Michael Fedoruk loves his cats. All 35 of them.
"The Cat Man of Santa Ana" keeps the feline horde in his two-bedroom North Townley Street home. He says he started the collection in 1972 after three starving cats wandered into his neighborhood.
The animals now occupy every room in the house, including a dozen that live in the garage and a litter of kittens in the front yard that, Fedoruk says, is destined for an adoption center in Fullerton.
"It isn't that I like them (cats) so much," said Fedoruk, a retired insurance agent who lives alone. "The thing that got me started was seeing those starved cats. When you pick up one of these cats and they weigh about a pound, you can't help but feel sorry for them."
John Kish, who lives two doors away from Fedoruk, says he's about had it with the "cat house" and he's collected signatures of about 100 residents of the area requesting that the City Council enact a law limiting the number of cats per house to three. (Santa Ana now has no such limit on cats.) Kish doesn't believe there are only 35 cats in Fedoruk's house, arguing that the feline population there frequently exceeds 50. He has already presented copies of his petition to council members, and he will go to the council meeting Monday and try to persuade them to take action.
It's not hard to find Fedoruk's home in the neighborhood of modest single-family homes just south of the Crystal Cathedral. You can smell it as you turn onto the tree-lined street.
Fedoruk says the odor doesn't bother him. "Is it bothering you?" he said. "I got the flu in 1975, and I lost my sense of smell."
But his neighbors are concerned about the smell. One nearby neighbor, who declined to give his name, said the sound of paws on the roof at night, the clawed porch posts and the occasional backyard droppings are a minor annoyance compared to the stench on a hot summer day. "I just thank God I live upwind," he said.
Kish and Fedoruk have become sworn enemies, occasionally threatening each other and frequently phoning the police or animal control officers to demand each other's arrest. The feud escalated last March when Kish purchased a $25 cat trap and began catching the animals when they trespassed on his property.
He took them to the pound where Fedoruk went to bail them out, paying $25 each plus $4 per day for room and board. "He was costing me too much money," Fedoruk said.
Before long, the cat trap disappeared (it was soon replaced by a homemade model). "His trap was stolen. I ain't sayin' nothing," Fedoruk said.
Kish said he called police and demanded that Fedoruk be arrested for theft. Fedoruk, finding an apparently injured tabby, said he called and demanded that Kish be arrested for cruelty to animals. Officers said they couldn't do anything without proof.
Shortly after, a sign went up in Fedoruk's front yard: "There is a Nazi in this neighborhood trapping cats." At the request of police, who were trying to calm the storm, he removed the sign, only to replace it later with two others. One read, "Cats are people, too."
"The problem is this," Fedoruk said. "I have a neighbor who has a great dislike for cats. He hates them, and I think he'd kill them if he could."
After the signs, the two came close to physical violence. Fedoruk says he stopped his car in front of Kish's home and asked what happened to two cats that had disappeared. He claims Kish told him to step out of the car and fight but then backed off.
Kish said he and his wife were on their front porch when Fedoruk approached. He said Fedoruk threatened to shoot them, then poison their grandchildren and their dog.
"I only said I'd like to have him shot," responded Fedoruk.
"Ah yes, the Cat Man," said Jerry Ayres, supervisor of animal control for the city, adding that he has a thick "Fedoruk" file on his desk. "We do have a grave problem with Mr. Fedoruk."
Ayres noted that the city has ordinances limiting the number of dogs and fowl but nothing relating to cats. He said he would probably put together a report on the issue if the City Council chooses to look into it further Monday.
The problem has been noted by several agencies, said Ayres, recalling one complaint from the gas company. "They wondered why the City of Santa Ana wasn't doing something about it," he said. "The meter reader said he couldn't even go into the backyard because the stench was so bad."
Still, Ayres stressed that Fedoruk is well-intentioned. In fact, there have been worse cases, he said.
One woman had about 50 cats in cages in her garage, according to Ayres, who added that officers went to the scene when neighbors complained about the smell. The garage was stifling hot, dirty and cobwebbed so the woman was ordered to reduce the number of cats, clean up and ventilate the garage.
In that case, the cats were a valuable breed, so Ayres suspects the woman was raising them for profit. In the Cat Man's case, the cats are mostly strays.
He keeps them separated, generally by families so they won't fight. The garage, which is equipped with several cages, ample food, a hammock hanging in the rafters and a radio which is always on. "They like music. It keeps 'em company," Fedoruk said.
Fedoruk said he spays and neuters the cats in an effort to keep the population down.