Odin and I spend about two hours a day strolling the local streets. Some might be able to get their 10,000 steps in just by doing chores around the house, but we’ll never achieve that level of activity by stomping about our abode. On our walks in California, we commonly encounter upwards of 20 (TWENTY!) cats. It doesn’t matter if we’re on an excursion in the snowy Sierras or wading through the river flood of the Sacramento, there is always a feline infestation.
When we first arrived in California, we stopped at a state park to stretch our legs. As we crossed the parking lot towards the paved path, I spotted a cat slinking through the underbrush. How clever, I thought, I’ve spied this camouflaged creature. But as my eyes adjusted to the California sunshine, I began to see them everywhere.
I counted as we stretched and lost track at 30+ kitties. When we returned from our stroll, the parking lot was an Alfred Hitchcock creation. There were no less than 60 cats prowling across the grass and hunching their way atop park benches. The orange tabbies stood out against the manzanita shrubs and desert willows, but the grey and mottled kittens seemed always to multiply the longer one looked at the wooded expanses. We'd seen a van stopping in each parking lot, and then it was clear that the driver was leaving piles of kibble on each picnic table. Of course! Cats in this number were being supported.
We saw this again and again. At the cabins outside of Yosemite, a woman came by with a bag of pet food each night. Our visits to Oakland, Lodi, and San Fransisco have all been speckled with Cheshire grins from under cars and between the safety of apartment porch railings. I doubt those apartments had any official affiliation with those cats.
In our new and temporary hometown of Rio Vista, there is a cat park. I’d assume that the people of Rio Vista did not originally plan to landscape a lovely plot of land along the river for the town’s cats, but someone has gone and sprinkled piles of food about the park and allowed cats to hack up hairballs and nest in bushes, to the point where the park’s main patrons are hardly humans anymore.
This catastrophe drives Odin—and by extension, me—absolutely insane. The cat food is far more appetizing than anything we’ve ever offered him, and when was the last time we allowed poor Odin to eat anyway? Our walks have become a frenzied hunt for all the local cat dives. He knows every house where a dish is left out and each abandoned building whose delinquent landlord has found it in their heart to maintain a steady source of cat kibble rather than the building itself. My mental map is not as well documented as Odin’s, and if I try to avoid these street corners, my walking companion loses all joy in forward motion and sulks six feet behind on his retractable leash. His spirits can only be lifted when! A cat! Suddenly springs from a nearby respite and dashes away from us! If Odin cannot catch cat food, he will do his best to catch the cat!
This state has some serious problems, and chief among them from what I can see is their cats. Why do people feed these creatures? Do they ever wonder what other rodents or reptiles they might be feeding? California has the highest rate of poverty, proportionally to cost-of-living and yet, the cats are the ones who've secured universal amnesty in the Golden State. Were you expecting this post to be an enlightening tale of west coast adventure? Well I’m sorry. Hasn’t Los Angeles recently been plagued by a pair of mountain lions? Weren’t there recently reports of rat-borne illnesses leading to death in the city? Why risk it on the cats, California? They’ll probably be fine, though not quite so plentiful if left to their own devices.
It’s true that we’ve come across a few bears in California’s national parks, but we’ve also spotted a bobcat—and the bobcat was a more exhilarating sight for it’s famed shyness. Shyness I often wish had made the hereditary leap to feral cats.