Tag: cat colony

‘We Never Broke Any Laws’: In Disbelief Over Their Conviction, Alabama Cat Ladies Vow To Appeal

They’d been treated like hardened criminals and insulted by the same police officers who were supposed to protect them, but Beverly Roberts and Mary Alston didn’t think they’d be convicted.

Not for taking care of cats.

“I felt it was very unlikely that we would be found guilty,” Alston told PITB, “with all of the evidence that we had on our side with the body camera footage, and we never broke any laws.”

Roberts and Alston were arrested on June 25, when a trio of police cars pulled up and officers from the Wetumpka, Alabama, police department confronted them. Police body camera footage shows the women, who had been caring for a colony of stray cats, were surprised by the tone and impatience of the officers.

What they didn’t know was that Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis was the one who’d in effect dispatched the officers to the small wooded lot owned by Elmore County, grounds that are open to the public. They didn’t know that the officers — who warned the confrontation was “going to get ugly,” told the women they’re “too old to be acting this way” and later joked that they were “a bunch of cops beatin’ up on some old ladies” — were told by the assistant chief of police to arrest them after Willis spotted Alston’s parked car and called the assistant chief directly.

On Tuesday, despite the fact that Willis’ role was revealed during a trial, and despite the fact that Wetumpka has no laws against managing cat colonies or conducting “trap, neuter, return” activities, Alston and Roberts were convicted of a pair of misdemeanors each. Lacking laws to charge them directly, the authorities instead accused the women of trespassing on public land and being uncooperative with the officers.

“That’s what I kept going back to – that feeding and trapping cats is not illegal,” Roberts told PITB. “I was not in the location I was [accused of trespassing], and I was sitting in my car talking to my friend. I was not feeding cats.”

During the trial, Willis and the police argued that they’d already told Alston and Roberts to stop interacting with the cats, and said the pair chose to ignore earlier warnings to stay away from the stray colony. They reiterated their view that the colony is a nuisance.

Roberts said she’s had her disagreements with Willis in the past about the way the town handles animal-related issues, but says Wetumpka’s animal control officer gave her and Alston his blessing to manage the cat colony at their own expense. The animal control officer confirmed that during the Tuesday trial. Public-private partnerships to care for stray cats are common in towns and cities across the US, with many elected leaders welcoming the opportunity to work with local rescues and volunteers.

Roberts and Alston say they plan to appeal their conviction, hoping a county judge will see the charges as “politically motivated” accusations. They pointed out that Wetumpka municipal Judge Jeff Courtney is employed directly by the town, not elected to the post by voters, and they believe they’re more likely to get a fair shake when the people deciding their fate aren’t serving at the pleasure of the people making the accusations.

In the meantime, the cat colony remains in Wetumpka, and the cats haven’t been cared for since late June.

“We are very worried about them,” Roberts told PITB. “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.”

Since the terms of the sentencing include two years’ probation, Alston and Roberts are prohibited from caring for the strays. Alston noted the irony of local authorities claiming TNR was exacerbating a “nuisance” while, in the absence of care and neutering, the free felines “are left to go hungry and continue to multiply and branch out searching for food.”

Roberts says she still finds it hard to believe Wetumpka officials refused to compromise or find a way to establish cooperative care for a community problem.

“I thought that they surely had more pressing issues to attend to,” she said. “I really thought the judge would dismiss it and tell the city to work it out.”

Top image credit Wikimedia Commons

 

Alabama Women Who Fed And Trapped Cats Found Guilty Despite National Outcry Over Their Arrest

Despite widespread condemnation at the arrest and treatment of two Alabama women who were caring for a cat colony, a town judge found the women guilty after a trial Tuesday.

Beverly Roberts, 84, and Mary Alston, 60, were arrested on June 25 after a group of police officers pulled up to a park in three vehicles and ordered the women to leave.

Exasperated at the disproportionate police response — and the non-negotiable demand that they leave a public park during daylight hours — the women protested, and things grew heated when the police told them not to question their authority.

“I’m teetering on going to jail for feeding cats?” an incredulous Alston asked the officers in footage of the arrest, which was released by attorneys representing the women after they fought to obtain it from the Wetumpka Police Department.

Shortly afterward, one of the officers lost his patience when Alston said she needed to collect her traps before leaving.

“You aren’t doin’ it fast enough and now you’re going to jail!” he said, grabbing Alston by the wrists and yanking her out of her car.

The two women had tried explaining to the police that they were caring for a colony of stray cats and that they were using their own funds to conduct trap, neuter and return services, a common activity among cat lovers who care for strays and ferals in towns across the country. In most places, the authorities work with volunteers and local rescues, understanding that TNR programs help control cat populations.

Roberts wasn’t moving fast enough for the police either, and one officer jabbed a finger at her, raising his voice.

“It’s gonna get ugly if you don’t stop!” he said.

Wetumpka cat arrests
A police officer pulls Alston from her car on June 25 before arresting her for trespassing.

Despite complaints from across the country, widespread coverage in local media and national animal-related news sites, Wetumpka Police Chief Greg Benton doubled down on his officer’s response, insisting the cats are a “nuisance” and Roberts and Alston were making the situation worse by managing the colony.

During Tuesday’s municipal trial, it became clear why Wetumpka police had acted so aggressively: They were called by Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis, who saw Alston’s parked car near the park and directly phoned the assistant chief of police.

Despite that, and despite admitting he’d had arguments with the women in the past about managing the colony, Willis told Judge Jeff Courtney he didn’t tell the police to respond and didn’t order the arrests.

“They have a right to make those decisions,” Willis said. “I don’t make those decisions for them.”

When attorney Terry Luck directly asked Willis if he’d ordered the arrest or played any part in the trespass order, Willis simply said “I did not.”

However, Officer Jason Crumpton said under oath that the assistant chief told him and the other officers to arrest the women.

After Roberts said, per the Montgomery Advertiser, that she was “not the first person in Wetumpka to feed cats,” merely the first to get caught, Courtney said the women “weren’t convicted for feeding cats.”

“I know,” Roberts said, “because that’s not illegal!”

There are no laws against managing cat colonies or feeding cats in Wetumpka, so police charged Roberts with criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct, and Alston with criminal trespassing and interfering with governmental operations, a charge tantamount to resisting arrest in many states. The charges are misdemeanors. Courtney suspended the 10-day jail sentences that come with convictions at that level and sentenced Roberts and Alston to two years’ unsupervised probation, a $100 fine each and court costs.

Attorneys for Roberts and Alston say they plan to appeal.

 

The Vet Thought This Stray Had No Chance, Now He’s Stealing Hearts At The Shelter

Gulliver was in a seriously bad way when a Good Samaritan found him on Oct. 27, on the outskirts of a “well cared-for cat colony” in New Jersey.

The little tuxedo cat had been hit by a car and left to die with a fractured pelvis, femur and tail. A veterinarian who examined him didn’t give him much of a chance to live, but his rescuer was familiar with Tabby’s Place in Ringoes, NJ, and knew if anyone would go to extraordinary lengths to save the little guy’s life, the staff there would.

Tabby’s Place took Gulliver in and their emergency veterinarians got to work on repairing his shattered body. It was touch and go, but Gulliver had a glorious will to live that saw him through the surgery and emerge on the other side with a ravenous appetite.

When the staff at Tabby’s Place saw him tuck into a bowl and begin “eating like a champ,” they knew Gulliver was probably going to make it.

Famished from his ordeal and in desperate need of nutrients to help his body heal,  he displayed “the best appetite I have ever seen in twenty years of feline medicine” said “Dr. Fantastic,” the collective name Tabby’s Place staff use for the skilled veterinary surgeons who put the most catastrophically injured felines back together again.

And then there was a second surprise — despite all he’d been through, despite the unimaginable pain of getting flattened by 3,000 pounds of aluminum, steel, glass and rubber and left to suffer in a broken heap, and despite pain signals hammering their way through the fog of painkillers, Gulliver turned out to be an “extremely affectionate” kitty.

“He is so affectionate and snuggly,” said Bree, a sanctuary associate at Tabby’s Place who has been caring for the little survivor. “He leans his whole body into you and makes muffins. He has personally reminded me that there is good in this world, and it is worth fighting for.”

Three weeks after his surgery, Gulliver summoned the strength to stand on his own for the first time since he was hit. He took his first few uncertain steps, Bree said, to get close enough to her so she could pet him while she cleaned his crate. His tail was so badly damaged that it had to be amputated and he’s going to require care — including manually expressing his bladder — for the near future, but the staff at Tabby’s Place will find a forever home for him.

Despite the trauma he endured, Gulliver “should enjoy a long, healthy life like any other cat,” said Angela Hartley, the sanctuary’s development directory. “It would take a special adopter to learn how to express his bladder, but as we learn continually, there are many, many special adopters out there.”

It’s not clear yet whether Gulliver will regain the ability to use the litter box on his own, but Bree said she’s “hopeful that this will not be permanent.”

Because a sickly cat from Gulliver’s colony had found his way to Tabby’s Place earlier, the colony managers knew of the shelter and Gulliver found himself “in the care of a person who knew his life was worth saving,” Bree said.

“She was so right. Gulliver’s life was saved because there are good people in the world. I feel like his loving and gentle personality is a reflection of that.”

All images courtesy of Tabby’s Place. To fill out an online application or browse the adoptable cats of Tabby’s Place, click here.

Gulliver
Now that he’s a month removed from his brush with death, Gulliver’s much healthier and even has a regal look about him. Credit: Tabby’s Place

Police Chief Doubles Down On Cat Lady Arrests, Trial Postponed

You might think if you were the police chief of Wetumpka, Alabama, you’d be embarrassed to learn your officers arrested and cuffed two women — one of them 85 years old — for the alleged crime of managing a cat colony.

Heck, you might be outright mortified that the public saw a video of that outrageous arrest, with your officers laughing about “a bunch of cops beatin’ up on some old ladies” after treating the aforementioned ladies like hardened criminals instead of good local people you’re sworn to protect and serve.

Lastly, you might be furious at your officers for demonstrating abysmal judgment by escalating a situation instead of keeping the peace.

Especially if video of the incident proceeded to go viral, drawing widespread mockery and condemnation of your entire police department

But if you’re Wetumpka Police Chief Greg Benton, apparently none of those things would occur to you.

Instead of apologizing to his community for traumatizing two women doing trap, neuter return (TNR) work in a public park, Benton is doubling down.

Benton told the Montgomery Advertiser that Mary Alston, 60, and Beverly Roberts, 85, were exacerbating a “nuisance” by spending their own money to spay/neuter strays, working with local shelters to find homes for them, and managing a stray cat colony that others were content to ignore.

Benton says the women were warned that they were “trespassing” in a public park — built and maintained with their tax dollars — and were warned not to feed the cats.

bravecop
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.

The women were arrested on June 25, but the media and public are just now learning the details because police pushed back on local media freedom of information requests for copies of the body camera footage.

Apparently Benton does not understand the distinction between tossing treats at strays and managing a colony at personal expense to reduce the stray population and get the cats adopted. Or maybe he’s one of those guys who thinks the solution is to kill the cats.

Either way, he’s chosen to ignore policing best practices, disregarding time-honored — and evidence-supported — protocols of community policing by endorsing the sort of behavior his officers engaged in.

Instead of charging into a public park, practically screaming “I am the law!” and gleefully cuffing two women while telling them “You’re too old to be acting this way,” a minimally-trained, minimally decent rookie cop almost anywhere else in America would immediately understand Alston and Roberts are not criminals.

That cop would understand the women are part of the community, they have to live with these people, and the productive thing would be to get the police chief, animal control officer, colony managers and local shelter supervisors together, so they can figure out how to support each other and combine their resources to humanely manage local cat colonies.

Instead, we have police moving forward with misdemeanor charges against the women. They’re both charged with criminal trespassing, while Alston faces an additional count of interfering with government operations, and Roberts faces a disorderly conduct charge.

Their attorney, Terry Luck, told the Advertiser that he believes the charges are baseless. Alston and Roberts were originally scheduled for an Oct. 20 trial, but it’s been postponed due to scheduling conflicts. A new date hasn’t been set yet.

Pa. Man Charged With Felony For Running Over Cat With His Truck

A former councilman in rural Pennsylvia faces two animal abuse charges after trying to run down a group of cats — and hitting at least one — with his truck earlier this month.

Frank Pagani Jr. was charged with aggravated cruelty toward animals, a felony, as well as a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge, according to a story by Beaver County Times reporter Garret Roberts.

Neighbor William Bittner, who helps care for the neighborhood strays, captured the Dec. 1 incident on his home security camera. The clip (embedded below) shows Pagani’s truck speeding up on the residential street and swerving toward cats who were in the road before blowing through a stop sign. Pagani Jr. then made a left turn to a side street and pulled into his driveway a few hundred feet away.

The 31-year-old was behind the wheel of the truck and his father, Frank Pagani Sr., was in the passenger seat during the incident, according to the Times. The Paganis live in New Galilee, a town of 379 people in rural Pennsylvania about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh.

In this still from Bittner’s video, Pagani’s white pickup truck aims for a cat, circled, in the road. The cat hasn’t been seen since.

Bittner said last week that Pagani Jr. called him after he realized the incident was caught on video and said he’d resign his council seat.

“He thinks that’s the end of it,” Bittner said at the time. “You just can’t let an act like that go on without someone being charged.”

Bittner and his neighbors have been caring for the stray colony for years. In addition to feeding the strays, they’ve run a trap, neuter and return (TNR) program, fixing 28 cats, and have found homes for kittens who were born to the colony cats.

The Pagani family apparently panicked when they realized Bittner had captured the incident on video and posted it to Facebook. Per the Times:

“The police affidavit also details repeated phone calls were made to the homeowner who caught the incident on camera by Pagani, his father and his mother. Voicemails received by police detail the family asking for the video to be taken down.”

The video shows Pagani’s truck striking at least one of the cats, who immediately ran off with the other strays. It’s not clear how badly the cat was injured, and Bittner said “he’s not showing up” at regular feeding times.

“We’ve been searching and searching and we can’t find him,” he told WKDA, the local CBS affiliate.

Locals who reacted to the video on Facebook were horrified by the footage.

“I adopted one of those kittens,” one woman commented. “This breaks my heart.”