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Are Google's Cat-Loving Employees Killing Burrowing Owls? (seattletimes.com) 181

An anonymous reader writes: Google's employees started a group called GCat Rescue that traps feral cats and puts them up for adoption. (Though "less-friendly adult cats are neutered and released... The cats that are released are implanted with tracking chips, and an ear is notched so they can be identified.") A public records request discovered that city employees kept catching the Google-chipped cats in a nearby wildlife and recreation area that was home to the very last 50 burrowing owls in Silicon Valley — which California has officially designated a species of "special concern". Someone had apparently even installed a cat-feeding station next to a designated owl-nesting area.

The local Audubon Society has been asking Google to review their cat-feeding stations since 2012, but environmental groups told the Times Google was "consistenty unhelpful" on the cat issue. "They told us it was something their employees were doing and they couldn't interfere," said a board member with a group trying to protect the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. "One of the cats was trapped, turned over to the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, released to Google, trapped again in the park and released again to Google," the Times reports, adding that "In August, it was found dead in the park."

"Like so many stories these days about Big Tech, this is a tale about how attempts to do good often produce unexpected consequences, and how even smart people (especially, perhaps, smart people) can be reluctant to rethink their convictions."

The Times reports that a "final victory is at hand" for the cats, since last year was the first time in 20 years that no owl fledglings were observed in the park -- though "as recently as 2011, there were 10." But the number of cat sightings was 318.
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Are Google's Cat-Loving Employees Killing Burrowing Owls?

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  • Flamebait (Score:5, Funny)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday May 27, 2018 @07:28AM (#56682314) Journal
    This is the biggest flamebait article I've seen in a long time, and I blame Trump. Not only does it have cute little furry animals, it simultaneously calls Google employees geniuses and really dumb. It makes environmentalists mad, but also people who hate the environment (and kill cats).

    It's probably all because of Hillary.
    • Not only does it have cute little furry animals, it simultaneously calls Google employees geniuses and really dumb. It makes environmentalists mad, but also people who hate the environment (and kill cats).

      Now we see the real power behind the Google Reich:

      Does your cat look like Adolf Hitler? Do you wake up in a cold sweat every night wondering if he's going to up and invade Poland? Does he keep putting his right paw in the air while making a noise that sounds suspiciously like "Sieg Miaow"? If so, this is the website for you:

      http://www.catsthatlooklikehit... [catsthatlo...hitler.com]

      The sooner this thread gets Godwined, the better!

    • Re:Flamebait (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 27, 2018 @08:12AM (#56682412)

      Somebody is just looking for ways to complain about Google. I am no fan of their stances on privacy but this is a bit ridiculous. These people from Google are clearly *reducing* the number of cats running around outside and killing the owls, by neutering them and putting some of them in people's houses. The entire complaint seems to be that they aren't killing the cats they can't find homes for.

      And one of the bits left out of the summary that does not agree with the summarizer's angle at all: "Environmental groups said Google was generally an excellent partner and had made aggressive efforts to support the burrowing owls"

      • Re:Flamebait (Score:5, Insightful)

        by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Sunday May 27, 2018 @09:49AM (#56682712) Journal

        The question is where the feral cats are acquired and the where they're released. They can be reducing the overall number of feral cats while still irresponsibly increasing the concentration in "this nice park that's way better place to live than the street" which they happen to not realize or care is home to the protected owl species.

      • by drnb ( 2434720 ) on Sunday May 27, 2018 @12:02PM (#56683296)

        The entire complaint seems to be that they aren't killing the cats they can't find homes for.

        I guess you missed the part about putting cat feeders in a refuge, in burrowing owl habitat, even near the burrowing owl feeders. That increases the danger to the owls by drawing cats to that area. If feeders are used they should be drawing cat away from burrowing owls, not towards them. When presented with the option of live prey or hard dry and crunchy pet food what do you think the feral cats released will go for?

        Keep the cat feeders on campus, don't put them in a wildlife refuge.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          ... the feral cats released, will go for?

          First, cats like all predators, get bored with dry food. Second, cats aren't like dogs; they won't chase a ball or shred a towel. The need to stick themselves (via fish-hook claws) to a much smaller animal and bite it to death, doesn't sublimate. Well-fed cats kill for the sport. Loved cats tend to stick to mice and rats. Abandoned and feral cats will kill whatever animal is closest. Once they've got that habit, they never lose it.

          • by sg_oneill ( 159032 ) on Monday May 28, 2018 @06:34AM (#56687542)

            Cats can be taught. My cat is a hunter, but always brings me her catch for approval. So I started rewarding her if she brought a mice, rat or pigeon (pest species around here), and locking her in the bathroom for an hour if she killed anything else. She stopped catching the mudlarks and wrens and now they thrive around the yard and she just ignores them, while going full terminator on any pigeon or mouse that lucks out and enters the yard.

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        These people from Google are clearly *reducing* the number of cats running around outside

        Not if they're fucking feeding them.

      • It's not really Google, it's a group of people at Google. And no, Google does not make an effort to only hire geniuses, but they probably do hire people who think they are geniuses.

    • Well, if Hillary is behind that all, that would be hilarious.

      Anyway, you seem to be a debutant, you forgot to end with "F1RST POST!"

  • I love cats. I have 3, Iâ(TM)ve paid thousands of dollars to keep them healthy and happy, I took time off to take one of my older cats to a veterinary oncologist when she had cancer. Iâ(TM)m 100% a cat person.

    But I keep my cats inside my apartment. Theyâ(TM)re efficient murderers and itâ(TM)s wholly irresponsible to let your cats roam, both for their health and the health of the wildlife and environment.

    The roaming cats should be trapped. If they belong to someone, huge punitive fines should be levied. The feeding stations should be removed. All the trapped cats should be spayed or neutered.

    Why does nobody there seem to have any conscience or regard for the rest of the world?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The feeding stations should be removed.

      Which would make the cats even more dangerous to local wildlife. While cats do hunt when well-fed, they hunt even more when they need to hunt to eat.

      All the trapped cats should be spayed or neutered.

      Pretty sure even TFS mentioned that the cats were spayed or neutered.

      • The feeding stations should be removed.

        Which would make the cats even more dangerous to local wildlife. While cats do hunt when well-fed, they hunt even more when they need to hunt to eat.

        I believe that there is an implicit "...from the designated owl-nesting area" attached to that "should be removed." bit.
        Maybe a cat got it.

        • I believe that there is an implicit "...from the designated owl-nesting area" attached to that "should be removed." bit.

          Maybe a cat got it.

          ***sighs*** yes, I assumed that. Stop feeding the cats, and they'll get hungry. Some will, no doubt, move on. Others will look at the owls and say "well, yesterday I had a good bit of kibble, but that's gone now. And you're about dinner-sized...."

          • by drnb ( 2434720 )

            Stop feeding the cats, and they'll get hungry. Some will, no doubt, move on. Others will look at the owls and say "well, yesterday I had a good bit of kibble, but that's gone now. And you're about dinner-sized...."

            Cats, especially ferals, will prefer live prey over kibble. Kibble is what cats eat when they can get nothing else, and that includes house cats.

          • It's not that they'll move on, so much as that they will start congregating at the new feeding station.
            Also, it's not that they are eating owls. They're eating baby owls.

            Recently I watched a local cat climbing a tree and then sitting there for quite a while with sparrows literally teasing it perching mere centimeters out of its reach - resting on a twig which clearly can't support a cat's weight.
            And they don't even have the talons or beaks of owls. They don't need it.
            It's clear to them and to the cat that t

      • by drnb ( 2434720 )

        The feeding stations should be removed.

        Which would make the cats even more dangerous to local wildlife. While cats do hunt when well-fed, they hunt even more when they need to hunt to eat.

        When presented with live prey and hard dry and crunchy pet food at a feeder the feral cats will prefer the live prey. Well fed housecats eating meaty canned food will kill birds and other prey instinctively on sight and opportunity, and then sometimes drag the carcases into the house to show you.

        The larger point you are missing is the location of the feeders. If your logic were true they are drawing feral cats towards the burrowing owls, not away from them. The feeders need to move out of the owl habitat

    • Owls are also efficient murderers. You should let your cats out and have them catch the killer owls.

      • It's not a question which species is a more efficient killer but which one is more endangered.
        So unless those "cats" are actually code for releasing tigers into parks...

    • I love cats. [...] But I keep my cats inside my apartment. [...] Why does nobody there seem to have any conscience or regard for the rest of the world?

      You have enslaved a cat. It wants to roam the world, and you are keeping it trapped in an unnatural environment for your amusement. And you claim you love cats? Maybe you should get a pet rat, they like living in your house anyway.

    • But I keep my cats inside my apartment. Theyâ(TM)re efficient murderers and itâ(TM)s wholly irresponsible to let your cats roam

      Proper house cats don't tend to roam far, don't tend to climb to the tops of trees and as such don't tend to do much killing in the residential neighbourhoods. I would wager our cat made a kill maybe once every 6 months, and it was usually mice though on one occasion she did destroy a bird in the neighbours yard. Quite tame compared to her murderous owner (me) who called the council for a mouse inspection and then proceeded to commit genocide on the population that was eating its way through shed walls in t

      • Feral cats CAN be human-socialized, but it takes YEARS & lots of effort. One of my cats was born feral & rescued by me from my office parking lot along with her kittens. I got them all spayed/neutered & adopted out the kittens, but she was too feral, so I decided to keep her as an "outside cat" (coaxing her inside into a large condo cage every night with food, letting her out in the morning... the cage was necessary because she fought with my other cat). The hardest 6 months of my life came when

        • Indeed. Like I said, puts people off owning animals. Most people aren't in it for the challenge.

          I had a feral cat too growing up (mum decided to feed it, thought it belonged to someone else), well it had babies. That first generation of cat was our house cat. Absolute bitch of a cat. Nice enough but just a plain grumpy cat. After 14 years the old senile thing thought it knew better than my mother who moved it from under the shade of her car, and climbed back under the car to its own demise (not a horrible d

      • Proper house cats don't tend to roam far, don't tend to climb to the tops of trees

        jumping jesus in a pogo stick! everybody knows that a burrow owl lives in a hole! in the ground! why the hell do you think they call it a âoeburrow owlâ anyway?!

        • Proper house cats don't tend to roam far, don't tend to climb to the tops of trees

          jumping jesus in a pogo stick! everybody knows that a burrow owl lives in a hole! in the ground! why the hell do you think they call it a âoeburrow owlâ anyway?!

          Indeed they do. They also rarely do so in residential properties. Maybe you should read the first part of the sentence you quoted and think about it in the context of a 750 acre wildlife park while you're jumping for Jesus with in a pogo stick. ... whatever that means.

      • I have three cats, all of them were feral. It's true one was only about two months old when I got her, so she doesn't really count, but the other two were adults (one was about two years old, the other probably about five years old). Because of my experience, I can safely say you don't have a clue what you are talking about.

    • Out here in rural farmland, my efficient killers take out disease-spreading rodents and crop-destroying insects, primarily, and in the warm months don't take much food from me - they eat out. The don't seem to bother birds or rabbits, and the squirrels stay a good distance out... Maybe living in the city is the basic disease and problem. Out here deer *must* be hunted because all their natural predators were wiped out by settlers early on, and they kill people via auto collisions frequently (as well as o
  • by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Sunday May 27, 2018 @08:22AM (#56682456)

    People blaming Google in this case are just plain stupid. The finger should be pointed at all the horrible pet owners that don't neuter their pets and then allow those un-neutered pets to escape to the "wild". It also looks like this is a group of Google's employees, which doesn't mean "Google". Finally, these volunteers are doing exactly the best possible thing- capturing and neutering them all and trying to home those cats they can. The problems will quickly diminish over just one generation.

    • "Finally, these volunteers are doing exactly the best possible thing"

      No, the best possible thing would be to have the cats that can't be given homes euthanized.
      There is an excess of feral cats in the US, and even domesticated cats SIMPLY ENJOY KILLING THINGS. They're *cats*. That's what they do. And burrowing owls are an easy, very easy, prey.

      • >"No, the best possible thing would be to have the cats that can't be given homes euthanized."

        To many people, me included, killing the cats is not the best thing at all. The best possible thing would be to ALSO protect the owls, by taking steps to protect them- like moving the feeding stations away from nesting sites, putting up deterrents, etc.

      • "There is an excess of feral cats in the US, and even domesticated cats SIMPLY ENJOY KILLING THINGS. They're *cats*. That's what they do.

        As a cat owner for many years I emphasize the accuracy of this remark. The Felidae are the most successful predator family on Earth, they are the top predators on every continent on which they are found (and haven't been hunted to extinction as the American Lion was). Those adorable behaviors of house cats are adaptations to hunting - "playing" with small things, their ability to site motionless but alert for hours, pouncing etc.

        We had rodent invasion problems constantly in our present house until we got th

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        even domesticated cats SIMPLY ENJOY KILLING THINGS

        I disagree strongly with that.

        Domesticated cats like eating things, and sometimes want to eat live prey they've caught.

        What they really like is playing with things. My cats get distraught when they kill a mouse, because it means it'll no longer play with them.

      • Can we also spay and neuter the googlers?

    • Finally, these volunteers are doing exactly the best possible thing- capturing and neutering them all and trying to home those cats they can.

      Second best. Capturing and shooting them would be the best. Rehoming feral cats is a great way of turning people off cats in general.

    • by DogDude ( 805747 )
      Finally, these volunteers are doing exactly the best possible thing- capturing and neutering them all and trying to home those cats they can. The problems will quickly diminish over just one generation.

      That's not true. The un-fixed cats will continue to breed. The correct thing to do is to trap, spay/neuter, and release. Cats are territorial, and if there are fixed cats in a particular territory, the un-fixed cats won't live and breed there. People who specialize in fighting pet overpopulation have b
      • >"That's not true"..."The correct thing to do is to trap, spay/neuter, and release."

        ??? That is exactly what they are doing (by the way it is "castrate/spay", "neutering" is not sex specific, it is the removal of either male or female sex organs). They are trapping and neutering and trying to re-home them and marking and releasing those that can't be re-homed. And that will, indeed, help to end the problem because neutered cats cannot breed.

        So what exactly is "untrue" that you are siting? It sounds

        • by DogDude ( 805747 )
          Removing them from the environment doesn't help. They need to be trapped, fixed, and re-released.
          • >"Removing them from the environment doesn't help. They need to be trapped, fixed, and re-released."

            That is what they are doing. That is what I said.

          • >"Removing them from the environment doesn't help. They need to be trapped, fixed, and re-released."

            Ah, now I see the disconnect. I misread the summary- they rehome kittens and friendly adults and only neuter the unadoptable one that they release.

            It would be better if they did what I thought they were doing- neutering them all; both the ones adopted out and the ones released.

  • "Everybody knows the burrow owl lives in a hole in the ground. Why the hell do you think they call it a burrow owl, anyway?"

    ...

    "You know what, Stuart? I like you. You're not like the other people, here, in the trailer park."

  • Now Google has the extermination of a species in on its belt. Lets see what the upgrade to next in the physical space.

    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      Google hasn't exterminated the species. The major reason for the decline is humans bulldozing their habitats to built shit, not cats.

    • Now Google has the extermination of a species in on its belt.

      Well, except for the detail that the burrowing owl is "a species of special concern".

      Which, for those who are unaware, means that the species is NOT Threatened, nor is it Endangered. What it means is that someone in CA's government has decided that the animal in question MIGHT, MAYBE, SOMEDAY become Endangered.

      IOW, when the Burrowing Owl becomes Endangered, we can apply the usual rules for such, and until then, the birds can be treated like any

      • So, no protection at all should be applied until a species becomes actually endangered? We should watch the range and number of wild species collapse until its survival is actually endangered before doing something about it?

        Hmm, seems like it would make much more sense to observe species moving in the direction of becoming endangered, and take modest measures to prevent that from happening in the first place. Waiting for a crisis before taking any action is stupid.

        The fact is the burrowing owl is disappeari [ucdavis.edu]

        • It is actually in the interest to owners of private property to prevent the species from becoming endangered, because if that happens legal restrictions go into effect on what they can do with land with endangered populations on it. But if steps are taken to prevent this from happening, those legal restrictions do not ever go into effect.

          It's definitely more in the interest of the owls. If even a hint of those legal restrictions comes to bear, those owls will be dead / nests destroyed before the ink is dry. Nope, no endangered species here!

    • by clovis ( 4684 )

      Now Google has the extermination of a species in on its belt. Lets see what the upgrade to next in the physical space.

      My guess is that in the case of the Google and cats story, after those owls are exterminated, the land will no longer contain a protected species and can be turned into a Google office tower or a space for bicycle racks.

  • It's about 100 cats (Score:5, Informative)

    by findoutmoretoday ( 1475299 ) on Sunday May 27, 2018 @08:37AM (#56682498)
    " To date, GCat has rescued, fostered and homed over 100 adoptable cats and kittens."
    • 100 poor families now have to put up with a godless feral cat. 100 families won't ever get another cat after that bad experience.

  • Google's corporate 767 also is based at local Moffett Field. Moffett Field is home to many burrowing owls.

    The question is exactly how many burrowing owls have personally been killed by Eric Schmidt? When he could drive the extra 6 miles to San Jose International and fly out of that airport.

    Google is an evil company, no doubt!

  • Sure, blame the cats. Don't blame the people who don't have their cats spayed or neutered, who let their unfixed cats roam during the day and night rather than be kept inside, who think nothing of tossing cats and kittens outside to fend for themselves.

    It's as if the cats are doing what comes naturally, but the supposed smartest animal on the planet has played no role in this situation.

  • This doesn't really have anything to do specifically with Google or borrowing owls. The cat people and the bird people have been squabbling about this issue all over the place for ages. I worked for a few years with a feral cat trap-neuter-release (TNR) group, and this is what I learned:

    1) Both the cat and the bird people are entirely unwilling to listen to each other. They are emotionally invested in their cause and the other side is pure evil.

    2) Feral cats do undoubtedly hurt bird populations, inc

  • Wait till one of them points out the superiority of white males on some forum, in his spare time.

  • You can't have ecological issues to spur global warming, climate change, and other regulations against your competitors if you aren't single-handedly destroying 80% of the world's coral reefs with your yacht anchor or putting feral cat feeding stations next to endangered wildlife. This is just good business.
  • Cat found dead after a 4th encounter by animal control. Not suspicious at all. Who is to blame here again?
  • Kill a cat today. There are far too many of those filthy, allergenic vermin around.

    -jcr

  • About Google seemingly doing the "nice, warm, huggy feeling" thing, and ultimately causing bigger problems in the longer term.

  • This is a metaphor for the endless war between progressives and conservatives. Progressives think they know better and want to "do good" and change the world. Conservatives think that systems are complex and your efforts to mess with them will have unintended consequences.

    • Since conservatives are astounding polluters, I can already say that your metaphor makes very little sense.

  • Microsoft employees, I hear via FNews, have started a similar program. They are importing Great Horned Owls and other large aerial predators to reduce the number of feral cats - or just cats in general.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    And as a result they should be destroyed if not adoptable, not released back into the wild where they can kill native species

    The huffington post had a really good article "Cats as Invasive Species? The Less-Known Facts About Their Wildlife Impact" that describes this and the research behind it

  • Bay Area tech employees won't be happy until the rest of the world is as sterile as they are.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun

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