Feral cats are having a “field day” at the Oakland Coliseum, according to stadium authority executive director Henry Gardner.
An estimated 30 to 40 cats and kittens have made the 130-acre property in East Oakland home, multiplying in population over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, Gardner told The Oaklandside.
“The good news is the cats have been on rat patrol and they have done an excellent job. We have not seen a rodent in almost two years,” Gardner said in a phone interview. “You have to give them an ‘A’ for dealing with the rodents but we don’t need as many in the army right now. We are overstaffed.”
The kittens, who are bold and “don’t know any better,” according to Gardner, have been spotted inside the Oakland Arena and baseball stadium on the outfield turf. Once a bustling complex with three professional sports teams, the Oakland A’s remain the only anchor tenant after the Warriors moved to San Francisco and the Raiders to Las Vegas.
The Coliseum’s parking lots were used as a mass testing COVID-19 testing site but the arena and stadium sat quiet for months when events and games were canceled and the MLB season shortened due to the pandemic. Events returned last year, along with the stadium’s reopening to baseball fans. Discarded food from event attendees has kept the cat population well fed, said Gardner. He said workers are going to better secure dumpsters.
Ann Dunn, director of Oakland Animal Services, estimates the cat population to be 40 to 50 and said “if you see that many, there are probably more.” Another feline colony across a canal from the Coliseum on Hegenberger Drive has easily another 100 cats, Dunn said.
Controlling the population is complex. Most adult feral cats are not socialized and therefore are not adaptable to being a family pet, Dunn said, and removing an entire colony creates a vacuum effect opening up the territory for another colony to move in.
OAS is working with Alameda-based Island Cat Resource and Adoption, which has trapped and spayed or neutered about 20 cats and removed two litters of kittens from the Coliseum site, Dunn said. Feral Change of Oakland is doing the same work on Hegenberger near the Denny’s and the city’s safe RV site to stabilize that population.
The area is also home to hundreds of stray cats. Across Interstate 880, at the Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline Park, is where the East Bay Regional Park District was shooting stray cats in 2020, causing community outrage. Intake of cats at the city-run shelter goes up each year, Dunn said.
“It’s a situation that is absolutely out of control,” Dunn said of the increasing cat population in Oakland. “The thing that is so heartwarming is everyone [at the Coliseum and Hegenberger] has the shared goal of doing what’s best for the cats. No one has asked us to remove the cats in a way that would harm them.”
Gardner plans to update the Coliseum authority board about the issue at a Friday morning meeting, ahead of the A’s home opener on April 18.
The situation is reminiscent of Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s origin story. La Russa was the manager of the Oakland A’s when a stray tortoiseshell cat ran onto the Coliseum field during a May 7, 1990, televised game against the New York Yankees. La Russa coaxed the cat, later named “Evie” after Oakland A’s owner Evie Haas, into the dugout, where she stayed for the rest of the game.
The experience led the A’s skipper and his wife, Elaine, to open ARF in Walnut Creek after discovering there was no shelter in the East Bay with a “no-kill” policy. ARF remains in operation and over the years has found homes for more than 46,000 dogs and cats.
A’s fans and players have been known to embrace other non-paying stadium visitors. A possum that found its way onto the outfield wall during a 2014 game was dubbed the “rally possum” after the A’s won in extra innings. A possum returned the following year and a former A’s pitcher quipped that the marsupial was so frequent a visitor that the players were “going to have to give him a name or a jersey.”