Pets dumped in Tilden cause problems, become dinner

Tilden Little Farm2 Mary Flaherty

Pets dumped at Tilden Little Farm (above) can be eaten by wild foxes, raccoons, bobcats and hawks. Photo: Mary Flaherty

The abandoned chickens appeared one afternoon in December, in the parking lot near Tilden Park’s Little Farm. Nine of them, right next to the bus stop. Whoever dumped them had sprinkled feed on the ground, and apparently hoped the Little Farm would adopt them. Not so.

“It’s as much as I can do to keep these animals clean, alive and fed,” said the man known as Farmer Stanley, gesturing to the chickens, cows, sheep and pigs he has taken care of at the farm for more than a decade.

At least two of those abandoned chickens became dinner for the local wildlife, judging by the piles of feathers found on the ground, said park staff.  They think – or at least hope – that some of the chickens were adopted, in response to an ad posted, because a bunch disappeared all at once.

The month before the chicken-drop, it was a white bunny, left in a cage at the same spot. Last summer there were five kittens.

Tilden Little Farm4 Mary Flaherty

One reason for abandoned pets is people get chicks and discover they are roosters which are effectively banned in Berkeley. Photo: Mary Flaherty

Animals have been abandoned in the park as long as any of the staff can remember — fancy show chickens dropped over the barnyard fence, hamsters stuffed into the bunny hutch — even though dumping animals is against park ordinances and the park can take legal action. Farmer Stanley (last name Ward) said it happens maybe five times a year. That doesn’t include the turtles and goldfish dumped in the ponds.

And then there are the phone calls, around twice a week, mostly about roosters.

“People gets chicks at Easter and they become roosters by summer,” Farmer Stanley said. Anti-rooster laws and noise ordinances effectively ban roosters from Berkeley and neighboring cities.

Dumping pets in the park creates all sorts of problems. The pets can be eaten by wild foxes, raccoons, bobcats and hawks. When they’re not, they can spread disease in the farmyard, upset the park’s ecosystem, and place a burden on park staff.

So why can’t the farm take them in? The deserted animals can spread mites, lice, worms and viruses to the Little Farm’s well-cared-for residents, according to Farmer Stanley. (“We spend a fortune on routine veterinary stuff,” he said.) When someone dumped some really unhealthy hamsters into the rabbit cage, he had to empty the cage and sterilize it.

Furthermore, new birds wouldn’t find a welcome home with the Little Farm’s 40 chickens. Any newcomer would be 41st in the pecking order, Farmer Stanley explained. And if the new arrival were aggressive, that’s no good either. Those don’t mix well with the farm’s toddling visitors.

Tilden Little Farm - Mary Flaherty

Abandoned animals can spread disease in the Tilden farmyard, upset the park’s ecosystem, and place a burden on park staff. Photo: Mary Flaherty

Then there’s the threat to wildlife: goldfish dumped in park’s ponds eat frogs’ eggs, said naturalist James Wilson, and abandoned turtles, mostly red-eared sliders, outnumber the native western pond turtles in Jewel Lake, competing for food

As for the burden on the staff -– they didn’t want to admit it, for fear of encouraging drop-offs, but the naturalists and volunteers have spent many hours, after work, delivering abandoned animals to new homes or shelters. (The problem of abandoned animals isn’t limited to the farm. The Berkeley shelter finds animals left in the night, apparently by people who don’t want to pay the $5-$20 surrender fee.)

Farmer Stanley offered a little insight into the type of person who might dump a pet in the park.

“I caught a person dropping off rats, red-handed,” he said. “This was not a well person.”  He told them to stop, but the rats showed up later.

A humane society worker added that occasionally animals are dumped by angry roommates or neighbors.

Other owners may be simply frustrated by the search for a new home for their pet. Calls to several animal rescue organizations revealed that they don’t take animals directly from owners. The sanctuaries would be overwhelmed, so they focus their attention on abuse cases, or on animals in shelters, facing immediate extermination, and hope that owners find a new home for their pet.

The same goes for private rescuers –- who don’t list themselves online and take animals only via word of mouth.  The Berkeley Humane Society handles only dogs and cats.

What do do if you are looking to give up an animal

  • First, try the store you bought it from. They might be willing to take in back.
  • Advertise with friends.
  • Rivertown Feed (707-762-4505) in Petaluma and the Western Farm Center in Santa Rosa (707-545-0721) will take healthy roosters to resell, if they have cage space. Call first.
  • Animal rescue groups Animal Place (530-477-1757) in Vacaville and Harvest Sanctuary (209-244-7174) offer a place to post adoption ads, but won’t take your pet directly.
  • Bay Area Turtle and Tortoise Rescue in Castro Valley (no website) takes in red-eared sliders, among others (510-886-2946).
  • Berkeley Animal Care Services (510-981-6600), which also serves Albany, called themselves a “last resort,” after adoption attempts, because not all those animals can be adopted out. Some may be euthanized.  Ditto for the Oakland Animal Services (510-545-5602).

Advice from Tilden Park staff for those seeking pets:

  • Don’t adopt on impulse (no matter how tempting chicks and bunnies may be at Easter).
  • Before adopting, have a backup plan in case it doesn’t work out. Keep animal lifespans in mind; rabbits live 10 years on average, chickens, about eight.
  • If you want chickens, consider adopting adults. You’ll know you’re getting hens, not roosters, and they’ll start laying eggs immediately.

Do you know of other sources for placing pets? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments below, after checking to confirm they provide that service.

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  • Charles_Siegel

    What do do if you are looking to give up an animal

    Don’t forget Craig’s list. I find that someone will take almost anything you are giving away for free.

  • the Deer

    my own pet was killed after a neighbor left poison out to rid of an abandoned cat in my old Claremont Canyon neighborhood. My cat ate some of the poisoned meat as well, and died. They then set my cat in front of my house on the side of the road. Told my roommate they’d seen it get hit by a car. The abandoned cat had died a slow death in front of me the previous day, after having eaten poisoned food, my pet was NOT killed by a car. The two dead animals looked as though they had suffered the same way. Very sad, and VERY LAME of both parties to abandon and then to poison as well!

  • One Large, Pissed-Off Corvid

    Sorry to read that about your cat. Whoever left the poison out was twisted and irresponsible.

  • Tizzielish

    I am sorry about the way your cat suffered after being poisoned and sorry the cat was poisoned. How awful.

    New Zealand has just decided to outlaw cats as pets because cats are killing the natural bird population of New Zealand. The problem of cats killing birds is even bigger in this country but so many folks love love love their cats. If you are going to keep a cat, keep it indoors. Even declawed cats can kill birds, as anyone who has owned a declawed cat that goes outdoors knows.

    Cats are not good pets. I know this comment will raise the ire of cat lovers but think of the birds.

  • EBGuy

    Anybody have some recommended, non lethal remedies? Because, ya know, we all love stepping in the ‘presents’ left by our neighbors cats.

  • Guest123

    Super soaker.

  • http://www.omnivorousfox.com/ Mfox327

    No, New Zealand did not outlaw cats. Some people who label themselves as environmentalists WANT to outlaw cats Huge difference. Don’t spread misinformation: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/24/170191917/new-zealand-environmentalist-wants-to-eliminate-cats-to-save-birds.

  • guest

    A. Unlike dogs, cats bury their waste and tidy up after themselves 100% of the time.

    B. Spay/neuter programs regularly live trap cats, treat them, then release them.

  • 4Eenie

    Lots of crazy people on craigslist who will do crazy things with animals, especially if they are free. When looking to give up an animal whose welfare you care about, ALWAYS list a price, even if it is a tiny one. It will discourage those nutballs.

  • guest

    Actually, cats are the best pets of all.

  • 4Eenie

    If they are feral cats, you can call “Fix our Ferals” and they will do their best to cull the population by sterilizing the cats. As you can imagine, it takes quite a while for the feral population to be reduced (3 years in my case), but it is worth it. Having a dog helps too. :)

  • irisandjules

    I guess you got the cat and bird killing theme from the recent NYT article. Having had many cats, and all of them indoor/outdoor, I will say that they did manage to kill a few birds but generally mice and other rodents are far easier to catch than birds. There are many cats in our vicinity and many birds. Have not noticed a decline in birds yet. Cats are awesome companions. If anything, you should worry about the animals humans kill. Now we are talking about the killing of natural populations.

  • guest

    cats bury waste in vegetable gardens, which makes it hard to get the kids to eat their veggies

  • 4Eenie

    A is not true. There is cat sh*t in the same spot on my driveway every few weeks, on the grassy strip. It’s not covered–it’s just sitting on the top of the grass. And I know it is from a cat because I have seen the cat do it on more than one occasion. This is how I know about the spray I mentioned, which at least for me has not done the trick.

  • bingo

    Thanks for clarifying, Mfox327. It seems misinformation (Tizzie) is the new information.

  • 4Eenie

    I think I saw that article on theonion.com.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001846205485 ThisWay Out Coops

    Along with spaying and neutering pets, there are some folks commenting on these articles who make an excellent argument for extending that service to some humans. Certainly parents who carelessly buy pets for kids without thought of the consequences & responsibilities make me question their overall parenting skills.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Good point that I had not thought about.

    I have just given away things like old furniture using craigslist. Please don’t tell me that there are crazy people who abuse furniture.

  • 4Eenie

    LOL, Charles!

  • Iris

    Sprinkle some white pepper or cayenne in the area. It works great, is cheap and non-toxic.

  • Iris

    Yes, but they might cook and eat your animal, or sell it as meat. I would never give away a pet on craigslist for free.

  • semipalmata

    True. Check into arguments against that Smithsonian study and you’ll see it’s rife with problems. The cat issue is overstated and the conclusion is hyperbolic, particularly when you consider the numbers of birds killed through other anthropogenic causes. That is not saying cats don’t kill birds. I worked in a wildlife hospital and wish everyone would keep their pet cats indoors for the sake of wildlife. But, I also worked with TNR groups and know this is a complex issue that comments like this do *nothing* to address. Oh, and, cats make lovely pets. I wish everyone would rescue a shelter cat or two and give them loving homes instead of condemning them to euthanasia.

  • Erica

    I used to think that was true too, until I put a lawn in my backyard and it started getting covered routinely with cat feces. Several times I caught cats in the act.

  • stoster

    There is a rooster on my block in Kensington, right at the edge of Berkeley. It crows every morning and all day. I have called animal control numerous times to complain, but they say that two people have to complain before they will do anything. I cannot believe that I am the only one disturbed by this horrid creature. What is the point of a rooster anyway, and why would anyone harbor such a vile beast?

  • Da Roostah

    I feel the same way about your kids.

  • irisandjules

    oh my – the problems you have in Kensington!

  • EBGuy

    This one was my favorite spot: in the center of two clumps of Berkeley sedge where the grass had been matted down. I was cleaning up leaves and wondering what was that smell — surprise! Only a cat would do that to mess with you. Speaking of which, I guess yesterday was just a bad cat day. When I got home, I put my bike away and turned around; cat had entered the premises, was on the steps, and giving me the I’ll be going upstairs look. Luckily he broke for the door when I chased him out.

    Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. Should all cats have collars with id and/or owner info? Should unidentified cats be taken to the animal shelter?

  • 4Eenie

    Herding cats is akin to, well, herding cats! in other words, I don’t think you’ll get too far with capturing a cat to take it to the shelter. I agree that it is very frustrating having to pick up after another person’s animal. I don’t know how to solve that one, though. Confronting the cat’s owner may end up causing more harm than good, but if you can pull off a friendly conversation about a charged subject like this one, let us know how it goes!

  • Che Joubert

    I so agree that cats are not good pets. Having said that, I know some people do work hard to insure that that they are. But foremost – cats do kill birds, even more often than they kill rodents. Studies show they especially kill delicate little songbirds that nest in bushes. What’s really interesting is that cats release a pheromone that has been proven to induce rats to lose their fear of them, and so stay around to be killed more easily, and when this pheromone was tested on people, it made people more relaxed. So I suppose many people experience this. Perhaps people get more relaxed when they have cats, and more friendly toward cats as well – due to the cats acting on their senses to induce this. Something must be going on, because cats are such awful pets (running away, hard to train, spreading dirt from paws on even high surfaces such as kitchen counters, scratching children, etc,) that it’s truly hard to believe how in love with them some people are.

  • Amy Y

    Wow, a whole side of Berkeley I didn’t know about – thanks, Mary, for the great article!

  • Lisa

    Very sad but useful post. Thanks.