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Coyotes, cats, children could benefit from grownup campus decision making

Before Cal State Long Beach gets totally immersed in a highly charged legal and public relations quagmire over handling small campus critters, informed, responsible and humane options should be weighed.

Conflict resolution can almost always alleviate volatile situations when cool heads take the lead. Most of us are taught that in elementary school. The recent alleged sightings of a coyote, or coyotes, is certainly cause for public safety concern.

This in itself creates a reason for university officials to take measures to protect the campus community and university visitors, notably, defenseless children. Problems will inevitably arise when wild animals come in close contact with humans, but CSULB officials should be wary about jumping the gun and targeting the feral cat population as the scapegoats.

Forceful eviction will only draw the wrath of local animal lovers. Animal rights advocates in turn should eke out a compromise with the bureaucracy before issuing counter threats of lawsuits. The university has liability issues it must address.

If a child gets attacked by a coyote and the university has done nothing to deter the attack, only some civil attorney will emerge to victor. Tragically, nobody involved in the conflict appears to have tried to have a sit down.

This shouldn’t turn into a pissing contest between a bureaucracy and local animal rights groups.

UNIVERSITY RESPONSE

The 40-day eviction order flies in the face of reason on multiple levels that could tarnish CSULB’s public image. The “official statement” from the university was not only full of poor reasoning, but was inflammatory in tone, whether intentionally or not.

This is evident in the first paragraph when the author noted that the California Department of Fish and Game has conducted an investigation. Rather than assailing the feral cats for being a coyote attraction, officials should have waited for the results of the investigation to be certain of coyote presence before issuing anything other than a public warning.

What experts have verified the predator’s presence? Student journalists or English professors are no more experts in coyote biology than college administrators or the maintenance employees who reported seeing the animals, as was indicated in the July 3 letter from Facilities Management.

If the sightings occurred in the “off-hours,” as reported last week in the Summer Forty-Niner, might employees have observed a local dog that merely resembled a coyote? It would seem prudent to call in an animal biologist to examine scat (animal poop), evaluate paw tracks and autopsy the feline corpses before jumping to conclusions.

None of these actions has been mentioned in media reports. Even if it turns out that coyotes were observed, issuing the cat ultimatum — and simultaneously removing the protective structure near Brotman Hall — was a hasty reaction that placed the cats in potential jeopardy.

The officials should have sought expert consultation prior to generating hysteria. Cats are not the campus’s only available food source for coyotes. The campus is rife with squirrels, raccoons, opossums, birds and open trashcans — all are part of coyote diet. Removing the cats will not remove coyotes, nor will exposing the cats to other predation.

CAT ADVOCACY REACTION

The volunteers who ensure health care, shelter and food for the feral cats, mostly at their own expense, provide a humane community service. Without them these small animals would breed unchecked, contract diseases and create a greater public health risk.

But cat advocates should not take the emotional stance that these creatures are their personal campus pets. It’s likely the most difficult position for animal lovers, but the lack of a proactive clinical approach to reducing the feral population opens the door to scrutiny.

The 1984 agreement between cat advocates and the university was that the trap-neuter-return (TNR) program would greatly reduce the feral numbers. Twenty-four years later, this has proven to be a less significant reduction than it should be when compared to similar programs.

The 1984 estimations were that approximately 300 feral cats inhabited the campus. Today’s estimate — depending on which source provides the figures — falls between 100 and 160. UCLA volunteers formed a Cat Network in 1989 with all of the same objectives as CSULB’s Campus Animal Assistance group. UCLA’s feral population at the time also was approximately 300, according to the university’s website.

The big difference is that last year’s reported numbers were estimated to be about a dozen feral cats on UCLA’s campus. Granted, part of the current CSULB population can be attributed to ongoing irresponsibility displayed by people who dump unwanted pets at our feet.

To show the university that TNR and adoption is succeeding, the 24-year-old project should align more closely with other population control efforts. Without some means of showing better success, such programs fall short of showing officialdom that good faith is being delivered with utter sincerity. One way would be to consult with other TNR organizations to find out what they’re doing right and copy them.

NEGOTIATE SOLUTIONS

All parties need work together to find humane answers, including insisting that existing laws, ordinances and campus policies are strictly enforced. Two such laws are seemingly ignored on the campus.

The first is California Penal Code Sec. 597S that states that abandoning an animal is punishable by a $500 fine and/or six months in jail. The other is a potential felony that addresses inhumane treatment. State Penal Code Sec. 597 and County Code Sec. 10.12.160 includes the clause that, “no animal may be deprived of proper food, water or shelter.”

Enforcing these laws falls on the shoulders of not only CSULB officials, but on university and city of Long Beach police, as well as the city’s animal control agents. The university should be the wheelhouse for disseminating and following through with campus policy information. For example, animal advocates claim students dump cats when they move away.

CSULB should clamp down harshly on violators. If a student violates policy by having an animal in their room, the entire room should be evicted. Neither the coyotes nor the cats should be demonized for being animals. The ultimate responsibility lies in the hands of humans and all parties need to negotiate like grownups.

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