The furry animals that visit Richard Soja's back yard at night don't come on little domestic cat feet--they come on big, feral paws, and they dig up his vegetable garden, deposit feces in the ground and along his fence, and set up a caterwaul that keeps him up nights, he claims.
"I've literally opened up my fence and stuck my fingers into the stuff," says the Ventura attorney, who lives in the tony Ventura Keys.
In a bid to quell the invasion of what he calls stray, or "feral" cats, Soja researched the U.S. Fish and Game Code and decided that the law allowed him to set steel-jawed traps.
That, Soja says, is when things got blown out of proportion. His neighbor, David Francis, a cat lover with two feline pets of his own, allegedly spied the steel trap and removed the device from Soja's property, Soja said.
Notice of Investigation
The next day, Soja received a notice from the Humane Society of Ventura County that he was under investigation for alleged cruelty to animals.
"Frankly, it borders on the ludicrous," said Soja, who was so irritated that he filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Francis, the humane society and Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury.
The suit claims that Francis attracted stray cats into the neighborhood by leaving food out for his own animals. It accuses the humane society of being "biased and partisan" and attacks the district attorney's office, saying the statute governing wild animals is "unconstitutionally vague."
"If someone likes cats, that's their prerogative, but do not expect me to provide food, board and toilet facilities for them," Soja said. A law that allows the use of steel-jawed traps for opossums and skunks, he said, should also apply to feral cats.
Donna Francis denied that her family fed stray cats. She also denied taking the trap, saying her husband merely disarmed it.
"We think the lawsuit is a joke," she added.
Jeff Hoffman, an officer with the humane society, said he expects to complete his investigation within a week and confirmed that Soja is under investigation for alleged illegal trapping of cats. "You have to use a humane trap, a wire cage that snaps shut when the cat gets in. Steel-jawed traps maim and torture," Hoffman said.
The humane society receives at least one complaint per month about stray cats, Hoffman said. Areas alongside beaches are a particular problem--as many as 50 cats have been sighted near the oceanfront Holiday Inn in Ventura, for example.
More Than a Dozen
Soja, who said he learned to make field observations of animals while studying biology, estimates that more than a dozen stray cats make the Ventura Keys their home.
"I recognize by color patterns one dozen animals using my back yard as a communal toilet. They run a circuit, feeding out of garbage cans, going after the songbirds. I'm constantly chasing them out of the trees behind my house," Soja said.
Hoffman said Soja isn't alone in his attempts to trap cats. "We're not singling this man out," he said. "We investigate everything that comes through the door."
Besides, he added, "if more people were to spay and neuter their cats, there would be less feral cats running around."