Mickey Mouse may have put Disneyland on the map 55 years ago, but today, a colony of feral cats helps keep the famous theme park rodent-free.
No one is quite sure when the cats moved in, but feral cats have made their home on Disneyland Resort’s grounds for at least a quarter century, and likely since the park opened in 1955. Rather than try to evict them, Disneyland staff have set an example as a corporate giant, embracing the cats as an integral part of the park’s everyday operations.
“We view them as partners. It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship with them,” explains Gina Mayberry, who oversees the Circle D Ranch where Disneyland’s animals are housed. The cats, whom she dubs “natural exterminators,” see to it that Disneyland’s rodent population is kept in check.
The cats are free to come and go as they please, but don’t expect to spot one on your next visit—Mayberry says guests rarely see them, as they hide during the daytime. According to a May article in the LA Times, an estimated 200 cats join Disneyland Resort’s overnight maintenance team after the crowds have gone home, prowling the parks’ manicured greenery in search of mice.
Feral cats have been welcome at Disneyland as long as 25-year veteran Mayberry can remember, but it was only seven years ago that animal care staff at the park took it upon themselves to do right by their feline employees and institute Trap-Neuter-Return. Aided by local organizations including FixNation, Disneyland developed a lasting protocol for the humane care of the resort’s cats.
“What we do is trap the cats, get them spayed or neutered and make sure they get a wellness check and release them back into the population,” says Mayberry. Although Disneyland doesn’t monitor the total number of cats, she says the program has been quite successful at adopting out kittens and “maintaining a balance” between cat population and the Disneyland environment.
After the cats are neutered and returned to the park grounds, they receive continuing managed care. They dine at five discreet feeding stations throughout the resort, which are strategically placed to minimize interaction with cast members and resort guests.
“We want to keep them feral so they don’t find the need to associate or interact with people,” says Mayberry.
It’s refreshing to see such a high-profile park treating all its visitors and inhabitants humanely—not just the human ones. Disneyland Resort’s TNR program proves that large, high-profile organizations and feral cat colonies can not only peacefully share the same property, but also strike up a mutually beneficial relationship that improves conditions for both parties. Or as Mayberry puts it, “I truly believe that they do benefit us as well we benefit them.”
Disneyland is a place of imagination, of escapism, a place where the unimaginable is a reality and fantasy comes to life.
So, it seemed funny to me that, during my last visit, I noticed almost everyone at a particular restaurant in Frontierland getting excited and shutterbug-ish when they saw a cat.
Not someone dressed in a cat costume, mind you, but a genuine, flesh and blood, living cat.
Had someone, instead of spending a few days apart from Mr. Whiskers, smuggled in their pet? Had the Disney fortune been left to a favorite cat, one that now walks Disneyland with an air of superiority, threatening to fire any employee that sasses back?
The truth is that Disneyland is home to numerous (no one knows how many, exactly) feral cats.
Well, it’s an ironic statement to make, but the truth is…Disney hates mice. The real ones, that is.
Not long after construction was completed on Disneyland, alley cats from all over Orange County realized they had a new place to live and so they went with a ‘Heigh-Ho-Hisssss’. Disneyland officials considered taking action against these new denizens (probably only because they had gotten in without paying), but quickly realized that what rodent problem that had begun was now long gone and under control.
So, like the ducks that fly in to swim in the gasoline filled, er…uh, rainbow colored water of the Rivers of America and the squirrels that subsist on hamburger buns and discarded churro remnants, the cats became permanent fixtures.
In 1957, Sleeping Beauty’s castle received a makeover–well, more like a gutting.
A walk-through attraction was added to celebrate the theatrical release of the animated feature of the same name.
Prior to this, the castle was simply something whose drawbridge you passed over and not much more. When construction began to modify the interior, however, Disney employees discovered the empty castle had become home to upwards of 100 cats. The immediate construction pretty much negated any long-term plans the cats may have had as far as living out their years inside of their own castle, but one thing did remain for some time: fleas. Lots and lots of fleas.
June 11, 2010, 7:35AM MT
By Lisa Warren, Best Friends Network volunteer
With the help of Best Friends Catnippers and FixNation, Disneyland manages a successful TNR program for the hundreds of free roaming felines that roam the resort at night.
Disneyland, “the happiest place on earth,” is home to more than just a wealth of fun attractions and memorable Disney characters — it is home to at least 200 feral cats that roam the premises at night. The cats began venturing into the park many years ago when Disneyland first opened. However, instead of treating the wandering felines as a nuisance, Disneyland decided to regard them as a potential benefit.
Back in 2001, Best Friends Catnippers learned about the numerous free roaming felines at Disneyland from a concerned volunteer. Soon after, Disneyland’s environmental division permitted Catnippers to bring in a team of veterinarians to spay and neuter the cats on premise. Later, Catnippers volunteered to sponsor the fixing of all the cats at a local veterinary hospital. Today, Gina Mayberry, head of Circle D Ranch at Disneyland, oversees this successful TNR (trap/neuter/return) program now assisted by Catnipper’s later program, FixNation.
Managing the free roaming felines
At a place so large and involved as Disneyland, it is difficult to keep on top of all the wily felines. But Circle D Ranch, with the help of FixNation, does quite a respectable job. Together they work year round to stabilize the population of community cats at the resort and ensure them a pleasant lifestyle. Five feeding stations are set up around the resort and cats are continuously trapped, fixed and released. Any kittens who are trapped are immediately put up for adoption.
“Our goal is to fix as many as we can,” says Mayberry.
One setback to this goal, however, is dumping. The inhumane dumping of cats at the resort is highly discouraged and remains one of the primary causes of feline homelessness. While it may seem like the easiest option, it is neither smart, practical nor humane.
Working as a team
Every night, when all the diligent employees come out to make the park crystal clean, the free roaming felines partake in the clean up too. As an outdoor resort, Disneyland is bound to have some unwanted visitors occasionally. But Disneyland’s cats, as natural pest exterminators, do their crucial part in helping to keep the resort rodent-free.
“There is a great deal of lush vegetation throughout the resort which often will attract rodents, and the feral cats assist in keeping the rodent population down,” says Mayberry.
Free of salary, the Disneyland cats gladly do this much-appreciated job and help to make Disneyland an even happier place to be.