I rescued Okey last year because I was afraid she would get hit by a car. She had some close calls with my own vehicle, and I had seen her dart across the road in front of other cars.
At the time, I thought that traffic, starvation and exposure to the elements were the biggest threats to her life.
Those were immediate threats. I have been learning, though, that there were other threats too. Until recently, I had no idea these threats existed.
The city itself poses a huge threat to stray and feral cats. Heartless and misinformed attitudes have shaped city policies regarding animal control.
Animal control in my city of Canton, OH means certain death for cats on the street.
Thank God no one called animal control on Okey. Three hundred and forty three other cats were not so lucky. That is the number of cats killed by the Stark County Humane Society after being trapped by the city’s Animal Control Officer, Phil Sedlacko last year.
It gets worse.
Mr. Sedlacko has demonstrated “inhumane treatment” of animals in his concurrent position with the Stark County Dog Pound, according to a reprimand last year by his supervisor. Numerous volunteers at the pound claim to have witnessed a pattern of inhumane behavior from Mr. Sedlacko towards animals under his care over many years.
The city has no responsibility over the county dog pound, but they can, and they should avoid contracting with a person who has such behavior on his record.
Despite the presence of a video documenting the incident for which Mr. Sedlacko was reprimanded, and despite numerous complaints from volunteers, city leaders refuse to acknowledge that Mr. Sedlacko is a problem.
A teacher who abuses children is no longer allowed to teach children. Likewise, an animal control officer who mistreats animals should not be allowed to work with animals.
When I asked City Safety Director Thomas Ream about this, he claimed that Mr. Sedlacko had made a mistake. I informed him that inhumane treatment of animals was not a “mistake”. He said we would have to “agree to disagree”.
There is some good news.
Animal welfare advocates have descended upon Canton, and they have become a strong force of influence upon Canton’s City Council. Two Council Members, Mary Cirelli and Frank Morris, have publicly challenged other members to consider other methods of animal control, and they have voiced strong opposition to continuing a contract with Mr. Sedlacko. The rest of Council agreed to modify his contract from a year to 90 days so that further investigation could occur.
Alley Cat Allies, a well respected organization with expertise in community Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program development, is providing considerable support to advocates and the city. They are assisting us in the effort to bring about an effective and humane TNR program for feral cats and providing resources to address wildlife in the city as well.
City leaders will likely put up roadblocks to the effort. They already have. Last night, city health commissioner James Adams expressed concern to a City Council committee about the potential health risks of a TNR program. He stated that he would have to see ecological impact research about TNR before embracing such a program. I later spoke with him and handed him a summary of ecological impact research done by Stanford University. The summary reads,
“While it is true that uncontrolled feral cat populations have the potential to spread disease, the evidence of a negative impact on human health remains fairly low and is largely unsubstantiated even through studies by health departments.”
Mr. Adams told me he had seen references to the Stanford research, but admitted that he had not really looked at it much. He did tell me he would explore it further.
In recent weeks, Canton has become the epicenter of animal rights concerns in Ohio. We are not looking good in the eyes of animal lovers around the country, and, indeed, around the world. But I, and many other advocates are intent on changing that. We hope to work with our city leaders to bring about change that makes us the epicenter of progressive and humane treatment around the world.
There is a lot of work to be done, but it can be done. Will you join us?
There are a lot of Okey’s on the street counting on you.