San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is a thousand acres of trees, open ground, lakes, waterfalls, and biking trails. During the day, the park is full of people. It's a popular destination, for locals and tourists alike.
But when the sun sets out over the Pacific, the park becomes a different place. A whole new world emerges, the night world that the thousands who pass through the Park during the sunlit hours, will never see or understand.
One summer night, a young adult cat named Dark is abandoned in Golden Gate Park by the couple who had raised her from a kitten. And from the moment Dark realises they aren't coming back, she must begin from scratch, learning to survive in an alien world.
She quickly rediscovers her instincts, and they become her most important tool to get through the first few critical weeks. She learns to move first and ask questions later when her instinct tells her to run, or to climb a tree.
But it takes more than that to survive in the Park: it takes alliances, friends, learning who to trust. Dark's first friend in the Park is a raccoon named Rattail. It's Rattail who educates Dark on the complexities of the night world in the Park, and shows her the human components: the resident homeless population (the Cores), the people who live outside the Park but who are kindly disposed toward the animal population (the Warms), the oblivious masses (the Blanks), and the people who, through malice or inadvertence, mean harm (the Dangers).
With Rattail's help, Dark quickly finds her place in the Park. She makes friends with Casablanca, a white cat whose former owners moved away and left her behind. Casablanca knows secret ways into her old house; unbeknownst to the new resident, she sleeps in the garage in bad weather. Casablanca introduces Dark to the nightly feedings by a Warm couple, Jack and Angie.
Cats have a strong respect for the proper order of the natural world. But there are creatures and things in the Park that seem to fall outside that order, and Dark must come to grips with them: Ghosts, moving between the trees. Memorie the owl, an uncanny creature who watches over the Park's night world from the skies. Streetwise Sal, the tiny old woman who knows marvelous stories a thousand years old. Jesse, a Core with a home outside the Park, who speaks not only Dark's language, but the language of every creature in the Park.
The Park has a biosystem, and the biosystem has its own internal rhythm. The predators leave each other alone, understanding by instinct that the delicate balance of respect for each other's territory is crucial to their joint survival. The biggest danger to that balance is human.
But not every danger in the night world of the Park walks on two legs. One night, Dark and Rattail hear the first murmurings of a new predator in the Park: the coyote. This interloper, a mysterious trickster, neither knows the ways of the Park, nor cares about anything beyond surviving and thriving. The coyotes begin with the killing of the Park's fox population. From there, they move on to hunting the raccoons and the cats.
Dark forms a close bond with Jesse, the Warm Core who speaks her language. One night, gathering for their evening meal with the Warms Jack and Angie, Dark and her friends hear a piece of news that means no good to them: the city's administration, confronted with a public outcry about the coyotes, has responded by making it illegal to feed any "wild" animal on any public city street. While Jack and Angie are angry, and choose to ignore it, Rattail takes the news in the worst possible way: as a betrayal of trust by the human world. His anger changes him, driving a wedge between him and the two cats who are his closest companions. Because he can't or won't believe that not all people are alike, he mistrusts Jesse and draws back from Dark.
But when a coyote comes out of the trees and goes after all three of them, the situation comes to a head. And Rattail makes a choice that costs him his life.
Dark in the Park is a story of survival, cooperation, and trust. It's about the choices we all must make, and the loyalty to our real families: the ones we choose.