What do you call an organization, staffed by (at most) three individuals, responsible for the deaths of at least 1,789 cats between January 2011 and September 2016? Well, if you’re Gail Mihocko, director and founder of Project Cat, you call it an “animal welfare organization dedicated to assisting felines in need in our local community.”
“Assistance” is an interesting way to put it, since, in this case, Mihocko’s involvement is almost always fatal. In fact, according to a news story published last month, Project Cat killed more than 11 times as many cats as the organization adopted out over the past year.
The fact that Mihocko is unapologetic about her “work” is unsettling enough, but the fact that she’s able to do it—for several years now—without running afoul of the law is truly puzzling. How can this be legal?
At this point, there are far more questions than answers.
AN EPIC CASE OF MISSION DRIFT?
According to Project Cat’s Certificate of Incorporation, dated March 2002, the organization’s purpose “is as follows:
- To provide temporary shelter for stray or abandoned cats while trying to find responsible, permanent homes for them;
- To help decrease the number of unwanted and abandoned cats by advocating sterilization of all cats under the age of 6 months, and providing spay/neuter assistance to the cat-owning public; and
- To decrease the number of cats surrendered to shelters, due to behavioral problems, by providing general cat care information to cat owners.”
Quarterly reports submitted by Project Cat to the New York State Department of Health Department of Narcotic Enforcement tell a rather different story, though. Beginning in 2011 (the earliest year for which I’ve seen copies of these reports), Mihocko (the only Certified Euthanasia Technician on staff) began killing an average of 311 cats annually.
But the same section of New York Codes, Rules and Regulations that requires the quarterly reporting also restricts the use of “solution for the euthanasia of animals” almost entirely to “on-premises use”:
“Solution may be dispensed for use off the premises only where the animal to be euthanized is injured or transport of such animal to the society or facility is not practical” (emphasis mine).
It’s difficult to imagine that a significant number of those 1,789 cats (the figure is probably closer to 2,000 now) qualified for the exemption. But if Mihocko is killing all these cats on-site, then it would seem she’s violating Article 26, §366 of the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law, which prohibits the transportation of “any companion animal, not lawfully in [one’s] possession, for the purpose of killing or selling such companion animal.”
In addition, Article 25-B, §332 allows humane societies (the non-profit category under which Project Cat seems to be operating) to adopt out or euthanize animals only if the “animal is not claimed by its owner within five days.” Is Mihocko observing this five-day “stray-hold”?
Again, it’s difficult to imagine that this is the case.
“PUBLIC SERVICE” PAID FOR WITH PUBLIC FUNDS
Despite practices that appear to be illegal, Mihocko has managed to develop relationships with a number of municipalities interested in her services—which she describes in a February 2016 proposal to Newburgh:
“a public service for removing feral and unowned free-roaming cats where they are unwanted or causing problems in neighborhoods.”
Mihocko goes on to request “a donation fee of $45 per cat that we live-trap and remove from the property and $45 for each round trip per vehicle per day that we make to set up and check traps.”
Since when do exterminators ask for “donations”?
A February 2016 invoice submitted to the Town of Ulster requests $135 for the “removal” of “one female tortoiseshell” cat (“Although we made a total of four visits including the initial one to distribute letters to the neighbors indicating our activities, we only billed for two attempts at trapping.”)
And in September 2016, Mihocko requested $1,500 from the Town of Wawarsing for services anticipated during 2017, emphasizing the “unique” nature of Project Cat:
“we travel into the community to pick up cats from people who have no transportation, are elderly, or otherwise have no means with which to bring cats to our shelter… We focus… on cases where cats are suffering due to neglect from improper care, lack of necessary medical assistance, situations where no action has been taken to spay or neuter resulting in uncontrolled breeding and hoarding cases where large numbers of cats are kept inhumanely in unsanitary and crowded conditions.”
To anybody even remotely familiar with the “feral cat” issue, it’s clear that Mihocko’s grossly mischaracterizing the situation—at least in part to justify (perhaps to herself) her better-off-dead philosophy. Regardless, her pitch had apparently been effective with Wawarsing’s elected officials, whom she thanked for “the funding and support… that we received in the previous two years.”
Most recently, in a March 2017 proposal to the Town of Rochester, Mihocko describes Project Cat as a “private, non-profit cat shelter and animal welfare organization…
founded on the premise of assisting homeless and free-roaming cats by taking them into our facility to provide necessary medical care and to find permanent indoor homes for them via adoption.”
“Cats that require euthanizing,” she notes (without, of course, admitting that this is the likely outcome for nine of 10 cats that cross her path) “are disposed of via a professional pet cemetery and crematory service.”
All of this suggests some sort of contractual arrangement—which in turn raises an obvious question: Are municipalities allowed to enter into a contract with an organization that—at least from what we know so far—seems to be operating illegally?
As I say, there are more questions than answers.
The good news is, I’m not the only one looking for answers. This story is, I’m sure, far from over. Stay tuned…