Since its earliest days, Disney has embraced animals. From Mickey to Donald to Piglet to Dumbo, Walt Disney's kingdom has always been densely populated with all sorts of species. Almost all of them have been animated or, if you go to the parks, humans dressed up in animal costumes.

However, not all of the animals at the California theme park are fictional characters. A colony of feral cats has made a home in the park, largely avoiding the heavy crowds during the day by sleeping in bushes and behind-the-scenes areas, and then emerging at night to hunt for mice and other small prey.

Disney's PR department declined to comment on the feral cat population when we contacted them. Luckily, we were able to gather some intel from Renée Wicklund, a recent visitor who spotted a feral cat and asked one of the maintenance workers about the feline.

Wicklund, a writer and lawyer from New York, told us, "Any multi-acre park in an urban area will probably have some number of feral cats, so I wasn't surprised when we saw a cat hanging out in the vegetation of the 'woodland' area. I was, however, surprised that the cat looked healthy, well-fed, and reasonably acclimated to people. When we informed a Disney maintenance worker about the cat, she told us that, unlike so many other parks, Disney addresses the issue by allowing the cats to reside as a maintained feral colony. The cats are spayed/neutered, and they enjoy their own protected feeding-and-litter area, along with regular veterinary care."

Not a bad life for a cat, especially considering the famously beautiful (and consistently mild) weather in sunny California.

Wicklund isn't the only guest who has noticed the cats. There's a website, complete with Instagram and Twitter accounts, that chronicles the lives of these lifelong residents.

A Disneyland cat hanging out on a dock along the Jungle CruiseA cat hangs out on a dock along the Jungle Cruise. (Photo: Sam Howzit/flickr)

The LA Times published an article on the cats, reporting that rumors about the colony go as far back as 1955. The unconfirmed story suggests that Walt Disney came upon the residents in the 1950s as they were holed up in Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Rather than cull the population and risk the wrath of animal lovers, someone at Disney realized that the cats could actually help with another problem the park was having: Mickeys, or rather mice, had discovered the never-ending fallen crumbs at the park and made a home. With the help of the cats who were fed, fixed, rid of fleas, and given free rein of the park, both problems were solved.

Actor Ryan Gosling humorously brought attention to the cat colony when talking to Conan O’Brien back in 2011. He said, "There is a belief that Disney has been breeding an army of cats." More specifically, "commando cats" who eat the mice. And while that last part might be true, the first part about them breeding is thankfully inaccurate. Based on the maintenance staff worker's explanation as well as the Disney Cats website, Disney does practice TNR, or trap, neuter and return, a system that helps to curb the growth of cat populations and one that is praised and recommended by many feral cat organizations.

A cat naps in the grass near the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in DisneylandThis kitty is napping in the grass near the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. (Photo: Loren Javier/flickr)

Alley Cat Allies says about the practice on their website, "Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)," which involves humanely trapping stray and feral cats and having them vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and "eartipped" before returning them to their outdoor home, is the only effective method of stabilizing outdoor cat colonies. As a result of TNR, the birth of new kittens in the colony slows down and eventually ends when all the cats are spayed/neutered."

If you can't get to California to visit the purring inhabitants yourself, you can always find them on social media napping, exploring and licking themselves.

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At Disneyland, feral cats rule
The cats receive terrific care from the park in exchange for dealing with non-Mickey mice.