Cats Front and Centre in Oakland, CA

By - Wayne Linklater 31/05/2013


My neighbour was assaulted and his home invaded this morning. A man dressed as sewage inspector knocked four doors down the street around breakfast time and pulled a pistol when it was opened.

But they are a ballsy bunch in Oakland. My neighbour put up a fight. While his wife and children slumbered, assailant and neighbour struggled and together fell down the high porch stairs. The pistol went off, the neighbour broke his ankles, and the invader took off.

16 police cars arrived to make sure the neighbourhood felt its tax dollar was not being wasted – just your ordinary day in Oakland City. I am certain there were other home invasions yesterday too.

But home invasions and shootings are not front page news in Oakland. Cats are.

Today, standing on the street having retrieved the morning paper and draped in my dressing gown against the cool Tule fog crossing The Bay from San Francisco, I unrolled the Oakland Tribune to reveal a full frontpage spread about cats, cat colonies, trap-neuter-release, and the battle between conservationists and ‘cat-lovers’.

Cats frontpage OT
Oakland Tribune’s front-page, 31 May, 2013.

The story is the same as back home – the same adversaries, claims and counter-claims. The questions that need to be answered to resolve the debate are the same. The small differences seem to be that the debate is hotter and bigger in Oakland. The ‘cat-lovers’ are better resourced – large programs of trap-neuter-release supported by philanthropists. The conservationists have stronger support from government agencies more active in managing the ecology of urban environments.

I think Kiwis can do better than this. We could resolve our cat debate as communities. We understand that there might be a problem requiring our attention. We understand that ‘cat-lovers’ and conservationists are often the same people – good people. We know what the solutions might be. We understand how, as communities, our different opinions need not prevent us from finding solutions. We understand that the solutions lay with us.

The debate about free-roaming cats in cities is an international one. New Zealand could lead on this issue and show the world the way through.

I don’t think my neighbourhood home invasion and attempted shooting will make the front page of the Oakland Tribune tomorrow. But wildlife and debates about them do.

If you have a second look at the front page of the Oakland Tribune you will see that ‘Claws of Concern’ out-ranked the ‘Death Penalty’ debate (bottom-right) for frontpage space. Our pets and wildlife are important to us (and sell newspapers). This is why the debate is so divisive and why it is also so important to resolve.