Friday, May 22, 2009

SPCA’s approach draws fire in Schenectady cat collector case

By Kathleen Moore, Daily Gazette 

 — For the past two months, the SPCA has known about a cat collector in the Stockade neighborhood. But they haven’t swooped in to remove the animals or arrest the owner. Instead, they sent officers over every week to counsel and cajole the man into changing his ways.

It’s an unusually gentle approach that has raised the ire of some local cat rescue agencies, groups that were dealing with collectors — also known as “hoarders” — long before the SPCA formed a chapter here last year.

The more experienced groups want to remove every cat — the owner in this case allegedly has 15 to 17 — and spay or neuter them. Then the cats would be adopted out to new homes.

But the man doesn’t want to give up his cats, and the SPCA won’t snatch them from him.

“He’s of limited skills and limited funds,” SPCA chief Mathew Tully said. “These animals are his family and best friends. Our SPCA strategy in these types of cases is an arrest is the absolute last possible resort.”

So far, his officers have persuaded the man to let four cats be sterilized....

Even then, they had to promise that the cats would be returned to him after their surgery.

None of the other cats are sick, but they’re all unneutered, and with the warmer weather triggering fertility...

The situation is infuriating Sue Green, chairwoman of Guilderhaven, a Guilderland nonprofit that provides low-cost vaccinations and sterilization clinics.

She and others planned a raid in which they would take all of the cats, sterilize them and adopt them out. It failed because the SPCA refused to use its law enforcement powers to force entry into the house. The owner wouldn’t let them in voluntarily.

“We had planned a massive removal of cats there to be spayed and neutered at our expense, and this man did not bother to answer the door,” she said. ...

But not without the help of the SPCA. It is the only animal rights agency in the county invested with law enforcement powers — such as the right to arrest owners and allow rescue groups to take the animals away.

City officials say that hoarding animals is not illegal, as long as the animals are all well taken care of....

“He needs to be stopped,” Green said. “We’re willing to work with people, but the object of any organization is the animal, the welfare of the animal.”

Green emphasized that she doesn’t want the hoarder jailed or fined. But she wants him arrested and required by law to report all future addresses. He would also have to allow unannounced inspections so agencies could make sure he was no longer hoarding, she said....

But Tully said removing the cats wouldn’t stop the problem.

“Hoarding is a case that involves complex mental and social issues,” he said, noting that most hoarders adopt new animals as soon as agencies take their collection away.

He thinks it’s more effective to persuade people with multiple pets to take better care of them — particularly by sterilizing them to keep the pack from increasing exponentially.

With those agencies providing the surgery, all Tully has to do is persuade the collectors to take the plunge. He thinks persuasion will work....

He knows his philosophy is not welcomed by Guilderhaven and other local agencies..."  More

Public domain photo