San Benito Lifestyle

San Juan Bautista couple show compassion for feral cats

Local volunteers take part in trap-neuter-release program to halt overpopulation.

Marina and Eric Gordon and their one cat moved into a fixer-upper in San Juan Bautista about 10 years ago. Soon after, a shopping trip set them on a course that resulted in the rescue of thousands of feral cats throughout San Benito County, a service they continue today.

During a run to Home Depot, the Gordons noticed a large number of stray cats around the store. The manager told them that people dumped the cats there and the animals kept reproducing unchecked. 

“We thought, ‘these cats have to be fixed or pretty soon there will be 50 or 100 cats here,’” Eric said. “A litter can be five or six kittens. Within a year, with one pair of cats and their offspring, you can end up with 200 cats. And of course, they will all be suffering because they are not going to be able to find enough food to feed themselves. We came back and trapped them all, which took quite a while. We were kind of new at it.”

Eric and Marina Gordon with traps for feral cats. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Eric and Marina Gordon with traps for feral cats. Photo by Robert Eliason.

With no previous experience or resources, the Gordons borrowed traps from some friends. They captured the cats, then paid to have them fixed and vaccinated. Working with Town Cats in Morgan Hill, they made sure all the cats found a new home.

Shortly thereafter, the couple were relaxing with friends at Bear’s Hideaway and talking about their adventure with the feral cats.

“Someone told me, ‘we have all kinds of stray cats here in town,’” Eric said. “We hadn’t really noticed them. We started looking and found 40 in one block. It was hard to spot them around town—cats are very good at hiding, particularly if they are feral. And cats are adaptable, they know where food sources are, they know where shelter is.”

The Gordons began watching for clusters of cats and developed skills in trapping them. While the couple work on the project together, Eric is employed on weekdays, so much of the rounding up and caring for the cats falls on Marina. 

“Trapping is not difficult at first when you find big colonies,” Marina said. “If you find 40 cats, you set the traps and you will get many of them at one time—10 or 20 at once. The hardest thing is to get the last couple of cats. A lot of times, most of the cats are already fixed, so you end up with one or two feral cats and you have to really work hard to trap those.”

The Gordons said they capture an average of 300 cats a year, but trapping the cats is only the first step in the process. Marina then takes them a few at a time to the veterinarian to be checked over and fixed. 

“I will be at the vet with each cat for 15 minutes to half an hour,” Marina said. “They have to fix the cat, then they have to check them for injuries. They check their health and their teeth, and if they find a problem then they treat them. We also get them scanned for microchips.”

The spaying and neutering clinic in Hollister closed recently, following the departure of their veterinarian, so Marina instead drives out to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Monterey, getting up at 5 a.m. to get there by the 7 a.m. cut-off time for appointments.

In some cases, the veterinarian might need to treat missing eyes or broken bones. Occasionally, a cat might not be able to be helped and would be euthanized. The Gordons finance much of the effort themselves, but they also receive money from the city of San Juan Bautista through an account at Pet Friends

One of their more complicated calls is collecting just-born kittens with feral mothers, which requires an extra level of care and attention. If the mother is captured, the kittens will stay with her until they are weaned. Otherwise, the Gordons raise the kittens themselves. They have housed as many as 40 cats at a time.

After the kittens are weaned, they are offered for adoption through various rescues. The mother is fixed and vaccinated, then released where she was caught. 

The Gordons have been so successful in curbing the cat problem in San Juan Bautista that they have now been taking calls in Hollister. They rely on donations from other animal lovers for their services to that city, which they said has not yet provided financial assistance. 

As trap-neuter-release volunteers, the Gordons work closely with SNIP (Spay Neuter Imperative Project) which runs a low-cost mobile service called Snip Bus. Founder Melanie Scherer has been impressed by the couple’s effort to help cut down on the number of feral cats in the county.

“Marina Gordon deserves a ton of credit for the work she is doing,” Scherer said. “She and her husband are perfect examples of those who use Snip Bus to help communities with the overpopulation of feral cats. She has a constant dedication to many areas that are troublesome. There is nobody out there more aggressive in that area. What she and her husband are doing is beyond belief.”

As spring arrives, the Gordons are preparing for the inevitable flood of feral cats giving birth—and the messages Marina gets from the community on her Facebook page, alerting her to where they are. The traps are ready and the couple’s commitment has not wavered.

“There are going to be kittens starting around the end of the month,” Marina said. “That is the start, and then we will be busy through October and November. But we trap all year long. I do this because, for me, cats are the best animals and I do not want to see them suffering. This is my passion.”

 

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Robert Eliason

I’ve been a freelance photographer since my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. My dad taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.   I have had gallery showings and done commercial work but photojournalism is a wonderful challenge in storytelling.   The editors at BenitoLink have encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  It is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community.