John R. has a number for you: 1,330.
That’s how many feral cats he has trapped, then released back to the great outdoors after getting them spayed or neutered.
He started the gig in January 2009 and has been so successful at it, he asked that his last name not be published. He said he learned the hard way that without some anonymity, people will track him down and leave boxes of kittens at his doorstep.
John, a big guy with wire-rim glasses, black sneakers and a fanny pack, is not your average cat lady.
In fact, he and his wife have never owned a cat. They have four basset hounds.
John began trapping ferals almost by accident. He was at work one day in late 2008, when he noticed birds nesting in the building next door.
“I scattered out some bird seed every time I came to work. It wasn’t too many days after that, I started seeing feathers,” John recalled. “I had not realized there was a feral cat colony here and the cats very quickly figured out that if they sat under my truck, when I threw bird seed behind the truck, the birds would come down. … It’s amazing how clever cats are.”
He soon learned how the feral colony formed in that industrial area of Woodland, where he owns an engineering company that builds devices for robots.
The owner of a business nearby had brought cats in to address a mouse problem, John said.
But the cats were never spayed and neutered, he said. Before long, they were breeding and the mouse problem had transformed into a feral cat problem.
There were 49 cats the last time he checked.
“The sad problem is people don’t like to run over them, so that’s one potential problem — traffic risk,” John said. “The other problem is when they poop on people’s property, so there’s a health hazard.”
Other disruptions, such as breeding, fighting, yelling at night and spraying, are usually resolved when the cats are spayed and neutered, he said.
John figured out how to catch them using wire traps and transport them to the animal shelter to get them fixed.
Kittens less than 4 weeks old can be tamed and adopted to households, but adult ferals are released back where they were found.
At least 85 percent of the cat colony must be fixed before it will stop growing, John said.
He embraced the challenge. He searched for the best traps and devised the most efficient method to capture the felines and the safest way to transport them.
John suddenly had a new — albeit unlikely — hobby.
And the more he worked with ferals, the sharper his eye when it came to spotting them in other parts of town.
He designed and built a special trailer that can hold 70 cats. It can be easily hosed down after each use and he covered the exterior with roofing paint to keep the inside cool.
Steadily, through word-of-mouth, he gained a reputation as a reliable trap-and-release guy. His network of volunteers grew; they help him set and collect traps every weekend at locations throughout the counties of Yolo, Sacramento and Solano.
While John requests donations for the cost of the surgeries — $15 per cat — he pays for the gas, equipment and cat food himself.
“Cats was just my thing,” he said. “If I can do this thing right, I’m comfortable other people are doing their things right, and between enough of us doing these things, we’ll solve a lot of problems.”
John won’t give his last name, but he is willing to help. Anyone with a feral cat problem can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.