyst at American Bird Conservancy.

There is also the issue of toxoplasmosis, which is present in the feces of outdoor cats (whether or not they are spayed/neutered) and can be spread to humans.


 Brenda Barnette’s “Cat Program” is in direct conflict with the warnings of health agencies.  Here’s what her report recommends:

Amend Section 53.06.5(b) (Feeding of Non-Domesticated Mammalian Predators Prohibited) as follows:

 ADD:  “This section shall NOT apply to any person who provides food or water to any stray or feral cat living in a colony provided the cat is sterilized.”

The Oakland Department of Health recently issued an important bulletin warning against feeding feral cats or other wild animals: “

 “Do not leave food out for wildlife! Rodents, coyotes, and feral (wild) cats can carry rabies, a fatal disease…One need not be bitten by a rabid animal to contract rabies. Be

aware that an animal in the early stages of the disease may not show symptoms…

A wild coyote can be as large as a big German Shepard dog and be ferocious when attacking what it thinks is prey.  Most important, do not feed the animals!”  

The food left for feral cats in TNR colonies all over the city is a magnet for coyotes and often makes the cats, themselves, “dinner” for a hungry coyote.

On August 10, the Los Angeles Daily News featured an article on increased coyote activity and quoted a resident who stated she had recently come across a mauled cat she believed was attacked by coyotes. She said she had heard of at least half a dozen other cats found mauled by coyotes in the area this year. 


TNR programs across the country have made big claims but have no provable success in large cities with transient populations. Experts claim that 70% of the feral population must be sterilized to stop an increase in the number that are sustained and replenished in the streets:

“We can say that 70% of the susceptible population (animals with outside privileges) in a defined demographic area must be sterile in order to affect the decrease in over-birthing that will result in a population decrease within that area. Without an effort to impose owner responsibility BEFORE the cat becomes feral, obviously the source will be greater than the remedy.”


So, why aren’t GM Brenda Barnette, Councilman Koretz and Mayor Villaraigosa developing a program to require cat-ownership responsibility, coupled with a surgically crafted TNR program that will not subject the cats or birds and other wildlife to hazards?

It is obvious that impacting the attitude of disposability in regard to cats is key to ending the abandonment of owned cats that then become feral. Reforms need to address the source—not just the symptom.

If calls to LA Animal Services, the Mayor and Council offices regarding stray and feral cats were charted--rather than dismissed or ignored--and if cooperative and knowledgeable environmental groups were included, the City’s money and volunteer energy could make a difference that would truly be life saving for cats, rather than just prolonging a lonely existence of poor quality and constant danger.