Assistant manager Juan Torres wants to see the cats gone. He estimated that 40 to 60 feral cats live in the park and only 10 percent of them have received appropriate vaccinations. He said he's received complaints from some park residents who think the cats are a nuisance and others who say they have gotten sick from them. To that end, Torres said he's trapped one of the feral cats and removed it from the park, taking it to a farm to live instead.
But residents Danny Bogue and his sister Barbara Baker think the cats should stay. The park's colony has already undergone the catch, neuter, release services provided by Salem Friends of Felines, meaning the population is under control. And they're concerned that Torres is using illegal and possibly abusive methods to get rid of them.
On a chilly and foggy Friday morning, Bogue, Baker and fellow residents Sandra and Glen Newcomb stood outside the park clutching neon-colored signs protesting the cats' treatment. They waved the signs, bearing messages such as "Stop killing our cats" and "Stop trapping our cats," at passing cars.
"We're hoping they will back off and leave them alone," Bogue said. "We're just trying to get the word out."
"It's not right that they think they can get away with it," Baker said.
Baker said Torres took her pet cat, Sissy, whom she's had for eight years. Bogue said Torres trapped a feral cat in a cage and left it there for three days as the city was pounded with an unseasonably severe rainstorm.
Torres denies he's done any of these things. He said he trapped one feral cat about a week ago and safely removed it to live on a farm, instead of in the mobile park.
Torres said Bogue feeds around 20 cats that linger around his home and accused him of attempting to dismantle a trap near the management office.
"He said a cat was in there for days," Torres said. "There wasn't even a cat in there."
There are many more residents who are opposed to the cats roaming the park than in favor, he said. Of the residents that live in the 75 homes at Center Street Mobile Home, only five advocate for the cats to remain on the grounds.
Torres said management sent out a newsletter to the community at the end of September informing them that they planned on trapping cats to curb the problem. When Bogue responded negatively to the newsletter, Torres sat with him for four hours to come up with a solution, Torres said.
"He says they've all been vaccinated, which is definitely not true," Torres said. "If you look behind their houses they have 15 to 20 cats behind their houses. I ask them, 'Whose are those cats?' and they have names for every single one of them."
According to Center Street Mobile Park policy, residents are allowed two cats that remain indoors.
Friends of Felines executive director Jeanie Sloan said Torres called her in late September because he was concerned that park residents might sue, claiming the cats made them sick, and wanted to know if Friends of Felines would take legal action against him "if he did something with the situation."
Sloan said she told Torres that the organization does not legally own the cats; if someone wanted to trap and remove them, Friends of Felines has no right to sue.
"I'm not sure he totally understood what I said to him," she said. "He was telling residents he has my permission to do this, which I did not give him."
She also said she advised Torres against the trapping and removal method. Instead, she suggested he work with the residents to continue pursuing the catch, neuter, release method Friends of Felines has previously employed in the park.
"People think that's a good answer to trap 100 cats and take them to the farm and let them go," she said. "Unless they have a managed caregiver, this is so irresponsible. This is not an answer to this problem. I said to him that because of your location, you're going to have other cats coming into the area. You're going to have this problem forever."
Salem police did respond to the park on Sept. 30 after Bogue called to complain of alleged animal abuse, Lt. Dave Okada said. But the officer who responded said in his report that he did not have probable cause to make an arrest, and the complaint was forwarded to Marion County animal control.
Marion County used to forward such complaints along to animal abuse inspectors with the Humane Society, according to office manager Sonya Pulvers. But that position disappeared three years ago due to a lack of funding.
Law enforcement still deals with the enforcement of animal abuse, when abuse is obvious and proven. But now there's no designated agency to investigate such complaints, she said.
"You have law enforcement going out and they aren't trained," she said. "All the abuse and neglect has fallen to local law enforcement agencies. Marion County doesn't have animal control. We have dog control."
As to the question of whether Torres has a legal right to trap and remove the cats Marion County law simply doesn't address that.
"There is a complete gap there regarding cats," Pulvers said. "The statute only lists dogs. It is a gray area."
For now, Torres said management will not be trapping any more cats and plans to establish a meeting with the residents to discuss possible solutions.