DEAR JOAN: I am as upset as any other animal lover when I see cats being dumped in our parks. Recently, I saw a woman doing that, and I confronted her. She told me she couldn't keep her cats because she lost her job, her house was foreclosed upon, and she had to move to an apartment where no pets were permitted.

She said she did take her two cats to the animal shelter facility in Martinez, but they told her that to "surrender" her cats she would be charged $95 for each cat. She simply couldn't afford that.

So she took them to a local park where there is a colony of cats, which many people feed on a regular basis, and hoped they would assimilate with the resident cats and that maybe someone would pick them up and add them to their menagerie.

Gina Burton

Antioch

DEAR GINA: I certainly can understand financial difficulties and making hard choices about many things, but I'm afraid that's not a valid reason for dumping animals in a park.

The fees at the Contra Costa County Animal Shelter are $30 for a licensed cat, $50 for an unlicensed cat. The shelter in Pleasanton charges $25 per cat, and the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority sets its fees at $150 per animal.

Someone might take in a stray cat, but it has a better chance for adoption through a shelter.

However, other options available. The first is to contact family and friends to see if they could take a pet, even for just a while until a long-term solution is found.

Second, there are several groups that will help, either with advice or in taking the animals. But it is rare that they will accept an animal as they also are stretched to the limit.

Third, put up fliers. I recently spoke to a woman who suggested putting them up in retirement communities and senior centers. Many older folks are looking for companions.

Dropping them at a park and turning your back is just wrong. Most domesticated cats can't manage on their own. They are used to being fed and having shelter. Relying on strangers to feed them is asking too much.

Even if they are among other abandoned house cats, there are fights over food and territory. The life of a stray is hard and short.

And what about the residents of the neighborhood who now have stray cats running around, using their gardens as litter boxes, killing birds and other wildlife? Is it fair to them?

DEAR JOAN: I wanted to alert you to a troubling proposal by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan that could adversely impact the lives of animals, both domestic and wild, here in Oakland.

Budget plans now call for Oakland Animal Services' already meager budget to be cut and to eliminate one unfilled animal control officer position, even though it is at the lowest staffing levels in shelter history, and despite having 2,000 more animals coming through the doors each year since 2004.

The shelter already is extremely understaffed, is losing volunteers and cannot sufficiently attend to the animal-related needs of the city.

Volunteers and representatives of other city agencies are campaigning for their funding, but the 6,500 animals OAS helps yearly can't represent themselves.

Could you get the word out on behalf of the animals? Urge animal-lovers to email city council members and to support the shelter at the council meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Ariana Mohit

Oakland

DEAR ARIANA: OK, it's up to you, animal lovers. Cities face financial woes, but let's not forget the animals.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.