MOUNTAIN HOUSE -- As the housing market tanked and foreclosed families began an exodus from their homes in 2008, a sad trend began to rise -- pets were left behind.
In areas like Mountain House -- in 2008 the small community of 8,000 was considered the most "under water" community in the country -- families abandoned their homes and sometimes their pets.
Although Mountain House is no longer the poster child for foreclosures, residents are dealing with the legacy of thousands of feral cats.
Abandoned and feral cats and kittens can be spotted most anywhere. In fact, an extra-large feral cat lounging on a rooftop was mistaken for a mountain lion in late July.
But thanks to efforts from a group of animal-loving friends who have formed the Mountain House Feral Cat Rescue, dozens have been taken in since May. The group has begun trapping, spaying and neutering, and either releasing or adopting out neutered cats, to try to curb the growing numbers -- which they estimate at about 1,500 to 2,000.
It is not uncommon throughout the San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area to see pets abandoned due to housing foreclosures. Area animal shelter managers say it has been a problem nationwide for a few years. However, they say, it is unusual to see neighbors come together to find a solution.
Jacqueline Lacaze-Dekker, president of the rescue group, said she became increasingly frustrated with the lack of help to keep the cat population from
After getting together with a group of like-minded friends, Lacaze-Dekker and her group decided to take action. A website for their rescue group, along with a Facebook page, were quickly up and running. They also created a bank account where people could send donations. Currently, they are in the process of making their rescue group a non-profit.
Initially the group headed out to try and trap cats, but they began noticing that instead of snagging adults, they were finding more and more kittens in the traps.
Lacaze-Dekker said no one thought of the growing kitten population as being a by-product of the rise in the number of feral cats. As they began to bring in one, two or three kittens, Lacaze-Dekker said the rescues soon "snowballed."
At Patricia and Bryan Harrison's home in Mountain View, eight kittens happily bop each other on the head, tug at each others' ears and zip in and out from under a couch. Two others sit in the couple's bathroom.
The two isolated kittens had been rescued the day before, but their wide blue eyes and quiet demeanor would never lead anyone to guess the kittens were less than 24 hours off the street.
While most kittens do get adopted out -- in fact, many have gone to families in the Mountain House community -- some are too feral to be "flipped," or trained out of their wild state, and have to be returned to their colonies. This is rare for kittens, but all adults are sent back once they have been spayed or neutered.
The technique is called "TNR" or trap, neuter and release. Once neutered, the cats can no longer procreate, which helps reduce the population.
"If they are caught early, they can be rehabilitated," said Patricia Harrison. "But feral cats have a place in society. Once fixed, they can just exist."
Contact Katie Nelson at 925-847-2164 or follow her at Twitter.com/katienelson210.
To donate to Mountain House Feral Cat Rescue, visit the website at www.mountainhousecats.com. The group is also seeking foster homes for kittens and donors who would be willing to sponsor a cat or kitten.