The Stark County Humane Society canceled its free feral cat spay/neuter program. Jill Kirsch, one of three approved trappers in the program, believes the action was retaliatory against her for speaking out against the recent seizure of 38 cats that she says were euthanized for no reason.
The Stark County Humane Society has canceled its free feral cat spay/neuter program, a weekly clinic to control the county’s feral cat population.
Jill Kirsch, one of three approved trappers in the program, claims the action was retaliatory against her and others for speaking out about the recent seizure of 38 cats at a Lake Township residence that she said were euthanized for no reason.
The Humane Society defended its decision to euthanize the cats, saying it was to protect other healthy animals in its care. But, it would not say why the feral cat program was canceled. Its own veterinarian, who performed the surgeries for the feral cat program, said no one has told her why the clinic was shut down, either.
Wild Cat Wednesdays at the Humane Society of Stark County kicked off last July as a 90-day trial. By six months into the program, Dr. Kimberley Carter had spayed and neutered about 150 feral cats brought in by trappers Kirsch, Toby Franks and Deb Kenski.
Based on those numbers, Franks estimates the program prevented more than 300 kittens from being born — kittens who may have ended up at the Humane Society or in local neighborhoods breeding another generation of feral cats.
On Jan. 7, Kirsch, Franks, and Carter received an email from Jackie Godbey of the Humane Society, which read:
“Dear Dr. Carter, Toby, and Jill,
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for participating in Wild Cat Wednesday(s). We have now completed the trial period. At this time, we have chosen to suspend (the program) until further notice. On behalf of our furry friends, thank you!”
The email was sent the same day The Repository visited the shelter to discuss Kirsch’s complaint.
ASKING FOR HELP
It would be hard to dispute that by the middle of last summer, Mariann Hoover had more cats than she could handle.
Hoover had 53 cats living inside and around her two-story townhouse near Mayfair Road NW in Lake Township when declining health made keeping up with them impossible.
Hoover, 65, who worked in education and travel, is now living on disability income because of her health issues. She considers herself to be a rescuer, not a hoarder. Hoarders, she said, do not find other homes for the animals. She said she placed at least five cats last summer alone.
The cats, she said, accumulated over a period of 11 years, as transient renters left theirs behind or turned their cats free after a landlord discovered them.
In July, as her health worsened, Hoover said she reached out for help. She called rescue organizations around the state asking if they could place her cats. All said either they were full, or that they could not help outside of their own county.
Page 2 of 5 - Hoover didn’t know at the time, but it was Kirsch, a member of the Humane Society, who notified the shelter.
Knowing that the Humane Society shelter already had many cats, and Hoover could be emotionally traumatized by the removal of all the cats at once, Kirsch requested that the Humane Society allow Hoover to surrender a few animals at a time.
According to Kirsch, she was told by Godbey, “We don’t do things that way.”
After Hoover’s neighbors filed a complaint with the Stark County Health Department, they scheduled a visit.
According to John Pavel, the registered sanitarian who handled the case, department policy requires that the Humane Society be brought in to collect animals that are being removed from a home.
On Nov. 5, both departments paid a visit to Hoover’s home. She said she was told it would be a “walk-through.”
The “walk-through,” contends Hoover, began when two Humane Society employees arrived in Hoover’s living room with cat carriers.
According to Hoover, who said she was present the entire time, the two men aggressively chased down the cats with catch poles and snares sending them scattering and screeching throughout the house.
She said her bed mattresses and night tables were overturned, and that the men showed no concern for her or the cats as they went about the seizure.
Dr. Ron DeRhodes, a Humane Society board member and its former staff veterinarian was present during the seizure. He said that to someone who has never witnessed one, it probably was a “cruel, horrible sight.”
“There were cats hitting the walls and the ceiling,” he said. “It’s a horrible thing to go through.”
The 38 cats captured that day were taken to the Humane Society and immediately euthanized. Executive Director Lou Criswell, who was not present during the seizure, told The Repository that the cats were both feral and sick.
Both Hoover and Kirsch contend the cats were not only healthy, but also social and loving. So much so that Kirsch said she was able to gather the remaining 13 cats with ease in about 20 minutes, and most have been placed with other families. Hoover’s daughter took one cat, and Hoover was permitted to keep one.
Both Hoover’s landlord and an employee of Hoover’s father, who were outside the house most of the time during the seizure, said the Humane Society employees did what they needed to do.
DeRhodes said roughly half a dozen cats were completely feral.
His decision to euthanize, he said, was based on the family employee’s assertion that Hoover had been treated for a skin condition in the past year.
Page 3 of 5 - “Some of the cats I felt were in very good condition,” he said, adding that it would have required scraping the cats’ skin to determine if they were harboring any skin problems or mites. “I could not see it on the cats that I looked at.”
DeRhodes said if there is any chance of a cat having mange, they won’t risk other animals getting it.
“That’s why all of them were put down. Plus, we didn’t have room in the shelter,” DeRhodes said. “If we had room, possibly we would have tested them. But we had no place to put them. It’s just the only way it can be done. To someone who loves those animals, it’s horrendous, but that’s the only way to do it.”
Alice Jeromin, a veterinarian who has worked with Hoover and her cats, said Hoover’s skin condition is not transferable to cats.
Paul DePasquale, Director of Environmental Health at the Stark County Health Department, said he figured the Humane Society would rescue the cats if they were healthy, and he was not aware they had been euthanized.
DePasquale said that he will re-evaluate the department’s procedure to ensure that more animals can be adopted rather than euthanized. He said he hopes to develop a list of rescue organizations willing to accompany health workers on seizures.
CATCH AND RELEASE
Maryann Hoover’s former house is being renovated. Her landlord, Norm Lord, admits he turned a blind eye to the growing number of cats Hoover was keeping.
Hoover has moved into a small apartment with Fluffy, the one cat she was permitted to keep. She had considered all of the cats her pets and has names and descriptions of each listed on notebook paper. Before she found out that they had been euthanized, she had hoped to hear back about their adoptions. She said all were immunized and most were spayed and neutered. Four that were not fixed were kept in cages until Hoover could afford to do so.
Kirsch, the cat rescuer who took on the remaining cats, said that aside from a cleanliness issue with litter boxes, the cats were well cared for, with no signs of upper-respiratory illness, fleas, or mites. Nails were clipped, ears were clean and noses and eyes were not runny.
“It’s easy to say she’s a hoarder,” said Kirsch, “But, you can see how it happens. People know you’re a cat person and they drop them off.”
Criswell called Hoover a classic hoarder, and said the Humane Society had no choice but to remove the animals and euthanize them. The pets that were seized, he said, would not make good family pets.
He said it is his job to deal with these types of situations “rationally and dispassionately.”
Page 4 of 5 - When asked in an email about the decision to cancel Wild Cat Wednesdays, Jackie Godbey responded, “We started this program on a trial run.”
Criswell, when reached by phone, referred all questions to Jim Fidler, president of the Board of Trustees, but would not provide contact information.
Questions submitted to Fidler last Wednesday via email to the Humane Society were forwarded to Fidler.
His email response, forwarded by Godbey, said, “our actions and decisions on a daily basis are predicated upon concern for the welfare of the canine and feline population in our care. We implement various programs on a trial basis in an effort to determine what procedures can best help us achieve our goal of preserving the health and safety of the animals in our care so they can be adopted to loving homes.”
He wrote that the information gathered may be used to write grant requests, and they had gathered sufficient data to do that.
Follow-up questions sent by email to the Humane Society came back “undeliverable.”
Franks believes the feral cat program did not cost the Humane Society a penny. All the materials and service for the program were donated by Carter, the veterinarian, Franks said.
The shelter would not confirm the program’s cost, saying it is irrelevant.
“The costs, if any, of implementing the trial program had no bearing on the decision to discontinue it,” Fidler said.
DeRhodes, also a board member, said he had never heard of the shelter’s Wild Cat Wednesdays program, but believes the Humane Society should not be involved in it. He said euthanizing feral cats is the better option.
“There’s nothing cruel about euthanasia,” he said. “There are so many out there without homes. To have a life where they are wandering around in the cold. (With euthanasia), there’s no struggle. No nothing. They go to sleep.”
For the three feral cat trappers, the timing is not only suspicious, but unfortunate.
Kitten season is just around the corner, and Franks said waves of kittens will be seen in March and April.
“Now is the time to be out there. It’s just really bad judgement to stop (the program) now, he said. “When they suspended it, I thought it was ironic. The timing of it seemed punitive, but I don’t know that for sure.”
Humane Society of Stark County
The Humane Society of Stark County is a private, charitable organization. According to its website, it is not a county agency and does not receive funding from the United Way. It says its service for sick and injured stray dogs and cats remains available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and one of its top priorities is investigation of cruelty to animals in the county.
Page 5 of 5 - In 2010, it reported revenue in the amount of $1.02 million and assets of $4.9 million. Its revenue minus expenses was $347,000.
sources: www.starkhumane.com and Form 990 return of income tax of tax-exempt organization.
What is a feral cat?
A feral cat is one that has reverted in some degree to a wild state. Feral cats originate from former domestic cats who were lost or abandoned and then learned to live outdoors or in environments involving little human contact, such as warehouses, factories or abandoned buildings. In most cases, feral cats are not completely wild because they still depend on people for their food source, whether it’s a caretaker who comes by once or twice a day, a dumpster outside a restaurant, garbage cans, or the like. Relatively few feral cats subsist only by hunting.
To what degree a feral cat is wild depends on several factors. Foremost is the age of the cat. Young kittens are more capable of being socialized and successfully reintroduced to domestic life than a feral adult.