Planned Feralhood, which uses humane methods to keep the local feral cat population under control, needs financial help for the coming year. The organization’s Trap/Neuter/Return program has become a model for other communities, and it’s worthy of our support.

Planned Feralhood, which is headed by Kathy Runnion of Inverness Park, has been taking care of West Marin’s feral cats for eight years, and for the past four years, Kathy told me last year, no kittens have been born in the targeted areas. Colonies of feral cats that were exploding in size eight years ago are now stable and healthy, the cats living out their lives without reproducing, she said.

Kathy Runnion of Planned Feralhood feeds cats at their new shelter in a barn near Nicasio Reservoir.

Volunteer feeders help keep the colonies localized. Between these colonies and the cats in its shelter, Planned Feralhood has been taking care of an average of 75 cats a day, Kathy added.

When Planned Feralhood was faced with finding new quarters last year, donations made it possible. There are now two shelters for the cats: one at Kathy’s home and one in a well-maintained barn near Nicasio Reservoir. I urge readers to support them.

Checks should be made payable to ASCS. The Animal Sanctuary and Care Society is Planned Feralhood’s IRS 501C (3) fiscal sponsor. Please mail your tax-deductible contributions to Planned Feralhood, PO Box 502, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

West Marin’s Gray fox population is steadily growing. Nowadays they can be seen in places as public as downtown Point Reyes Station. A year ago, Kathy, who is also a postal clerk, spotted this pair out the back window of the post office and called me, so I hurried downtown and photographed them. The foxes were sunning themselves on the roof of a Toby’s Feed Barn lean-to that adjoins the Building Supply Center lumber yard.

At Mitchell cabin, as has been noted, two or three foxes show up most evenings. In years past, I’ve seen the number of foxes and raccoons in West Marin occasionally soar only to have epidemics of distemper or some other disease cause their populations to crash.

A curious family of raccoons steps inside to inspect my kitchen.

Obviously the more raccoons and foxes there are in a region, the easier it is for disease to spread from one to another. I just hope nothing like that happens anytime soon.

Eight deer and a cat in the field below Mitchell cabin.

Unlike foxes and raccoons, West Marin’s blacktail deer are able to live in large groups without spreading diseases among themselves. The only significant exception has been infrequent outbreaks of bluetongue, a viral disease spread by a small, biting insect called a midge.

Bluetongue gets its name from the fact that the lips and tongues of  animals with the disease swell, giving a blue appearance to the mouths of some of them.

Western gray squirrels are also vulnerable to insect bites. In other parts of the West, epidemics of mange, which is spread by mites, is a major cause of death among gray squirrels. This squirrel at Mitchell cabin, however, is starting the new year looking healthy.

And may you too have a healthy, happy new year notwithstanding the squirrely folks you may run into.