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Norwich Bulletin - 6/11/2006

Wake Up Connecticut?

I was simply devastated when I opened my emails a few weeks ago to find out that people I knew relatively well, that had previously volunteered for Helping Paws and were judges in the cat fancy, had been arrested for animal neglect and failure to care properly for an animal. As I read the allegations, which included over 15 dead cats in a one year period, and the removal of five others, I tried to look back to see if there was something I missed that may have prevented this entire incident. I came up with very little.

Then there was the investigation that resulted in 96 cats, sick and feeble, along with over 50 plus dead kittens found in a freezer in a Westbrook home. How could that have happened without anyone knowing what was going on in that house? Could anyone have done something that could have prevented this incident? Well, I could not come up with much more than thinking it is similar to the situation of all the people who thought Ted Bundy was a really nice guy and were shocked when his “other” side came to light.

But, in the case of animal neglect, there are also a lot of other factors to consider, too. When do good people “go bad?” People who love animals and want to help and do good, never start off their lives planning to neglect the very animals they love. Generally, something major happens in their lives. Depression, financial devastation, death of a loved one, or mental health problems that prevent people from placing their rescues with other homes.

Whatever the reasons, the results are devastating for both the people and the animals. I do have to admit that as much as I am able to feel for the humans, the bottom line is I have no tolerance for people who neglect their animals, for any reason. So while I can explain away why people do what they do, I personally cannot forgive it. Especially people who know me and could have called Helping Paws for help at any time. Even though we seldom physically take in cats anymore, our organization would always find a way to help someone who found themselves in a hoarding or neglect situation.

The cats in the first situation ended up in good places. The people did the right thing and voluntarily turned their cats over to rescue. The cats are now healthy and well taken care of and going into new homes. As to the humans, hopefully they will get a punishment that fits the crime. A punishment that understands the reasons for what they did, but does not allow them to simply walk away unpunished. Neglect is neglect.

The second situation is not so cut and dry. This woman started out rescuing animals and became a hoarder. Hoarding is truly a sickness and needs to be treated as such. This means that after the cats are surrendered, medically taken care of, and adopted out, the town cannot simply forget about the situation. I would spay or neuter the two oldest cats and return them to the woman, because she will not be able to live without animals and will move away and start collecting all over again.

I would then prohibit her legally from owning any other animals and monitor her for the next five years. Random checks on her home at least four times a year to make sure that she does not have more than two cats at any time, and that they are spayed and neutered. This way she has the ability to love and care for a minimum of animals, but knows she cannot start taking in every stray that comes around.

And this particular situation, in many ways, was caused by society. So many times I tell people that our foster homes are full, and their reaction is – what’s one more cat – just one more? Well, a weaker person than I am, would probably be swayed by that just one more plaintive whine. And so many people, like this woman in Westbrook, will take one more, even when they can no longer afford it.

So society needs to look to itself and not just blame the hoarder. There are no Connecticut state run sanctuaries for the unwanted cat – there are no safe places to bring them and the laws do not punish people for abandoning cats and kittens – rather they punish the people who started out being helpful, and became overwhelmed. So while we need to help the animals and redirect the people, we also need to start figuring out how to help the animals to avoid future hoarding situations. Connecticut needs to consider these situations its wake up call.

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