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Saving the San Nicolas Island Cats

The Humane Society of the United States

cat san nicolas island betsy


One by one, the lives of these cats were turned inside out. Nothing will ever be the same for them. They were trapped, uprooted from their homes, and thrust into contact with people.

But don't worry—the story has a happy ending at CARE Sanctuary.

These seven lucky feral cats received a reprieve from a death sentence on an island off the Southern California coast. For the first time in their lives, these wild-born animals felt the touch of human hands and human kindness.

Lucky number seven

They aren't your typical feral cats. Weighing in at only three to nine pounds, two of them started taming up soon after their transfer to the Animal Medical Center in El Cajon, Calif.  They are the first of what could be 100 or more feral cats removed from San Nicolas Island—animals who will be placed in secure sanctuaries rather than being killed.

While financial support is still urgently needed to make the plan a success, this important initiative expresses the ambition of saving many lives—of birds and the endangered island fox and mouse, and of the cats who—through no fault of their own—found themselves living on the island. The HSUS is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Navy to try and make good on this complex effort.

Pleased to meet you

On Dec. 15, 2008, three cats were captured and transported from the island, including a feisty orange male tabby who, as you'd expect, was all defense–hair standing on end, swatting, a hiss at his lips. No wonder. He was part of a feral cat population that goes back 60 years on the island.

He proved heartwarmingly receptive to the patient and loving care provided at the Animal Medical Center. By New Year's Eve the little guy was getting chin rubs. The hissing was replaced with a deep purr, and he had learned to trust people enough to be held.

It was an odd thing to watch these cats become affectionate in such a short period of time. By the end of January, the cats' primary caretaker gave this report about the energetic orange tabby: "He really enjoys my company and always tries to climb onto me.  We really have a special bond ... he gives extremely rough kisses, and basically suffocates me with his love. So beautiful. What a difference in his life from the time he arrived at Animal Medical Center."

And what a difference in approach for addressing feral cats in a sensitive environment like San Nicolas Island. Death would have been the most likely path, but we now have the opportunity to provide safe sanctuary for these feral cats.

Donate to The HSUS' Community Cat Program Fund to help the San Nicolas Island cats.

What's next?

So far, seven cats (five males and two females) have been removed from the island. They are getting to know their new family—humans and felines—at CARE Sanctuary in Little Rock, Calif., where they will live as well-cared-for pets in a secure enclosure. Indeed, they even enjoy pet insurance coverage provided by HSUS corporate supporter, Petplan.

Seven isn't many, but they are important. These seven represent what could be a new beginning for hundreds of cats from the island—a future full of belly rubs, toys, and love.

Although The HSUS supports Trap-Neuter-Return for feral cats, it recognizes that there are situations where returning cats may not be appropriate or are prohibited by law—such as on San Nicolas Island.

How you can help

Donate to The HSUS' Feral Cat Program Fund to help the San Nicolas Island cats.

Corporate donations of food, litter, and other supplies are also welcome to maintain the San Nicolas Island cats.

The cats of San Nicolas Island

San Nicolas Island is the outermost of the Channel Islands of California, located approximately 60 miles off the mainland coast and is owned by the U.S. Government (having been in use by the U.S. Navy as a missile telemetry site since the mid-20th century). 

A population of feral cats has lived on this island since at least the 1950s. Estimates place the number of cats on the island between 100 and 200. Because there are threatened and endangered native species on the island that the cats prey upon, the decision to remove them was made by a multi-agency Trustee Council in cooperation with the U.S. Navy, with the goal of improving nesting success for native seabirds. As part of the removal effort, these agencies have agreed to transport healthy captured cats to the mainland into the custody of The HSUS should adequate funds be available to house them in an appropriate facility. Healthy kittens will also be made available for adoption into indoor-only homes through local animal shelters in Ventura County, Calif.

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