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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

Canton Animal Control: It all circles back to Okey.

OkeyI 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.

Feral Cat Rescue: The Big Job

feral cat in trap for TNR programAs I mentioned in previous posts, I am endeavoring to rescue a group of cats that have developed a colony on my friend’s property in Tuscarawas County, OH.

First, the kittens in the colony were taken to the Tuscarawas County Humane Society cat shelter, where they are receiving treatment for eye infections and upper respiratory infections. Two females were well enough for surgery immediately, and they have already been spayed. The 3 remaining males will be neutered when they are are a bit healthier. All will be placed for adoption when they are ready.

Second, we began the trapping process for the adult cats this past Tuesday. I successfully trapped 7 cats (!) and transported them to One is One of a Kind Pets in Fairlawn, OH for  spay/neutering. It was a 60 mile trip with 7 angry cats, but they were basically calm. My truck still smells like a zoo, though…

All 7 were spayed/neutered yesterday. We discovered that one is very tame and friendly. The clinic staff fell in love with him, and we have decided to put him up for adoption when he recovers from his surgery and an upper respiratory infection. YAY! Mr. Orange Stripey is going to get a furrever home with a loving family!!!

The rest of the cats will be returned to my friend’s property, where she will continue to feed and care for them and the rest of the colony.

Some people question the purpose of TNR. Why return wild cats? Why go to the trouble of catching and spaying a semi-wild animal?

There are a number of reasons, about which you can read in depth on the Alley Cat Allies website. Here is my summary:

  1. Cats that have not been neutered continue to mate and reproduce, leading to an overwhelming overpopulation of unwanted animals. There are also numerous behavior problems associated with the mating process that become a nuisance to humans. TNR stops the overpopulation and it eliminates the nuisance behaviors that annoy humans.
  2. Cats are territorial animals. They ward off interlopers to their colonies, and they do not attract other cats when they are neutered. Colonies of cats that are neutered control their own populations by their natural instincts. No new cats arrive to the colony through reproduction or wandering, so the population does not grow.
  3. Neutered cats tend to have fewer health concerns and they tend to live longer, quality lives in a managed colony. They pose negligible risks to public health according to research.

If you are interested in engaging in TNR activities, that is AWESOME! Please familiarize yourself with the process before you start. It is not an activity that you should attempt without guidance. Read Alley Cat Allies’ TNR Guide or other resources that provide technical guidance, and consult with experienced TNR rescuers. Develop a method for fund raising to allay costs. That is what I have done.

The next trapping of cats in the colony will take place next week. Stay tuned!