Category Archives: X issues & dialogs

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.

Katrina.

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?

BZTAT

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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!

Canton’s Effort to Develop a Trap-Neuter-Return Program

In recent weeks, numerous friends have brought to my attention concerns about the way feral cats are treated in my community. The city of Canton, OH has one of the most draconian animal control policies around, and many friends have asked me to get involved in the process of making change.

Okey stray cat
"Okey" Artwork by BZTAT

“Just think, had someone called Animal Control on Okey, she would never have become the star that she is,” one friend posted on my Facebook wall.

A friend from California sent me this message: “Vicki, this is going on right in your own backyard – isn’t there something you can do?”

How could I not get involved?

Here is the situation.

The city has a contract with an individual to perform Animal Control Officer duties. This individual reportedly takes complaints from the community regarding nuisance animals, including feral cats and assorted wildlife (skunks, raccoons, etc.) and he removes them from the location of the complaint. Wildlife apparently are relocated and released back into the wild where they will be less of a nuisance. Feral cats are taken to the Humane Society and euthanized. A handful of kittens and adoptable cats are rehabbed and placed for adoption, but unsocialized cats are deemed “ill” and destroyed.

Aside from the ineffective and inhumane  method of dealing with the animal control problem, there are also complaints  about inappropriate and inhumane treatment of animals by the individual in the role of Animal Control Officer. There is a personnel issue here – complaints from the community that the officer is doing his job in an inhumane manner – in addition to the problematic policy in place.

Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends Animal Society, ASPCA, Found Animals Foundation, and every other major animal welfare organization in the United States advocate for TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) as the most humane and the most effective means of controlling feral cat problems. Neutering and providing basic vet care to feral cats typically reduces the nuisance behaviors that cause problems, and returning a neutered cat to it’s previous location leads to a reduction of non-neutered cats entering the area. Progressive cities are instituting TNR programs and seeing great benefit.

With all of this in mind, I accompanied my friends to the City Council meeting on Monday, February 6, 2012. Ten other advocates and I spoke at the meeting to implore our City Council to consider: 1) discontinuing the current contract, and 2) developing a TNR program for the city.

Surprisingly, we encountered interested and open minds on the Council. They continued the current contract for a shortened period of time (90 days), however, they also agreed to work with advocates to develop alternatives to the current method of animal control.

Although I am concerned that the city contracted with an individual who has active complaints of animal maltreatment from the community against him, I did receive personal assurances from 4 council persons that the complaints would be investigated immediately.

I will keep you posted on the progress of the effort in this space. What follows are the remarks that I shared in the Public Speaks portion of the City Council meeting on February 6, 2012.

My name is Vicki Boatright. I speak to you as a counselor, as an advocate for children and as an advocate for animals. I also speak to you as an artist who has personally contributed to the redevelopment of Downtown Canton with 2 murals depicting the bond that exists between animals and human beings. I am currently working on a third public art project along the same theme with funds provided to me by my community.

In my 20 year career as as a counselor with children, I saw clearly that there is a link between the maltreatment of animals and violence towards children. Considerable clinical research backs up my own observations. When animals are treated poorly, children are often treated poorly as well.

As a counselor, I worked with parents, teachers and other child advocates to help children develop empathy and wise methods of problem solving. My objection to the renewal of a contract for very inhumane and ineffective feral cat control practice follows that trajectory of my purposes.

I believe that we must set an example for our children in our actions and in our public policies.

Trap-neuter-release has been proven to be the most effective, efficient and humane method of managing feral cat problems. Trap and euthanize programs have been proven to be ineffective, inefficient and inhumane. We should not even be having this conversation.

We often talk of attracting young professionals to Canton as a place to make their home. With the documented rise of pet ownership among young professionals, progressive cities are working to become more animal friendly communities. What is Canton doing? Killing cats. As a result of this contract renewal issue, pet writers across the country have already begun to black-list Canton as a very pet-unfriendly community. Yes, we are on their radar. I first heard of it from a writer in California.

This issue is not simply about whether or not to appease some bleeding heart animal rights activists. This issue is about how we as a community demonstrate the empathy and the wise problem-solving that we desire our children to embrace. It is about the economics of making this city a place where people want to live. I urge you to stop this ineffective and cruel practice of killing cats today, and show our children what empathy and wise problem solving really means. Thank you.