Coastal Oregon cities crack down on pavement cat colonies

Joe Hodge, 93, often drives to the harbor in Brookings to watch the world go by. He enjoyed watching cats here, but the colony was recently removed.

Christian Foden Wensel / OPB

From the driver’s seat of his pickup truck, retired mechanic Joe Hodge watches the fishing boats as they head to the harbor in Brookings. He is 93 years old and has lost his wife, so he comes here to watch the world go by.

He used to enjoy watching the feral cats that lived here too, before the kitten colony was cleared out.

“The cats were beautiful,” Hodge said. “People came and made sure they had fresh water, food, etc. The cats looked fine.”

For years, people who didn’t want to keep their pets would leave them here on the sidewalks. But over the past few months, dozens or more cats have been captured, spayed or neutered and relocated.

For years, dock cats have been a part of coastal culture, dating back to the days when local leaders didn’t mind loitering in the gorge over fish bits left by fishermen, French fries thrown out by tourists or even left-over cat food for well-meaning animal lovers. There are colonies in communities up and down the West Coast.

But now, a number of coastal cities in Oregon, including Brookings, have taken steps to remove cat colonies; Animal lovers say they are inhuman and annoying.

Hodge remembers another colony, about 30 miles offshore on Gold Beach’s North Pier, that came complete with a row of little painted houses built by locals decades ago.

“They had churches and groceries and hotels and all sorts of things,” Hodge said.

These are some of the last cats collected from the Gold Beach Pier this spring.  All were sterilized, castrated, vaccinated, and dewormed.  Some went into homes, others to shops or barns, and some were taken to an animal sanctuary in Florence.

These are some of the last cats collected from the Gold Beach Pier this spring. All were sterilized, castrated, vaccinated, and dewormed. Some went into homes, others to shops or barns, and some were taken to an animal sanctuary in Florence.

Jude Weekly

But over time the paint on small homes peeled off and the wood rotted. The cat food left by the locals attracted mice and other wildlife.

Bo Shindler lives up the hill from Gold Beach Colony and said he initially enjoyed cats, much like the time he found kittens in his log cabin.

“I turned on the light and went to get to the wood and the cat,” he said, “and these little cats were sleeping on the wood.” “You scared the living daylight out of them and when they jumped, you scared the living daylight out of me.”

He said the problems have evolved over the years. People started throwing trash nearby. He also accidentally killed three cats on three separate occasions because they were seeking warmth under the hood of his car when the engine started.

Schindler said the whole place had become a nuisance.

“He labels this north pier as a place where I don’t know what you want to call it, it’s no-man’s land,” he said.

Bo Shindler and his granddaughter overlook the pier where the Gold Beach cats used to live.

Bo Shindler and his granddaughter overlook the pier where the Gold Beach cats used to live.

Christian Foden Wensel / OPB

Domestic cat lovers note peeling paint and mold. They got together to renovate homes. But Schindler and other neighbors saw enough.

“It was a bad kind of political accident that happened,” said Amanda Trover, director of Wild Rivers Animal Rescue in Gold Beach. The shelter deals with stray cats in the area.

“They worked really hard to get all the cats out, adopt them, fix them up, and put them in pens. If they were socializing, they would get them into the houses,” Trover said of the people who cleared their cat homes. “They broke their asses and did what should have been done a long time ago.”

Stray cats are great panties. They have learned how to hunt in the wild. But these traits often mean that they don’t deal kindly with home life.

Amanda Trover runs the Wild Rivers Animal Rescue in Gold Beach.  She is happy to remove the colony of stray cats.

Amanda Trover runs the Wild Rivers Animal Rescue in Gold Beach. She is happy to remove the colony of stray cats.

Christian Foden Wensel / OPB

Trover thinks the community has moved on from the weird idea that waterfronts are a good place for cats because they are close to fish.

“Some old school students think it’s fine to have cats roaming loose. Then in the new age, they’re like, ‘No, let’s fix them. Let’s give them real homes, real families,'” Truffer said.

There is no concerted effort to close all jetty colonies. It’s more of an organic embrace than baiting, spaying, neutering, and moving.

In fact, not every town clears cat colonies. In Port Orford, a group of cats have been living near Ray’s grocery store for years. Judd Weekly works with local residents to hunt, spay, neuter, and rehabilitate cats. Now there are seven left, and they have all been fixed.

“The most humane way to suppress the problem is to trap, neutralize, and release,” said Weekly. “Colonies will eventually end. If you only eliminate cats, it will not eliminate the problem.”

Back in Brookings, Joe Hodge misses the cats, skunks, wolves, rats, crows, seagulls, opossums, and raccoons who all used to enjoy the free left cat food where the feral cats used to live.

“Why would we want to get rid of everything but the thing you want or want?” Hodge said. “We are changing the balance around the world.”

By the age of 93, Hoge would probably have earned the right to be philosophical. But for everyone else, it may be time to balance the advantages of taking down an uncomfortable pet against the knowledge that one cat can produce 24 kittens in one year.

The site of a former sidewalk cat colony in Brookings, Oregon.

The site of a former sidewalk cat colony in Brookings, Oregon.

Christian Foden Wensel / OPB

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