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Reigning Cats, Dogs in the News

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a year of animal anomalies.

In Seal Beach, retirees at Leisure World prayed that the rabbits wouldn’t die, while fishing enthusiasts in landlocked Anaheim hoped that the cormorants would. A Rottweiler was the subject of a Newport Beach custody battle, and grazing goats in Laguna Beach forced city officials to choose fire protection over flora.

Scientists working in Huntington Harbour in November had an eel of a tale when they discovered a tropical moray from Sri Lanka lurking in an algae bed they were eradicating. Within hours, the owner of Tong’s Tropical Fish & Pets in Fountain Valley volunteered to adopt the animal. Now that’s amore.

The scientists couldn’t have been more surprised than tuna fishermen Craig Ransom and Matt Mamede, who in September hauled in the remains of a 30-foot-long giant sea squid about seven miles off Dana Point. The creature, the stuff of legends, has never been seen alive and only a few have been found dead.

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Rabbits had animal rights activists hopping. In April, a pest-control company determined that the best way to rid Leisure World of a plague of rabbits was to shoot them. Many of the residents agreed, but others did not. City Hall sided with the cottontails, which came within a hare’s-breadth of execution.

Two months later, it was the skunks’ turn. The SeaCliff on the Greens homeowners association in Huntington Beach decided to trap skunks and opossums that had been roaming the upscale neighborhood at the edge of the Bolsa Chica wetlands. Residents raised a stink, and the association backed down after pet owners promised to stop leaving pet food--a draw for the creatures--outside at night.

Not all the animal stories had such happy endings. The year began with fatal cases of cat distemper at the Orange County Animal Care Services, leading to a grand jury investigation that condemned the department’s management, under director Richard Evans, for failing to follow its own procedures in dealing with epidemics. By November, the agency had a new director, Julie Ann Ryan Johnson, and a new set of protocols.

Elsewhere, cruelty reigned. In Huntington Beach, two dogs were poisoned in adjacent yards in June. In August, two cats were killed in a Dana Point mobile home park, shot with pellet guns. At Costa Mesa’s TeWinkle Memorial Park, four geese and ducks also were shot, three of them fatally, by vandals in May. It was the third such attack at the park in three years.

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In Coto de Caza, though, at least one pet was treated like royalty. A woman who declined to be identified erected a 35-square-foot Swiss chalet-style doghouse--complete with air-conditioning, track lighting and marble floors--to help Ted, her Bernese mountain dog, get through the dog days of summer.

“Ted gets so hot . . . that I wanted a place for him to be comfortable,” she explained at the time.

Passion for pets spilled over in other directions. In April, a couple from Newport Beach hired lawyers in a custody battle over Guinness, their 130-pound Rottweiler. The case goes to trial Wednesday in Harbor Court.

Monica Gail Williamson, a homeless woman known as Indiana, was killed in January when she was struck by an Amtrak train near the Santa Ana station after she refused to abandon two dogs tethered to her push cart, which had become stuck on the tracks. One of the dogs was also killed.

Love for the animals was far from the hearts of anglers at Anaheim Lake, in the northeast part of the city, where cormorants seemed to get the best of everything. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent each year across Southern California to stock fish in such lakes, only to have cormorants, which are federally protected, harvest the rewards.

In January, Jeff Sun, a forklift operator from La Mirada, vented his creel-life frustration through his Web site, www.fishinghotpage.com, and a petition that reeled in 175 signatures from anglers seeking an investigation into how to better manage the cormorants.

“Based on my own witness and stories told by other anglers, I believe this bird is responsible for more than 50% of the Department of Fish and Game trout taken from our waters,” Sun complained at the time, adding that the money comes from state-regulated license fees. Despite the anglers’ ruffled feathers, cormorants remain protected. And the anglers remain regulated.

But Southern California’s most notable fish story occurred in Redondo Beach in March when Taras Poznik, 24, got drunk and broke into a state fish hatchery, just for the halibut. Twenty of them, in fact, including Big Mama, a 50-pound tourist attraction that he promptly grilled on his patio for party guests. That meal cost him six months in jail and another six months in alcohol rehab after 14 of his unsuspecting guests lined up to testify against him.

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Finally, in a story that touches on much of that which defines Southern California, Laguna Beach officials wrestled with flora, fauna and fire. Fire-prevention measures there include using herds of goats to maintain a clear-brush zone around the city, which suffered a devastating wildfire in October 1993 that destroyed 366 homes and caused $400 million in damage.

But the wild land areas around Laguna are also ecologically sensitive. Naturalists discovered this year that what the goats clear from one area they redistribute--with their own fertilizer--in other areas, threatening endangered plants.

“They swallow seeds from one canyon and deposit them in their droppings in the next one,” said Elisabeth Brown, a Laguna Beach biologist. “They’re eating stuff over here and [leaving] it over there. Everything’s getting moved around. . . .. It’s not good.”

While the program irked some environmentalists, fire-safety officials applauded it.

“It’s stark, I’ll admit that,” Laguna Beach fire prevention officer Mike Phillips said of the denuded swaths around the city. “But from a fire protection standpoint, it’s a beautiful sight.”

And there you have it: the horns of a dilemma.


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