Category: strays and ferals

Alabama Cat Ladies Raise $85k For Legal Appeal, Plan To File Civil Suit

Two women who managed a cat colony in their Alabama hometown — and were rewarded with an infamously tone-deaf arrest and criminal conviction for their efforts — have raised $85,000 for their appeal.

This time, their fate won’t be decided by a small-time judge appointed by the same mayor who ordered police to arrest the women in the first place.

Mary Alston and Beverly Roberts of Wetumpka, Ala., were arrested on June 25 after three police cars pulled up and four officers surrounded them on public land, demanding they stop their efforts to trap feral cats and leave the area immediately.

Alston and Roberts, who were in disbelief that four officers had been dispatched and were treating them like hardened criminals, didn’t move fast enough for the cops, who berated them and placed them both in handcuffs before charging them with a pair of misdemeanors each.

Their attorneys fought for months to obtain a copy of the police body camera videos of the arrest, and when they finally obtained that copy, it became apparent why the Wetumpka Police Department fought to keep it out of their hands.

The footage shows officers warning the women the confrontation was “going to get ugly,” insulting them and joking that they were “a bunch of cops beatin’ up on some old ladies.” It showed the police escalated the situation and had little regard for two women who were doing their hometown a service by managing a stray cat colony and conducting TNR — trap, neuter, return — to prevent the cats from breeding and multiplying.

They were convicted in a December trial that was followed by local and national media.

Now Roberts, 85, and Alston, 61, have raised $85,195 for their appeal via GoFundMe, with more than 3,000 donors across the US contributing to the fund.

After filing an appeal on Dec. 19, the women have been notified that their first hearing is set for Feb. 23 in front of 19th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Amanda Baxley, said Mary King, Roberts’ daughter. Baxley was sworn in earlier this month and begins her tenure on Jan. 17 after she was elected to the post in November.

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A Wetumpka police officer wags a finger at Roberts, who was 84 years old at the time, before handcuffing her hands behind her back and rifling through her personal possessions.

In a December trial, attorneys for Alston and Roberts revealed it was Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis who personally dispatched the officers by calling the assistant chief after spotting Alston’s car parked near a wooded area owned by the county. The lawyers also questioned Willis on his history of feuding with the pair on animal-related issues.

Although Willis testified that he did not tell police to arrest the women, Officer Jason Crumpton testified that he was indeed instructed to make the arrests before he arrived and determined what the women were doing.

Despite the fact that Wetumpka does not have laws against feeding or trapping cats, municipal Judge Jeff Courtney, who is directly employed by the town instead of being answerable to voters, found Alston and Roberts guilty of two misdemeanors each, sparking an outcry in local and national media. Courtney found Roberts guilty of trespassing and disorderly conduct, while he found Alston guilty of trespassing and interfering with governmental operations, an analogue for resisting arrest.

“I thought that they surely had more pressing issues to attend to,” Roberts told PITB in December. “I really thought the judge would dismiss it and tell the city to work it out.”

The arrest and conviction were widely panned by observers, including Alabama Political Reporter’s Josh Moon, who called the drama an “utterly absurd” spectacle that “reeks of small town politics.”

Roberts and Alston hope Baxley will give them a fair trial, which they believe they did not receive under Courtney in Wetumpka.

In the meantime, the colony cats in Wetumpka remain on their own. Willis, who has not responded to requests for comment by PITB, allegedly rejected offers by animal welfare groups in neighboring towns to care for the cats.

“We are very worried about them,” Roberts told PITB last month. “A few animal lovers have said they would help, but we are not sure this will happen. I’m not sure there is enough food available to hunt. The weather is getting colder, and they need protein.”

Can Cats Solve New York’s Rat Problem?

For the second time in seven months, one of New York Mayor Eric Adams’ own health inspectors has ticketed him for rat infestations at the Brooklyn brownstone he calls home.

Because it wouldn’t be New York without things turning into a circus, the man who unsuccessfully ran against Adams for the mayorship, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, took advantage of the mayor’s embarrassment by bringing two of his 16 18 cats to Adams’ block and holding a press conference on the sidewalk where he touted felines as the solution. (Adams, who is well known for his hatred of the rodents, famously held a “rat summit” at Brooklyn Borough Hall in 2019, “gleefully” showing off a new rat-killing contraption to reporters.)

Introducing reporters to his tuxedo, Tiny, and tabby cat, Thor, Sliwa said Adams was missing the most obvious solution to the rat problem — cats — and offered to become the city’s “rat czar” free of charge.

“Like most New Yorkers, [Adams] is frightened of rats,” Sliwa told reporters outside the mayor’s brownstone. “He’s tried everything but it’s time that we revert back to the best measure that has ever worked — and that’s cats.”

As we’ve noted before on PITB, Sliwa and his wife are dedicated cat servants, perhaps overly so. They currently house 18 cats in their Manhattan studio apartment, Sliwa said on his radio show this Sunday. Some of them are the couple’s pets and some are fosters for their rescue.

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Nancy and Curtis Sliwa with one of their cats. Credit: Matthew McDermott

The rat problem in New York is real and, sadly, as bad as people make it out to be. You can hear them at night in many neighborhoods, and it’s not unusual to see them briefly caught in the glow of streetlights before scurrying into the shadows again.

I’ll never forget watching an entire conga line of them at the 125th St. subway platform. They just marched out of a hole in the twilight, each one bigger than the last, going about their business without any concern for what people might do to them.

And the answer, they know, is nothing. Because New York’s rats aren’t regular rats. They’re well-fed freaks, ballooning to enormous sizes thanks to the abundance of garbage cans to eat out of and the way garbage is collected in the city. Back in 2015, video of a rat dragging an entire slice of pizza down the steps to a Manhattan subway platform went viral, racking up more than 12 million views and earning the rodent the title Pizza Rat:

People who aren’t from New York and have never visited are probably shocked to see garbage piled high on the sidewalks of every street. New Yorkers are supposed to put the garbage out the night before pickup, but no one really observes that rule, and the mounds of trash grow for days before sanitation removes them. It’s a feast for the rats, and any solution has to start with cleaning  up the garbage situation.

In the winter the cold weather prevents the contents of the trash from rotting, so the stink isn’t as bad, and sometimes the trash mountains are covered by snow.

But in the summer, when the tree-lined avenues get their green canopies and flowers bloom in window boxes, the city reeks. On hot days, the perfume of New York is rotting trash and the overwhelming smell of urine wafting up from the subways. Sometimes I think of what the Japanese, with their spotless streets and shiny subways, must think when they come to New York for the first time.

In October, after the city fielded a 71 percent increase in rat complaints over the previous year, the city introduced a new law making it illegal to put trash on the sidewalk before 8 pm ahead of pickup the following morning. The change hasn’t made a dent in the rodent problem.

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A 2015 study by Matt Combs of Fordham University documented the enormous size of New York City’s rats. Credit: Matt Combs

In any case, New York is not a good place for cats. Thankfully we have a huge and generally well-funded network of rescues that get kitties off the street and pulls cats and dogs from the city’s animal control system before they’re due to be euthanized, but strays who fall through the cracks don’t last long.

Indeed, when the New York Post talked to one of Mayor Adams’ neighbors shortly after Sliwa’s latest press event on Sunday afternoon, the woman said she’d like another cat to patrol the area around her building. The last one, she explained, had been run over by a car.

I don’t really expect anything to come of Sliwa’s plan to use cats in rat-infested locales. The red-bereted radio host is hawking the scheme because he likes to be a thorn in the mayor’s side, and because it generates free publicity, especially from the city’s tabloids and local news channels.

But if it ever comes to fruition, and people really expect strays to handle their rat problems, Sliwa and company better have a plan to keep the cats safe from traffic.

RIP Elliot, The Stray Cat Found Frozen To The Ground

This feels like a real gut punch, especially after a South Carolina veterinarian’s heroic efforts to save Juliet, the cat who had 38 hair ties removed from her stomach and died after her health seemed to improve.

Elliot, you’ll recall, was the poor, sweet stray who was found literally frozen to the concrete on the day after Christmas, when the country was in a deep chill the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades, with temperatures plunging well into the negative. A Good Samaritan found the little guy in a bad way, with his eyes frozen shut and his organs shutting down, but she turned up her truck’s heat and rushed him to Big Lake Community Animal Clinic in Muskegon, Michigan, where the staff took good care of him and named him after the storm he was found in.

They wrapped little Elliot up in warm blankets, gave him fluids and began to slowly raise his body temperature, which was a dangerous 94 degrees. Things started to look up, too: Elliot had a habit of reaching his paw out to the vet techs who were monitoring him, began to regain his appetite, and eventually was able to stand and eat on his own.

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But Elliot’s health took a turn for the worse again, and veterinarians determined he developed a saddle thrombosis, which is described asa blood clot (called a “thrombus”) that lodges at the base of the aorta just as it branches into two distinct arteries, thereby obstructing blood flow to the hind limbs. It is so named because of the saddle-like shape it roughly resembles once it takes up residence in this location.

For cats who develop a saddle thrombosis, the outlook is not good, and drugs designed to dissolve blood clots are often ineffective.

“Sadly, there was nothing we could have done to prepare for that but we knew it was time to let him be free from the pain and struggle he’s known most of his life,” Big Lake’s staff wrote to supporters.

A staffer named Diane Neas, who took Elliot into her home after a few days when he’d stabilized, was particularly hard hit by the loss, and understandably so. Well-wishes and applications to adopt Elliot had come pouring in, and it seemed like the former stray’s suffering would lead to the best reward — a warm home of his own and people to love and care for him.

“We find peace in knowing the last two weeks of his life were spent with people who showed him kindness, care and love,” shelter staff wrote. “We can’t believe the following and support he has gained on this journey to healing; from the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for caring so deeply for him and sending such love and support his way.”

Images courtesy of Big Lake Community Animal Clinic

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Pope Benedict Asked Us To Be Compassionate Toward Cats And Other Animals

Long before he was the pontiff, when he was just a young man named Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict was known as a cat guy.

Growing up in the village of Hufschlag, about 55 miles southeast of Munich, Benedict’s family always had pet felines and he fed strays who spent time in their garden. During his years teaching theology to students at Bavaria’s University of Regensburg in the 1970s, then-professor Ratzinger was often seen followed by an entourage of cats — the little ones he fed and cared for — as he crossed campus.

“They knew him and loved him,” said Konrad Baumgartner, a fellow theologian at Regensburg.

His affinity for his four-legged friends never faded, even as he took on more responsibility and had more demands on his time. Cardinal Tarsicio Bertone, one of Benedict’s colleagues, said the German clergyman had a natural connection with animals.

“On his walk from Borgo Pío to the Vatican, he stopped to talk with the cats; don’t ask me in what language he spoke to them, but the cats were delighted,” Bertone recalled. “When the cardinal approached, the cats raised their heads and greeted him.”

The Pope and the Cat
Pope Benedict with one of his cats.

As pope, Benedict continued to care for strays, and had two cats of his own — one who’d been with him since before he was made the leader of the global church, and another he rescued off the streets of Rome.

Photos of Pope Benedict with cats are different than the typical shots showing him meeting with world leaders or waving to crowds. His expression and posture are more relaxed in the presence of felines, and he’s often smiling in the images that show him holding a cat.

But it wasn’t just personal for Benedict.

“Dominion” over animals

For centuries, some people — mostly outside Catholicism, but some Catholics too — have argued that animals exist for the use of mankind, that their purpose on this Earth is to serve as resources. Proponents of the view point to a handful of Old Testament quotes, including a famous quote from Genesis that says God gave man “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Genesis 9:3 attributes this quote to God: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.”

The Pope and the Cats
Pope Benedict was well known for his love of cats, from his childhood in Bavaria to his days as pope emeritus living in retirement.

Other verses detail precisely which animals they can eat and remain in His good graces, and many Christian sects see those lines as a clear indication that God intended for animals to serve the needs of men.

But the Old Testament also tells us we can take slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46), that parents can have their kids stoned to death for disobeying them (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), that when children make fun of others, it’s totally cool to call upon righteous bears to maul them to death (2 Kings 2:23-24), and that people with blindness, flat noses and other ugly “blemishes” should wait outside church with the rest of the rejects while the good-looking people pray. (Leviticus 21:17-24).

Don’t even get me started on Sampson and the Book of Numbers.

The point is, if you’re going to be a stickler for things supposedly okayed or forbidden in the Old Testament, animals are the very least of your problems, especially if you trim your beard, let your hair get too long, wear shirts made of two different materials, or have ever placed a bet on DraftKings.

“Animals are God’s creatures”

As we look back on the life of the late pope emeritus, it’s worth noting that Benedict and his successor, Pope Francis, have rejected the view that animals are God’s version of scripted NPC automatons who exist so we can eat steak and wear leather jackets.

“Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures,” Pope Francis declared in 2015.

Benedict spoke out about the cruelty inflicted on animals, the incalculable suffering of animals in industrial farming circumstances, slaughtered by the billions for food after short, brutal lives in which no consideration is given to them as living, sentient creatures.

In a 2002 interview, Benedict called animals “companions in creation” and criticized the modern food industry for its “degrading of living creatures to a commodity.”

“Respecting the environment,” he said in a 2008 interview, “means not selfishly considering [animal and material] nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests.”

Francis made the church’s position absolutely clear with an encyclical — an official letter to members of the church — called Laudato Si. In it, he condemned the “ruthless exploitation” of animals as commodities and asserts they are individuals who are recognized by God. He urged Catholics to treat them well, to respect and protect wildlife and the environment they depend on.

Animal life has “intrinsic value,” Francis said, adding that Christians must reject the idea that animals are “potential resources to be exploited.”

As if speaking directly to people who use the aforementioned Old Testament quotes to support practices like factory farming, harvesting animals en masse for pelts and hunting for the “fun” of it, Francis said:

“We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”

Both popes also noted that, in addition to the suffering we cause, when we exploit animals as are also behaving in a way beneath the dignity of humankind. It’s a stain on our collective identity as a species, a betrayal of our roles as wardens of the planet.

Let’s put aside the moral considerations for a moment. The continued existence of the complex ecosystems on our planet — and indeed of humanity itself — depends on the many roles animals play, from carrying seeds to pollinating plants, limiting the growth of flora that would otherwise dominate and destroy other plants, rerouting water systems by creating dams, controlling the populations of creatures that would otherwise multiply unchecked, and the thousands of other roles they play in maintaining the balance of ecosystems.

Benedict left this Earth on Dec. 31, 2022, at a time when we have killed off almost 70 percent of all wildlife in the entire world. It’s not just a matter of living on a lonely planet, or tucking future children into bed while telling them that, no, they can’t see elephants or tigers because the last of them are dead. Removing keystone species, extirpating entire genera while rendering vast stretches of the planet uninhabitable, purging the oceans of life as they accumulate literal continents of plastic waste, means we’re marching toward a cascade failure most of us won’t even see coming as we argue about carbon credits, politicize common sense, tinker with viruses and edit genomes.

It’s long past time we recognize the fact that we share this planet with billions of other minds and start living in a way that respects them. If we can save them, perhaps we can save ourselves too.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The 1.6 million square kilometer Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which weighs more than 80,000 metric tons.

Found Frozen To The Ground In Record Storm, Michigan Cat Is Recovering At Clinic

Elliot the cat was near death when Kelli Vanderlaan found him literally frozen to the concrete in the early morning hours of Dec. 26, during one of the coldest, most severe storms to sweep the US in decades.

Initially unsure whether the white and gray stray was still alive, as his eyes were frozen shut, Vanderlaan wriggled him free and took him to the Big Lake Community Animal Clinic in Muskegon, Michigan. Although barely able to move and unable to vocalize, Elliot seemed to be grateful for the car’s heat.

“You could tell that he was obviously frozen, so he needed warmth and touch and everything, I think he was pretty happy when I got him into the truck,” Vanderlaan told the local ABC affiliate, WZZM.

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Staff at Big Lake Community Animal Clinic have been nursing Elliot the Cat back to health. Credit: WZZM

Once Vanderlaan and the stray arrived at Big Lake, staff there immediately began gently raising the little guy’s temperature, wrapping him in warm blankets and giving him fluids.

“We weren’t sure what he’s been through,” said Alexis Robertson, executive director of the local Humane Society. “He’s definitely been out there for a while trying to take care of himself, just trying to survive, but it was at a critical point where he was ready to pass.”

After giving Elliot a veterinary exam, cleaning his eyes and making sure he was snug, the staff at Big Lake Community Animal Clinic monitored him closely overnight. His organs had been dangerously close to shutting down when he was brought in, and he still wasn’t out of the woods yet.

Elliot, who was named after the storm that swept the region over the holidays, has continued to improve in the days since. He’s since been able to stand on his own and has regained his appetite, the clinic’s staff wrote on Facebook.

“We are so happy to say he is doing much better and was monitored during the night,” staffers wrote. “He reaches out his paw to the vet tech that has been caring for him overnight, showing her just how happy he is that he is being helped. He still has a long way to go, but we won’t give up.”

Elliot, who was described as an “older” cat who’s been fending for himself, will come out of the ordeal with his life much improved. After surviving the storm — which plunged temperatures well into the single digits, set record lows across much of the midwest and claimed the lives of at least 56 people across the country — Elliot will be put up for adoption, and the clinic has already received inquiries from people who want to open their home to the little survivor. If his will to live and his gratitude toward his rescuers are any indication, the little guy has a lot of love to give.

“It’s the most heartfelt feeling in the world to see this cat come from basically nothing and being vocal and happy to be touched and fed, it’s just an amazing thing to watch,” Leah Wetmore, the clinic’s manager, told WZZM.

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Kelli Vanderlaan was the Good Samaritan who saved Elliot’s live. Credit: WZZM