Mendocino Coast Humane Society

What should be, could be.

Last summer I wrote about the cats our local humane society  released into the woods surrounding their facility. Supposedly, they have changed their policy. Mike and Mary Beth Arago sent this story to me--a fine example of what can be done with the right mindset. 




Don't miss the music video at the end of this series of pictures.

Lanai’s 'kitty Shangri-La' delights visitors

Updated 4:11 pm, Thursday, January 31, 2013
Never underestimate the power of a cute furry face — or several hundred of them.
That's one reason to explain the Lāna‘i Animal Rescue Center's status as the No. 1 attraction on the former Pineapple Island, per Tripadvisor.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that only 11 attractions are listed, but those who've been lucky enough to enter the "kitty Shangri-la," as one Tripadvisor reviewer calls it, are also struck by the creativity, commitment and compassion of the largely volunteer staff.

With just deer netting, a few discarded pallets and corrugated sheeting, co-founder Kathy Carroll and crew created an open-air sanctuary on 3.5 acres of land donated by then-owner David Murdock (now Larry Ellison) in fall 2009. Dozens of feral and abandoned cats — the largest number of homeless animals on the island — had already found a comfy, no-kill shelter there when I visited a month after it opened.

Returning last week, I found some 370 felines — a number of whom have been "adopted in place" — now make their home there, with plenty of places to lounge, socialize, play or hide, including an attractive bunkhouse with ladder, loft, benches and Adirondack chairs. "An Alabama woman came out after it had been a little rainy and told me, 'Ah'm gonna have mah architect build you a cathouse,' " Carroll said, with a delighted laugh.

The landscaping of a few trees and scrubby brush in red dirt now looks lush and lightly manicured. "We want it to look like a garden," explained Carroll, who has a part-time staff of three to help with animal care and shelter maintenance (and no, it does not smell like cats — fresh breezes help, too.) Since the center opened, a veterinarian who comes twice a week has spayed or neutered about 1,200 cats, Carroll said. The island's animal control officer also now brings them cats, instead of trapping and killing them to reduce the population.

Rescue dogs, such as the 90-pound black lab and a Jack Russell terrier currently with LARC, are placed in foster homes. In the coming months, the center will host its first dog obedience classes for island residents and an "animal camp" for children, who particularly enjoy visiting the site.

Local elementary school students recently recorded a music video at the shelter, "A Kitty Community," to help raise awareness, while the weekly Sunday "pet 'n' purr" open house which attracts five to 25 people weekly. "Kids can come down and play with the cats, who love it," Carroll said. "We just tell the children, 'Use inside voices and no pulling tails!'"

The two Four Seasons resorts on the island also encourage visitors to volunteer at the center, which coordinates group efforts as well as simple tasks for individuals. While some guests decided to leave with a new feline companion, others "virtually adopt" by donating a minimum of $20 a month toward the animal's care and feeding.

Pointing to a black and white cat, Carroll said, "Cupid came here two years ago, shot with an arrow. Now she's my inspiration. Some folks from Vancouver adopted her in place, and when they went back to get married, they made her the 'mews' of their wedding shower. In lieu of gifts, they asked everyone to make a donation in Cupid's name."

The wedding shower raised $1,500 for the center, which has now set up a fund for animals requiring urgent care called the Cupid Fund. Fund-raising T-shirts with designs by Mike Carroll, Kathy's husband and the island's premier landscape artist, and other gift items benefiting the center can be found at the Mike Carroll Gallery in Lāna‘i City.

Humane Society update: It only gets weirder

The date for the public meeting with the Humane Society has been changed to Oct. 18th, 5:30 - 7:30 at Town Hall.


Frankie and Mow have been cat-napped.

On July 10th and again on the 18th, I did blog posts about Mow, previously advertised as strictly an indoor cat, becoming part of the Shelter's "barn cat program."  This does not include an actual barn or any other safe-haven, but that didn't stop the Shelter's director, Sharon Felkins. from evicting Mow and Frankie (an extremely friendly cat) from the Shelter to join the 15 or so cats she has deemed to be feral. Food and water are placed outside for them, but they otherwise fend for themselves in the woods surrounding the Highway 20 facility.

Believe it or not, when Frankie and Mow were discovered missing, the Shelter filed a theft report with the Sheriff's department. This is a small town, but we still have issues with gangs, drug abuse, meth labs, spousal abuse, pot farms, and petty larceny, but apparently that didn't stop law enforcement from giving the disappearance of two 'feral' cats the highest possible priority--starting with a call on one of the Shelter's volunteers, 78 year old, Lizette Weiss. 

Dear Sheriff, For the record, I don't have the cats and don't know who does.

This is a portion of the letter to the editor Lizette wrote.

September 4, I had an unpleasant visit from a sheriff's deputy . . . who accused me of stealing cats from the Humane Society's shelter. His manner was intimidating and threatening. I told him that I knew the two cats in question: Frankie and Mow, both females. I truthfully said I do not know who has the cats. (I) invited him into my home and introduced him to my cat. I also told him it was inhumane to release domestic cats into the (woods) to be preyed upon by . . . wild animals and for them to prey on the birds in the forest. The officer told me he would not stop looking until those cats were found and that the person who stole the cats would go to jail.

I have volunteered at the Shelter for more than a year and a half to socialize cats who are waiting for homes. I have been quite dependable, coming every Monday unless I was ill or out of town. I have told staff about problems I found with the cats (worms, coughs and upper respiratory illness, skin conditions, hairballs and cats throwing up for unknown reasons). 

Since the Humane Society released these cats into the wild, there has been a flurry of letters to the editor on this subject. The e-mail circuit has been kept busy with ideas for making the Humane Society more open to the community and to suggestions for democratizing its operations. This is particularly important since the group receives $2500 a month in taxpayer funds from the City of Fort Bragg, leases public land where the shelter is located for $1 a year, receives City dog license fees, and enjoys many thousands of dollars of donations from the public. The public also supports the organization by shopping at its resale shop -- The Ark.

On September 10, I went to the shelter for my regular stint socializing cats. First I found two dogs running unleashed in the area holding the outside cats' feeding station. So much for taking care of the outside cats, euphemistically called 'barn cats' by the shelter (although there is no barn for them to find safety in). After I signed in, Sharon Felkins, the Humane Society director, told me I was no longer welcome at the shelter and to leave immediately and never come back. I asked her why and she said, "You are a troublemaker."  I also asked her who made that decision and she told me the board of the Humane Society (only one of whom I have ever met) voted unanimously. There is no way to know if this is the case as the staff has a long history of being 'veracity challenged.'

She said she had called the Mendocino Sheriff to report the two outside cats had been stolen and had given them my name and address. I told her that I did not appreciate being called a thief and that she had no right to do so and had overstepped the bounds of normal behavior. One has to wonder why the Sheriff would feel an animal abandoned to its fate in the wild could be 'stolen'.  

I left the shelter when Sharon Felkins (picked up the phone to call) the Mendocino Sheriff to have me forcibly removed. I left for my own health and mental well-being . . . (but) of equal importance, I feel that public safety personnel are a very scarce resource. I feel this resource was being employed in a frivolous manner to assert one person's sense of importance.

The Humane Society, as a 501(c)(3) charity, has a board of directors that currently has 6 regular members four of whom are two married couples. Sharon Felkins and Alberta Cottrell also serve on the board. (It is highly) irregular to have two paid employees serve on a policy board since their work is overseen by the board.  It is like having a boss boss herself. This is a situation that . . . has led to an abuse of power. The board could have a total of eleven 'regular' members which would make it more representative of the area it serves and less like a 'private club.'

The Mendocino Coast Humane society is not a small operation. They reported to the IRS on their 990 form for the year 2010 submitted this past February that they had a total revenue of $477,000 and assets of just under $789,000. For this small community, this is quite a large charity. Yet the Humane Society keeps asserting that it is a private organization and they certainly strive to keep their meetings and deliberations private. As near as observers can tell they have not held a public meeting in more than nine years. When questioned they assert that the last meeting they held, the public complained and criticized (them). You think?!

I wish I had a solution.  I feel sad that the cats, who craved my attention when I visited, no longer have . . . volunteers to pet, groom and play with them.  In good conscience, I could never recommend the shelter as a place to volunteer as it is hostile and unpleasant to spend time there if one is at all sensitive to normal human interactions.  Simple things such as saying "hello" and "thank you" to a visitor are in short supply.  There is no sense of collaboration with the volunteers and woe beware the individual who disagrees with any decision or points out a problem situation.

I could have written about these problems months ago but did not because I know good hearted people are trying to come up with ways to make the Humane Society more humane. Frankly, with the present leadership, I doubt it is possible.

Lizette Weiss
Fort Bragg

(According to the Sheriff's log, animal welfare advocate, Carol Lillis, also received a visit from a Sheriff's deputy on Sept. 4th, but was not home to receive him.)


In a P.S.
Below is a copy of an email from Sharon Felkins in response to a query about the availability of 3 'feral' cats that the Stanford Inn wants to adopt. Sharon told Carol Lillis, and a second individual who inquired, that the 3 cats were MCHS property and that they were unavailable.  Clearly not understanding why cats living in the woods were unavailable for adoption, Carol contacted a board member who told her that "all MCHS cats indoors and out were available for adoption, and that it was their mission to adopt out animals." When Carol asked for confirmation that the cats were available, she was told by that same board member that she would meet with Sharon on Friday (the 14th) and would confirm by the same afternoon. When Carol didn't hear back, she again emailed to express the Stanford Inn's continued interest in the 3 cats, and was told that those cats, all three--the exact same cats--had been adopted. I (GR speaking) have it on good authority that, as of yesterday, those same three cats are still in the woods. I find it hard to believe that Sharon, and the other board members, carry such animosity toward Carol that they would prefer to let animals, with an opportunity to be adopted, continue to suffer the perils of life in the forest, but that seems to be the case.

This is the final paragraph in Sharon's email to Carol Lillis:
I do not expect, want, or need a reply to this email. There have been too many negative statements made about MCHS that have come from SOS and volunteers of SOS. I think its best that you not plan on being a volunteer at MCHS anymore. Thank you for all you've done and continue to do with SOS.
Shelter Director
Mendocino Coast Humane Society

(S.O.S. formerly Support Our Shelter - Mendocino County Animal Care Services Fort Bragg, provided toys, treats, medical care beyond that which the county could provide. After Animal Control closed, they changed their name to SOS - Networking for Mendocino Coast Companion animals. They raised funds for surgery & got a grant to help a dog named Valen in need of a very expensive surgery. Valen had been left in need of surgery for quite some time because funds at MCHS were low and S.O.S was told, there was no money to help him. They also arranged for transport to and from UC Davis. More recently, they raised funds for Dime's surgery as well.)

TNR Part 2

My mother was a self-proclaimed coward. She refused to stay alone in our house in Winter Park, Florida, for even a single night. When my sister and I were little and Daddy was traveling, she’d hire someone to come spend every night that he was gone. It’s not like we lived in a high crime area. There was no crime in the 1950s. Besides we had guns in the house, which Momma knew how to use, and we had Karlo, our German Shepard.
            When Daddy died in 1985, my mother moved out of their home of 34 years within 72 hours. She’d been planning for this eventuality, and had been looking at apartments in a residential care facility--which my father called equivalent to an outside cell at Sing Sing--in downtown Orlando.
o be out of the house before I had to return to work in Miami, she moved at lightning speed. The day before Daddy’s funeral, she purchased the apartment, and called the movers. She packed the necessities, while I focused on what to do with her pets: two small dogs, and two cats, none of which were permitted to go with her.
Jamie was a Yorkshire terrier, and Sydney was a Silky. The vet she’d gone to for years, kept them kenneled free of charge and found homes for both within two weeks—though not together as they’d always been. The cats were a different story. Both were feral when Momma started feeding them but eventually became tame enough to live in the house. By this time, they were adult cats, who adored my mother, but were shy around other people.
            I lived in a no-pets-allowed apartment building in Miami, and my sister was expecting her second child. The Humane Society was our only recourse.
            To be honest, I didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to give the fate of those cats a lot of thought. It was the Humane Society. Built into the name was the assumption they were humane. All I remember is my mother let her fear of staying alone completely overwhelm the love she had for her animals, something I swore never to let happen to me.
            There’s a reason this memory has surfaced.
            Last week I wrote about our local Humane Society releasing cats into the woods that surround the Shelter. Following that editorial, I interviewed someone who was there the day the two specifically named cats, Mow and Frankie, were ‘freed.’

The hinged screened panel
Approx. 3 X 6 feet
Both sides of the Kitty Cottage have huge hinged screened panels, which aren’t noticeable unless you are looking for them (and a curious feature for an indoor cat facility.) The plan to remove Mow and Frankie had evidently been decided long before the actual night they were released, since each had the tip of one ear removed, marking them as feral cats, and those wounds had healed.
The night the Director (I was told it was Sharon’s decision) decided to release them, they were isolated from the other cats, their collars and tags were removed, the screen door was propped open, and staff left for the night. The person I interviewed was the last to leave and he/she (gender left a mystery to protect this person from retribution) stopped by to check on Frankie, one of his/her favorites. Both cats were still inside, as was a third cat, which was hiding in one of the dome-covered sandboxes. This cat was wearing its collar and tags. I asked if he/she considering closing the hatch when she/he realized there was a third cat. The interviewee answered, no. The decision had been made and volunteers who wished to continue working with the animals did not go against the Director’s decisions.
            The next morning, Frankie and Mow were outside. The third cat--a short-haired, gray and white--was also gone—completely gone, as in missing. It is not among the growing outside cat population.
            This week the Board of the Humane Society submitted a rebuttal to my comment. This is a single paragraph from that rebuttal:

“The cat Frankie was allowed to make a choice—to live in the Kitty Cottage or live outside: Frankie is doing well outside. Our staff will continue to monitor and care for her as they do for all our barn (my emphasis) cats on a daily basis. This includes medical care throughout their life (sic) by our veterinarian.”
To administer medical attention to the 11 to 15 cats that are now living in the woods, the vet would have to shoot most of them with a tranquilizer gun. In the two weeks since this situation came to my attention, Mow, who was not mentioned in the rebuttal, has become unapproachable, but Frankie, whom they claim “likes to be petted by her friends, but is fearful of others” comes running when visitors stop by, and lets herself be tickled and picked up. There was no mention of Mow in the rebuttal for good reason.
            Commitment number 2, in the MCHS's Summer 2012 newsletter states: “Finds Homes for Family Pets When the Unforseen (sic) Happens.” And on page 2: “We never give up on the animals in our care.”
            My recent interview uncovered another detail. I knew Mow was one of the adoptable cats featured in our local paper, but what I didn’t know when I wrote the comment, which is also my July 10th blog post, was that Mow was given up for adoption by her owner.
            That’s when the memory of trying to do the best I could for my mother’s animals came back. Think how heartbroken Mow’s owner must have been when forced to give up her pet. How would any of us feel when we put our trust an organization, which claims to ‘never give up on the animals in our care’, only to discover they have given up on our pet, the one raised from a kitten to live its life safely inside? This is the cat, who on March 1st was advertised as a sweet, young lady, a strictly inside animal, but in June was ‘freed’ to live, hiding in a log and terrified—for as long as she manages to survive in the forest surrounding the Shelter. 

MOW by Frankie Kangas
note the clipped ear

Mow on March 1, 2012

Connie Korbel, editor of the Fort Bragg Advocate News and the Mendocino Beacon has invited your comments.

Frankie visiting friends on the inside
Frankie getting a tickle from a stranger


TNR is Trap Neuter and Release. Last week I wrote an editorial comment for our local paper about our local Humane Society shelter's program of TNR. This will be the longest post I've ever done, which may be the TMI --too-much-information part.

Cat eating bird

Late Monday afternoon, a friend and I went out to the Mendocino Coast Humane Society to photograph the “feral” cats that they have been releasing from the shelter. Coincidentally, Monday’s mail contained the MCHS’ fundraising newsletter with their mission statement printed boldly at the top of the first page. It reads: “—we are here (to find) secure, loving and permanent homes for the homeless pets in our community.”
For a community the size of ours, we should be proud of our Mendocino Coast Humane Society (MCHS). The main facility is nice and the “Kitty Cottage,” which I saw for the first time on Monday, is truly beautiful.
            I’m always saddened by the plight of animals, especially those at our mercy, so I was there after-hours with an ulterior motive. Friends in this community, who have dedicated their time and a great deal of their financial resources to help stray and deserted animals, alerted me to the fact that as good as our shelter is, it has a policy related to abandoned cats that I find appalling.
            Also from their newsletter: “We are a No Kill Shelter. We provide shelter and food for all medically treatable animals for as long as it takes to find them a loving home.”
Apparently, there a few holes in this policy.
            It has been creditably rumored that to maintain this no kill policy, animals deemed un-adoptable are routinely transported to a kill facility—like animal control. I understand this on one level. Some animals have been so abused and traumatized by their relationship with humans that we’ve destroyed any chance of successful rehabilitation.
            I said “creditably rumored” because our Humane Society is a secretive, closed-door, autocratic organization. However, since they are licensed by the city and get some of their funding from the city (our taxes) they are required to hold one public meeting a year. The last one was over nine years ago. Their Board goes to great lengths to keep out anyone who doesn’t agree with their policies—including volunteers, some of whom are routinely threatened with denied access if they dare to raise concerns.
 I am not a volunteer, and have had limited, but very negative experiences with their policy-makers. Most of my encounters have been with staff, and research-related. Those times, the Shelter Director and Board member, has always been helpful, and appears dedicated to her job of many years.
As a city licensed, publicly-funded, 501(c)(3), non-profit facility, the community served by the Humane Society has a right—and an obligation—to know what is going on with regard to their “Barn cat” program—which, by letting nature take its course, is another way of keeping their no kill numbers at a minimum.
  Cats deemed feral are routinely released into the woods that surround the facility. These cats are first kept in the Kitty Cottage to bond them to the location, then set “free.” One of the cats, Mow, was recently advertised in the Fort Bragg Advocate (3/1/12) as “a very sweet young lady who has lived strictly indoors all her life.”  This “strictly indoor” cat is now living in the woods with the tip of an ear cut off, the shelter’s way of marking a feral cat.
            A week ago, I sent out an e-mail about the release of Frankie, a cat advertised in a March 2011 “Take Me Home” flyer, as “a handsome 1 year old boy who has overcome his shyness as a kitten to become a really friendly feline.” Frankie was adopted as a barn cat but was seen killing birds. He was returned to the shelter and subsequently “set free.” I’ve gotten a couple of responses to that email informing me that Frankie is happier outside at the shelter. Perhaps he is, but that isn’t the issue. There is an excellent facility in Sonoma County called Forgotten Felines. They deal almost exclusively with feral cats. (As does the national organization, Alley Cat Allies.) Here is how Forgotten Felines defines feral:
  • Total Feral: A wild cat with no previous human contact or only negative contact.
  • Semi-Feral: A shy or fearful cat that has had some positive human contact.
  • Converted Feral: An abandoned domestic cat that has reverted to semi-feral behavior.
Monday afternoon, when my friend and I arrived at the shelter, two cats came running. We could pet them, pick them up, and tickle their bellies. There was nothing feral about either of them.
From the parking lot, we walked around the Kitty Cottage. Other cats appeared: some were indeed too frightened to approach—which made me wonder if this was result of conversion to feral from living in the wild where, out of necessity, their survival instincts take over and they become hyper-vigilant.

Overall, I counted eight cats. Three were untouchable, but five came close enough (4 to 6 feet) to receive a treat, and three of those (including Frankie) let my friend pick them up and tickle their bellies.
At the back of the Kitty Cottage, we found food and water—guaranteed to attract raccoons, possums, and skunks if left uneaten. (Since staff had gone home and we were there until nearly , it’s unlikely that it all gets eaten before nightfall.) This is also means that once their vaccinations expire, these cats are exposed to diseases including rabies.
            Mow, the cat advertised as adoptable in the paper on 3/1/12 was not approachable, but stayed nearby. This population will, over time, live up to the tag the shelter has given them. In the meantime, they are living in a diminishing habitat. They are killing the wildlife and, in time, the wildlife will kill them.
            MCHS is calling this is a “barn cat” program, but there is no barn, or any other way for these cats to get out of the elements, or escape predators.
            The larger issue remains: who is making the decision to release these cats, and what guidelines are they following? Of course there are cats that can never live with a family, or are inappropriate house pets, but there are other recourses beyond opening up the Kitty Cottage door and shooing them into the woods.
            Cats are territorial. Problems can arise when a new cat is introduced to an existing colony. A new cat can find itself picked on by the other members of the colony, or the new addition can pick on an older cat and chase it from the territory.
            While researching this article, I had a long and informative conversation with a representative at Forgotten Felines. On their website are guidelines for successfully turning an un-adoptable cat into a barn cat. There are protocols for this but it means keeping the cat in a cage in the barn for a month before releasing it. (All that information is out there, if the Board and staff of MCHS didn’t bristle at suggestions from outsiders.)
            Another suggestion from FF was to fund-raise for fencing. Releasing un-adoptable cats into an outside sanctuary would be okay, if they were truly inappropriate for adoption, and were released into a space safe secure from predators. If the Humane Society pursued that option, they might well set the gold standard for dealing with truly un-adoptable cats.
            The MCHS needs a more transparent governing body with an open mind to help from the community, and someone able to tell the difference between a frightened cat and feral cat. The cats might all, with a proper chance, become wonderful pets, good barn cats, or at the very least, live out their lives in a safe environment.

The Challenge (from the American Bird Conservancy website)
There is no question that birds are better off when cats stay indoors. Exact numbers are unknown, but scientists estimate that every year in the United States alone, cats kill hundreds of millions of birds, and more than a billion small mammals, including rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks. Feline predators include both domestic cats that spend time outdoors and stray cats that live in the wild, sometimes as part of a colony.

Life for outdoor cats is risky. They can get hit by cars; attacked by dogs, other cats, coyotes or wildlife; contract fatal diseases, such as rabies, feline distemper, or feline immunodeficiency virus; get lost, stolen, or poisoned; or suffer during severe weather conditions. Outdoor cats lead considerably shorter lives on average than cats kept exclusively indoors.

Free-roaming and feral cats also pose a health hazard to humans from the spread of diseases such as rabies and toxoplasmosis. In April 2010, the Volusia County Health Department in Florida issued a rabies alert for 60 days following two unprovoked attacks on humans by feral cats within a month. Two cats had tested positive for rabies in the area. The CDC states that “Unvaccinated dogs, cats, and ferrets exposed to a rabid animal should be euthanized immediately.” Even in ‘managed’ colonies all cats cannot always be vaccinated, and infected animals may be even harder to catch in a timely manner before they infect other animals or humans.

This interesting American Bird Conservancy video was filmed in my old stomping ground. My husband has a house at Ocean Reef, and I was on the Board of  the Tropical Audubon Society when I lived in Miami. GR

There are a many companies that supply kits for building outdoor enclosures for cats.
This is just one of them.

This is Mow, originally advertised as
"strictly a housecat"
This is Frankie, returned to the Shelter for killing birds, deemed unadoptable,
and released into the woods behind the Shelter

I don't know the name of this cat, but the 'dreadlock'
hanging from her side will eventually
come off leaving an open wound on her side.

“Holding this soft, small living creature in my lap this way. . . and seeing how it slept with complete trust in me, I felt a warm rush in my chest. I put my hand on the cat's chest and felt his heart beating. The pulse was faint and fast, but his heart, like mine, was ticking off the time allotted to his small body with all the restless earnestness of my own.” Haruki Murakami

“I hated cats. I was a dog lover," Des says with a shrug. "What's the point of a cat? They're not affectionate. But that's because it's not my cat. I mean, your wife wouldn't jump on my lap. That's because she's your wife, not mine. Until you have your own cat, you really don't understand.”
Rescue Ink, Rescue Ink: How Ten Guys Saved Countless Dogs and Cats, Twelve Horses, Five Pigs, One Duck,and a Few Turtles