Photo by Jack Clark
Photo by Jack Clark
Sunny the cat Photo courtesy of ARF
Sunny the cat
Photo courtesy of ARF

Sunny, the resident Nature Center cat, who held that post longer than most, has been removed by Riverside County, but numerous Sunny supporters seek her return.

A quartet of Hill locals publicly rallied behind Sunny, the Nature Center cat, on Thursday. The four spoke passionately during the public comment portion of the meeting of the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District Advisory Commission in Town Hall, urging the committee to save Sunny’s job.

As the Town Crier reported in the paper of July 9, concerned citizen Sue Nash filed a formal complaint with the county regarding Sunny’s presence in the food preparation area at the Nature Center, which is contrary to the county’s environmental health requirements. Riverside County Parks Resources Bureau Chief Keith Herron responded to her, first by attempting to restrict Sunny to the indoors and banning her from the kitchen. But neither directive was practicable owing to the many persons actively moving about in and around the center. Herron thereafter issued a directive that there would be no cats at the Nature Center.

Christine Rheaume was the first to speak. She stated she understood the technical public health concerns, but emphasized the Nature Center should be the one place most open to the presence of animals. It is unfortunate, she said, that instead, Sunny has been banned from the center when there have been no incidents of health problems due to cats.

Jacqueline Siff emphasized that Sunny is a wonderful greeter and a great mouser, and that she has kept down rodents at the center. There have been no illnesses associated with cats at the center, she informed the commission.

Janice Murasko speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting of the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District Advisory Commission in Town Hall. Photo by Jack Clark
Janice Murasko speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting of the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District Advisory Commission in Town Hall.
Photo by Jack Clark

Janice Murasko pointed out that since the complaint, hundreds of supportive people have come to the Nature Center, specifically to see Sunny. She offered practical solutions and offered to foot the bill for them herself: 1) all kitchen food preparation surfaces should be kept clean with antibacterial wipes; 2) the kitchen doors should be outfitted with self-closing springs or hinges; 3) Sunny should have her own cat water fountain away from the kitchen; 4) food should not be allowed to remain out in the open so as to be an attraction; and 5) if Sunny should get into the kitchen and up on a food preparation service, revert back to 1) and wipe the counter down with the antibacterial wipes.

Murasko said she would pay for it all: the antibacterial wipes, hinges and springs, and the cat water fountain. She said that in two days in front of the post office, more than 150 signatures were collected on a petition to save Sunny’s Nature Center job.

De Eskew told the commission she remembers the Nature Center having severe vermin problems before cats lived there, and that the cats provided good vermin control without ever causing any disease to humans. Without a cat, she said, we would have to be exposed to anti-vermin chemicals, which we don’t want.

One member of the commission, Martin H. Rosen, seemed somewhat sympathetic, acknowledging that the commission had to follow Brown Act rules, but asking, “Can’t we find a solution here? Can’t we turn it over to Keith [Herron] or Scott [Bangle] to come up with a solution?” But because the specific matter was not on the agenda, there was no discussion of the Sunny issue by the committee following the public comments.

Outside after the meeting, some of the speakers and other Sunny supporters gathered. Phyllis Mueller, who did not speak during the meeting, spoke up strongly that this was a ridiculous situation brought on by one person whom she viewed as “not rational,” saying, “I’ve never seen so much animosity and hatred for one person” as she has seen regarding this Sunny issue. “Negative energy leads toward death; positive energy leads toward life,” she said. “For no good reason, a lot of negative energy is shortening the lives of people here.”

The present physical location of Sunny was a matter of some disagreement among her supporters. Some said she was at the Animal Rescue Friends, others that she was still at the center. ARF did inform the Town Crier that it has located an available home for Sunny.

The commission meets next on Thursday, Sept. 3, at 1:30 p.m. at Park District Headquarters in Jurupa Valley. The TC will follow up on developments.

Jack Clark can be reached at [email protected]