Saving Canton’s Cats and Why It Is So Important.

Feral cat drawing by BZTAT
Drawing by BZTAT

I and other animal welfare advocates have been appearing at Canton, OH City Council meetings for a couple of months now, speaking on behalf of feral cats in the city.

We are trying to overturn a city run Animal Control program that saw 353 feral cats euthanized in 2011, most of which were only destroyed due to being unadoptable. It is a very draconian program that incentivizes the Animal Control Officer to trap a large number of feral cats and wild animals whose lives are ended needlessly.

Advocates have captured the attention of Canton City Council and the Mayor’s administration. After weeks of contentious debate, Council finally passed a resolution to form a TNR exploratory committee, bringing citizens and government officials together to study the issue and recommend a program. The Stark County Humane Society has decided to cease their contract with the city to euthanize feral cats beginning April 30, 2012. This is progress!

The city remains contracted with the Animal Control Officer whose record has prompted so much outrage in the community. His role will be minimized, and eventually eliminated, however, if an effective TNR program can be developed.

This sort of community effort will require a lot of work. Bringing together  community leaders and volunteers from diverse perspectives has its challenges, but I am hopeful that a positive outcome is imminent.

As I have engaged in the process, a question keeps being asked. Why are the cats so important when there are so many other issues of importance to the community?

For a dedicated animal and cat lover like me, the answer is easy. But to people less connected to animals, they do not see how intertwined pet ownership is to the majority of citizens in every community across America. For them, I have one word for explanation.


When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Americans became acutely aware of how deeply embedded pets are in our lives and in our culture. Never before had it been made so clear that human beings will inevitably take risks to their own safety in order to save their pets. Rather than seek their own safety, residents of New Orleans and other cities refused to evacuate because they could not take their animals with them. Some lost their lives as a result, as did their pets.

Even if you do not care about animals yourself, you have to realize that other people do. Minimizing the value of animal life minimizes the depth of an animal lover’s emotional connection to animals. A lack of concern for animal welfare touches off some very deep emotions for people, and it will ALWAYS be met with hostility.

In addition to that, the way we treat animals, particularly domestic ones whose DNA has been purposely adapted for human purposes, is indicative of how we treat the needs of any living being. When the needs of animals are minimized or neglected, our arrogance leads to a disregard of other vulnerable beings in our culture.

The purpose of this blog is to bring about awareness to the connections between animal abuse and the abuse of vulnerable human beings. The needless slaughter of feral cats when there are better ways to manage them IS ANIMAL ABUSE. I cannot sit quietly by and let this happen in my own community.

I have been asked to participate in the Canton City Council TNR exploratory committee. I will do so with pride, and I will post updates here about the process.

What is happening in Canton is the status quo for Animal Control in the United States. My hope is that I can promote change both within and beyond my community.

Will you join me in that process? What is happening in your community, and what can you do to bring about positive change?





Feral Cat Rescue: The Big Job is complete.

I have written about a colony of feral cats in Tuscarawas County, OH who helped me learn about the Trap-Neuter-Return process. I even drew their pictures, as they were very inspiring to me. You can see a slideshow below of the drawings.

The cats taught me A LOT. I am very grateful to them. I am sure that they are grateful that I am done, and pretty much out of their lives at this point! They all scatter when I come to visit my friend, their caregiver, which is fine by me.

In all, I trapped 13 cats and 5 kittens. There were two who simply would not be trapped (that I know of). My friend, who recently had heart surgery, will endeavor to trap them when she feels better.

The timing for the trapping turned out to be more urgent than anticipated. Because of our unusually warm weather in both February and March this year, females are going into heat early. We had 7 adult females, some of which had already gone into heat. Do the math. We were able to prevent the colony from growing significantly larger.

The overall clinic costs between One is One of a Kind Pets in Fairlawn, OH who did the spay/neutering, and the Tuscarawas County Humane Society cat shelter, who accepted the kittens, was $305.00. This was due to the very generous offering of One of a Kind Pets Spay Neuter Clinic to do the surgeries at a very low $20 per cat. (THANK YOU OOKP!!!) There were some additional food and supply costs, and transportation costs as well. There was not a feral cat clinic in the area (other than a mobile unit that was not accessible at the times needed), so the cats had to be transported 60 miles each trip. Add to that a 60 mile round trip from my home to the trapping site, and I covered a 994 miles for the intervention.

We had $315 donated to aid in the intervention, and additional monies were contributed by the cats’ caregiver that offset these costs. I am deeply appreciative to those who contributed. The money helped to cover clinic costs, feeding costs, and transportation costs.

One of a Kind Pets Iams food donation
Presenting food vouchers to One of a Kind Spay Neuter Clinic

I am grateful to One is One of a Kind Pets and the Tuscarawas County Humane Society cat shelter for their help with the process, and to Iams Pet Foods, who donated 60 lbs of pet food to both organizations in thanks.

I am also very grateful to Peace For Pets, who loaned me the traps and educated me about the actual TNR procedures.

I have read that you can consider it a successful TNR intervention if you are able to neuter 70% of a colony. We managed to neuter 90%, so I feel that, as a team, we did pretty well!

Doing the intervention was an adventure. I feel that I need to stress, however, that there are many people in my community and across the country who do TNR every day in much more complicated situations than this was. I was in a rural area with a garage enclosure where the cats and I were safe. Often, trappers go into urban areas where the circumstances are much less luxurious. They are true heroes in my book.

I do not know if I will do further trappings. I will assist others when needed, and I am doing some community education about TNR. I am participating in the Canton, OH citywide effort to make TNR the official means of feral cat management for the city. We’ll see where it leads me.

Thanks for following the adventure!

Life is an Adventure!



The latest Okey’s Promise Project has begun!

Young boy painting in progress
Worki in Progress - Painting by BZTAT

The Okey’s Promise: Celebrating the Human Animal Bond project has begun! This is the first painting in the series, based on a photo of a young man named Isaac who lives in Rochester, NY.

mock-up design for Okey's Promise gallery installation
mock-up design for Okey's Promise gallery installation

The project will include a series of 10-12 professional artworks (approx. 48” H x 32” W each) that relate to the links between animal abuse, domestic violence and child abuse. These artworks will become a traveling exhibit that will be used locally by the Domest Violence Project, Inc. (DVPI) and other interested agencies at events and other designated activities to raise awareness about the issues of domestic violence and pet abuse.

My hope is that the project will travel nationwide. If you are interested in having it visit your city, contact me.

Each face depicted in the exhibit will represent the outcome that we seek – safe, happy children and animals – with the backgrounds depicting the artwork of youth on the issues of animal abuse and domestic violence.

Follow posts here to see the project develop!


Letter to Canton City Council on Behalf of Canton’s Cats

I have discussed in previous posts (2/28/12, 2/10/12) my advocacy on behalf of feral cats in my community. Today, I sent Canton City Council, Mayor William J. Healy, and other city officials a letter stating my concerns. The following is a reprint of my letter in its entirety:

Dear Mayor, Council Members, and other esteemed city officials:

I am writing to you with information pertinent to the concerns about the proposed contract extension for Animal Control Officer Phil Sedlacko. As you know, I have spoken three times during the Public Speaks portion of City Council meetings on this issue. As a Canton constituent, an advocate for animals, an advocate for children, and an advocate for community development, I respectfully request that you consider my concerns with attentive consideration.

I have had the opportunity to review what I believe to be every invoice submitted for payment by Mr. Sedlacko to the city for 2011. I have spent considerable time doing this and have analyzed this information with some detail. Although my conclusions are less than scientific, I have recognized some patterns that deserve more intense scrutiny from public officials. I am requesting that public officials engage in further analysis of Mr. Sedlacko’s invoices with veterinary, feral cat rescue, wildlife rescue, and other relevant professionals to develop a better understanding of the work he does on behalf of the city.

I further request that any further contracts with Mr. Sedlacko be short-term and interim in light of the numerous concerns brought up about his lack of humane and professional conduct in his role with the city and also his role with the County Dog Warden.

Some of the patterns that emerged while I examined his invoices include:

  1. Domestic animals being trapped when the nature of complaints were about wildlife. My assumption before examining the invoices was that cats were removed because people complained about cats. According to Mr. Sedlacko’s invoices, however, there were 46 cats and 2 kittens trapped and removed from locations where the complainants made no complaint about cats. They complained about raccoons and other wildlife, not cats. Were these complainants even aware that cats were removed? According to the invoices, the complainants considered the wildlife as a nuisance, not the cats.
  1. Inhumane trapping procedures. My research about trapping protocols indicates that traps should never be left unattended, particularly in rural areas. Animals become incredibly stressed in humane traps. It is protocol to cover a trap with a sheet or some material ASAP after an animal has been trapped to reduce its stress. Also, traps left in urban areas for lengthy time periods make the animals targets for abuse and torture from nefarious humans. According to Mr. Sedlacko’s invoices, however, his process is to set traps and return the next day to retrieve the animal. This is simply UNACCEPTABLE.
  1. Geographic Clusters for numerous complaints. Although complaints came from all areas of the city, there were specific areas where numerous calls originated. In many cases, the same complainant called numerous times. This suggests that: 1) Trap-remove is not correcting the problem in these areas, in fact, it could be exacerbating the problem. 2) The clustered areas tend to be problem areas of other concerns for the city (crime, foreclosed homes, excessive garbage, poverty, etc.). 3) Efforts to reduce the attractiveness of these areas to cats and wildlife would help to reduce the number of calls in these areas.

There are other patterns, as well, however, these are the most obvious at this time.

Furthermore, in response to comments from Mr. Barton in a Repository article this week, I welcome the opportunity to pilot TNR in the City of Canton as a part of a plan to develop a more thorough response to animal control in Canton. Although I applaud the effort towards TNR, the proposed method of piloting an initiative, however, is flawed. You cannot do both TNR and Trap-remove in the same area with the same colony of cats. This would lead to a waste of financial resources and other problems. There would be a strong likelihood that the same cats would be trapped and neutered and then later trapped and removed. Any area piloted for TNR would have to be off limits to Trap-remove efforts to be effective.

I appreciate the fact that all of you have brought some thought and consideration to this matter. I believe, however, that it is CRITICAL for the city to begin a process of dialog with citizens, advocates and professionals IMMEDIATELY to develop a plan of response to the animal control issues in Canton. How we address the issues affects not only the animals of our community, but also our youngest citizens. Now that there is public awareness of inhumane animal treatment on the city’s behalf, our children will be watching the manner in which we address it.

I respectfully request the following actions be initiated to address the issues:

  1. As stated before, restrict any further contracts with Mr. Sedlacko to be short-term and interim.
  2. Subject the Animal Control Officer contract to a public bidding process.
  3. Develop a committee that includes citizens, animal rescue advocates, veterinary and public health professionals, council members and other relevant individuals to study the issue IMMEDIATELY.
  4. Offer time to meet with Jeff Dorson from Alley Cat Allies during the week of March 12-16 in addition to attending the Town Hall Meeting that he will be holding on Wednesday March 14th in the McKinley Room at the Stark County District Library from 6:00 – 7:30 pm.
  5. Include animal control discussions in other efforts on behalf of city neighborhoods, such as Weed and Seed, neighborhood organizations, Community Building Partnership of Stark County, etc.
  1. Review Mr. Sedlacko’s invoices as I have done and engage in an in depth analysis of the data obtained from them.

Thank you for your consideration. I welcome feedback and response.


Vicki Boatright