Pounce Sanctuary must leave county to survive

A longtime feline rescue operation and its owner are moving out of San Luis Obispo County after tensions with county code enforcement but vow to continue local efforts to rescue and coordinate adoptions for cats in need.

Pounce director Julie Olson and the nearly 100 nonadoptable elderly, feral or special-needs cats she cares for will move to a three-bedroom home on a five-acre fenced olive orchard in Oroville, nearly 300 miles north of San Luis Obispo in Butte County.

“Oroville offers the best sanctuary for the buck that I could find,” Olson wrote in a letter to supporters explaining the move.

A $165,000 donation in 2007 by the late Warren and Doris Farkas of Los Osos has allowed Pounce to begin payments on the $225,000 Oroville property.

Olson says her sanctuary is being “forced to move” by San Luis Obispo County code enforcement, which in January of last year deemed that the two-bedroom home, out of which Pounce operated on the 1800 block of Fearn Avenue in Los Osos, was in violation of planning and building codes for the residential neighborhood.

The families and older couples in Olson’s neighborhood had long complained about the smells, feces and traffic associated with Pounce, which started operating at that location in 1997. According to Olson, the location was permitted in 2000 by county Animal Services to house 40 cats and passed regular inspections.

“While we are very sympathetic to the plight of the animals and that she’s doing a good deed,” said Art Trinidade of county code enforcement around the time of the citation, “she’s just doing it in the wrong place.”

Following an order to cease operations at that address, Olson relocated all but 10 of the cats by April. Many were moved to foster families or were adopted, and the North County Humane Society has housed about 30 for only $15 a day.

“I wish we could buy a place here,” said Olson, “but with SLO County coming down on us so hard and so fast, that made it discouraging.”

Olson will rent out her house in Los Osos and calls her move to Oroville “open-ended.”

A Cal Poly graduate and marriage and family therapist, Olson has accepted a teaching position with the University of San Francisco at a satellite campus in Sacramento. She said she might stay in Oroville or hire a caretaker for the home so she can return to San Luis Obispo County.

Pounce, she assures, will continue to operate locally through a network of about 10 volunteers and five foster homes. Volunteers will work to trap, spay and neuter, and release or socialize feral cats. Other cats in need will be provided foster homes and medical care until adoptions can be arranged. As a last resort, cats that are impossible to adopt will be sent to live in the Oroville sanctuary, which Olson predicts could house a maximum of 150 cats.

Three Pounce board members will work in Oroville, and three will continue to work in San Luis Obispo County to raise the $3,000 to $4,000 a month needed to feed, spay and neuter, clean up after and find homes for cats in the county.

Olson still has hopes to someday open a storefront cat shelter in San Luis Obispo County.

“About once a month you want to quit,” said Olson. “People are hassling. Animals are dying … but we can help. There are so many happy endings.”