It’s taken a very long time, but there is now an unmistakable momentum. At long last, shelters across the country are beginning to reconsider their long-standing policies about stray, abandoned, and feral cats.
Among the pioneers were, of course, Jacksonville, FL, and San Jose, CA, with their “Feral Freedom” programs. Late last year, Sutter County, CA, decided to, as The Sacramento Bee put it, “no longer accept healthy wild cats at its animal shelter.” 
And last week, the community of Chico, about 50 miles north of Sutter County, announced a similar move. According to the Chico News & Review, the city’s shelter “is instituting a new policy to not accept healthy stray, feral and surrendered cats” beginning the first of next month. 
“We’re starting to rethink and re-examine how to do animal care,” explained Tracy Mohr, a 35-year veteran of the animal-welfare business, and animal-services manager at the Chico Animal Shelter. Referring to feral cats in particular, Mohr told the paper: “They’re scared, stressed; they don’t want to be handled by people… Basically it’s a one-way trip for those cats.” 
Of course, that’s still the case in far too many shelters across the country. Witness last week’s story coming out of Monmouth County, NJ, for example.
Seven-Day Holding Period?
“In the Freehold area,” reports Joe Tyrrell for newjerseynewsroom.com, “some animal control officers have not been taking stray cats to shelter, but to be killed immediately, according to a past president of the Monmouth County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”
“Stuart Goldman has filed 25 municipal court complaints against Sharon Gaboff, Cherlann Ambrose, and John Domic of Western Monmouth Animal Control for ‘procuring the needless killing of a living creature.’ According to Goldman, in 2012, the three health officers ‘routinely’ ignored a legal seven-day holding period for stray animals.” 
Dave Richardson, Health Officer for the Manalapan Township Health Department, which oversees Western Monmouth Animal Control, rejects Goldman’s assertions, telling Tyrrell, “We’re going to defend ourselves in court, and we’re confident these employees will prevail.”
Goldman clearly has a history of butting heads with animal control officials in the area, especially when it comes to their disregard for the seven-day holding period for feral cats. In 2004, for example, Goldman brought charges against David E. Smith, “a retired animal control officer brought in by the township [of Ewing] when its regular officer refused to do the killing” and township Health Officer Albert Leff. 
According to The Times of Trenton, Goldman alleged that 20 cats had been killed using the “heart stick” method, and prior to the end of the required holding period. Smith claimed to have injected the lethal dose into the (12, not 20) cats’ veins, according to proper procedure. And he had, reported The Times, “been told in the 1990s that it was allowable to kill feral cats without a waiting period.” 
(Unfortunately, I’m unable to locate any news reports concerning the outcome of the case.)
Later that year, Monroe Township animal control officer Frank Faraone was charged with two counts of animal cruelty, following an investigation by Goldman.
“Police said on Nov. 2, Faraone responded to reports of a sick cat lying in a roadway in the Rossmoor adult community. Goldman said Faraone took the approximately 16-year-old cat to the Sayrebrook Veterinary Hospital, which is attached to an animal shelter, but instead of having the cat checked by a veterinarian, Faraone allegedly directed a technician to euthanize the animal.” 
“A Rossmoor resident reported that her cat was missing,” later that same day, “but was never told a cat was brought to the veterinary hospital, Goldman said.” 
Animal Control, the Health Department, and the SPCA
Goldman’s most recent complaints make for a rather tangled account—but one well worth reading.
A few points that stood out to me…
Assuming Tyrrell’s story is accurate, it seems Goldman’s got some pretty damning evidence. Records that Goldman obtained, he writes, “have officers describing some cats only as ‘feral, euthanize.’ Bills from a local veterinarian show they were killed immediately.”  In one instance, a cat Gaboff suspected of having neurological problems—but deemed “normal” by a vet tech—was killed ostensibly as “rabies prep.”
“But,” reports Tyrrell, “a notation on another form noted emergency rabies treatment had not been started on the exposed individual.”  Richardson mentioned rabies, too:
“In one of those cases cited by Dr. Goldman, the cat did turn out to be rabid. That’s what we do in our world, take action to protect human health and safety.” 
Again, assuming what I’ve read so far is accurate, it sounds like there’s far too much of the wrong kind of “action” in Monmouth County. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time “human health and safety” has been used to rationalize the killing of free-roaming cats. In any case, Richardson’s claim should be easy enough to verify one way or the other.
Or maybe not.
According to Tyrrell, “Richardson acknowledged health officers did not keep complete records in some cases.” Buddy Amato, chief of humane law enforcement for the Monmouth SPCA, went much further on this point: “I’ll be honest with you, their record-keeping was horrible.” 
Even so, Amato says the problems he’s documented are “not the kind where somebody should lose their job.” Then again, he told Tyrrell that the cats killed upon intake last year were cats “nobody missed.”
“They were all feral cats, nobody came looking for them.” 
Amato also tried to set Tyrrell straight about the term colony: “that’s not a good word for them because ‘colony’ suggests order… and they’re a mess.” 
I’m curious to see what more comes out in the hearing, scheduled for January 28—not only about the charges against the Western Monmouth Animal Control officers, but also anything more about the rabid cat Richardson’s referred to and any more pearls of wisdom from Amato regarding cats “nobody missed.”
• • •
Interested in reforming your local shelter?
Alley Cat Allies’ Changing Communities for Cats campaign aims, according to the ACA website, to “transform this country’s No. 1 documented killer of cats: our nation’s animal pound and shelter system, which kills 7 out of every 10 cats who enter it.” Toward that end, the organization will be “meeting with supporters and grassroots groups” during its four-city tour this year:
• Ft. Lauderdale, FL (February 2)
• Dallas/Ft Worth, TX (April 20)
• Chicago, IL (June 15)
• San Diego or Los Angeles—TBD (August 10)
For additional details, visit the ACA website.
1. Lindelof, B. (2012, June 21). Sutter County animal shelter shifts its policy, will stop accepting wild cats. The Sacramento Bee, from http://www.sacbee.com/2012/06/21/4578213/sutter-county-animal-shelter-shifts.html
2. Daugherty, M. (2013, January 17). The felines among us: Chico Animal Shelter’s new policy aims to curb euthanasia. Chico News & Review.
3. Tyrrell, J. (2013, January 17) Former Monmouth SPCA Head Charges Animal Control Officers Kill Cats NewJerseyNewsRoom.com.
4. Raboteau, A. (2004, May 1). Charges filed in cat killings. The Times of Trenton.
5. Haydon, T. (2004, November 24). Animal control officer accused of cruelty—Cops back Monroe worker in killing of cat. The Star-Ledge.