Flea Circus Gives Way to Media Circus

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Department of Defense news briefing, February 12, 2002

The more we learn about the typhus scare in Santa Ana, CA, the less we know. For example:

According to Saturday’s Los Angeles Times, this whole episode began when a “Santa Ana child contracted typhus.” On Tuesday, however, KTLA-TV claimed it was “an adult who has no connection to the school [Willard Intermediate, one of two trapping sites] whatsoever.”

Frankly, I’m less interested in the age of this individual than the suggestion that he or she has no connection to the site where Orange County Vector Control is trapping cats. If there’s no connection, why are they trapping there?

Arturo Jimenez, Director of Constituency Services, for the Santa Ana Unified School District doesn’t seem to know. “We don’t have a specific problem with feral cats here at the school site,” he told KTLA, “I mean, nothing out of the ordinary…”

And still, cats are being trapped—that much is clear. What will happen to those cats? Again, many conflicting stories.

Last Friday’s Orange County Register, citing an e-mail from “Santa Ana officials,” was unambiguous: “In the event a feral cat is caught, Santa Ana Animal Services will follow a specific protocol for sedating, transporting and euthanizing the animal at O.C. Vector Control’s facility.” [1]

On Tuesday, however, KABC-TV reported: “Vector Control officials want to catch as many feral cats as possible at the two campuses… The animals will be tested, then released into the same neighborhood or euthanized, according to Vector Control” (emphasis mine).

That same day, the LAist website had the cats going free: Michael Hearst, the district manager for Orange County Vector Control, said his agency has also received calls from people protesting the traps. Hearst said Vector Control usually treats the trapped animals with flea medicine and then lets them go.”

Another story from KTLA-TV (perhaps from Thursday, though it’s unclear) suggests that this isn’t all about typhus: “Orange County Vector Control will be out here at Willard Intermediate… and El Sol Science and Arts Academy not only to trap feral cats and test them for typhus, but to also help control the population, which they say they’ve fielded a lot of complaints about lately.”

Does Vector Control even have the authority to do this? I don’t know. Santa Ana Animal Services, on the other hand, notes on its website that they “do not trap or transport wild cats (feral cats).”

The story takes another turn in yesterday’s OC Register: “Jared Dever, an Orange County Vector Control spokesman, said the feral cats that are trapped will be taken to Orange County Animal Care. ‘We will collect the fleas from the animals, they will be treated for fleas and then put into the normal rotation for adoption,’ Dever said.” [2]

Feral cats “put into normal rotation for adoption”? I think what Dever’s trying to say is killed.

Why not just tell the public?

Well, Dever’s a spokesperson. Which means it’s not necessarily his job to accurately inform the people who pay his salary. Not that this is all his fault, of course; and his is not the only misrepresentation here. No, anybody—city or county officials, members of the media, etc.—suggesting that this Keystone Cops-style roundup is actually going to improve public safety in any meaningful way is either woefully misinformed or flat-out lying.

Such situations tend to invite monkey wrenching, and that’s apparently what happened earlier this week. “Santa Ana police Corporal Anthony Bertagna said that they are trying to do the right thing but have been inundated with calls from cat lovers who object to the trapping of cats,” reported the LAist.

“‘Our people went out and found things thrown at the traps to activate them,’ Bertagna said. ‘Unfortunately, we have no witnesses. They have cameras at the school, but they didn’t catch anything, so we have nothing to follow up on at this time.’”

So the traps weren’t in camera-range—where, one assumes, the children are? That certainly fits with KABC-TV’s reporting, that “the traps were placed in areas not accessible by students.”

So, again, can somebody please tell me where the cats fit into all of this?

•     •     •

I encourage readers to sign the online petition that’s been started (801 signatures so far!).

And if you’re in southern California, you might be interested in attending a protest planned for Saturday, June 2nd at 9:00 am. The location is El Sol Science and Arts Academy (1010 North Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701), one of the two trapping sites. Cancelled following news that trapping was suspended.

Readers interested in contacting local officials might find the following information useful.

City of Santa Ana

Mayor of Santa Ana Miguel Pulido

Santa Ana City Manager

Orange County Board of Supervisors

Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen
phone: 714.834.3110
fax: 714.834.5754

OC Public Information Office
714.834.4176 (Public Information/Media Inquiries)
714.834.4057 (Fax)

OC Vector Control

Literature Cited
1. Gonzales, R. (2012, May 25). Santa Ana announces flea-borne typhus alert. Orange County Register, from http://www.ocregister.com/news/santa-356066-control-typhus.html

2. Salazar, D. (2012, May 31). Some of Santa Ana’s wild-cat traps sabotaged. Orange CountyRegister, from http://www.ocregister.com/news/traps-356757-typhus-vector.html