In a community that does not well define how animals with medical and behavioral issues are to be treated it is inevitable that animals will die for human convenience.
When a coalition dedicated to taking NYC No Kill pays only lip service to No Kill without working to implement it, that killing does not just occur in the shelters but potentially throughout the membership of the coalition. This is easy to see in the membership of the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals, where one of the founding members – the ASPCA – is known for killing when it suits their purposes. Theoretically every member of the Alliance is supposed to be what they call an “adoption guarantee” organization, meaning “organizations that save all the healthy and treatable animals under their care, with euthanasia reserved only for unhealthy and untreatable animals”. Fortunately, by not defining what constitutes “unhealthy and untreatable”, the Alliance gives members an out to continue to kill at will (if they so wish; there are many Alliance members who would never do such a thing) while continuing to say they are working towards No Kill and accepting money in the form of grant funds to help New York City achieve No Kill, since they are paid for every animal they adopt to the public who came from the city shelter.
A few weeks ago a New York City rescue called City Critters, not just a member but a founding member of the Mayor’s Alliance, took advantage of this loophole to kill a cat named Shannon.
City Critters picked up Shannon, a young stray cat nursing three kittens on St. Patrick’s day 2012. She was immediately placed in foster care but proved difficult to handle and quickly went through two foster homes, one where she did not get along with the resident cat and one where she attacked the person. Two weeks after being plucked from the streets she landed in a home with a woman who loved her and her kittens and was committed to working on Shannon’s issues – for clarity, I will call this woman Jane (not her real name). Maternal aggression in cats is not at all uncommon and it was hoped that it would subside in time. Jane committed to her through June 6 when she had to leave town, at which time she was to be transferred to another foster.
Shannon showed progress in the home and her kittens were eventually old enough to be adopted out to homes of their own. Without them, she gradually developed into a cat who was according to her foster parent “more relaxed, playful and trusting”. As you can see from this video made by her foster parent, Shannon loved to play with toys.
On June 6, Shannon went to another foster home. She did attack the woman on the first day but left no injuries, quickly mellowed and did very well in the home. Unfortunately the woman was unable to keep Shannon after her job situation changed and by early July Shannon was back to Jane temporarily – Jane had to leave town again in August so her situation was strictly temporary. This time, with a trusted person in her life, Shannon thrived. Jane saw no aggression issues with her in this time and she was comfortable, affectionate and playful.
In mid-August Jane once again had to leave town and City Critters re-took possession of Shannon, where she would be cared for by a volunteer in an empty apartment. Although she had done extremely well with Jane, it was feared that a new situation might once again trigger Shannon’s aggression, and it did. City Critters took Shannon back on August 17. On August 23rd – 6 days later – at the urging of the volunteer caring for her Shannon was taken to a veterinarian and killed.
Jane returned to town on Sept 1st. On Sept 6th, City Critters called her to let her know they had killed the cat she had fostered and loved for them. Jane would have been happy to take her back. City Critters didn’t ask.
The volunteer for City Critters who was caring for her temporarily in the vacant apartment doesn’t appear to have had a very good idea of how to handle an aggressive animal safely and was repeatedly attacked as well as allowing Shannon to corner her in the kitchen and bathroom. It does not seem to have ever occurred to anyone to put Shannon in a crate or kennel for safety until they could gain her trust and/or learn how to handle her. In their SIX ENTIRE DAYS together before deciding that death was the only way, options were considered and quickly rejected: they considered placement for her as a barn cat but rejected that fearing she would be unsafe, and considered medication for her but rejected that idea because they didn’t think they could get her to take it (I fear for other cats in their care whose very lives may depend on getting them to take medication). Besides, she would need a consistent environment and a dedicated caregiver to adjust to the medication – obviously something City Critters felt they could not provide. A vet recommended euthanasia as “not a horrible thing”. In the end the volunteer who had been caring for her for SIX WHOLE DAYS convinced herself that killing her was kindness, that she could never be hurt or abandoned or fearful again. And besides, Shannon had been knocking things over in the empty apartment where she was left alone most of the time.
And so Shannon is now dead.
City Critters is a founding member of an organization that claims to have the mission of taking New York City to No Kill, but even some of the founding members embrace convenience killing. We know that ASPCA embraces killing as a solution when trying is too hard. Now we know that City Critters does as well. These organizations are quite simply not qualified partners in a coalition with the stated goal.
Killing cats for behavior reasons is nearly always stupid. City Critters and their volunteer had many options that they chose not to pursue in favor of the easy way out. They could have tried a medical option, or restraining Shannon in a crate while building trust, or introducing her to a feral colony, or simply putting her back where she came from. The very easiest option was never considered: the foster parent Jane who had done so well with her, who loved her and cared for her and who had stepped up for her repeatedly was never contacted prior to Shannon’s hasty execution. City Critters also has relationships with other rescues who hopefully have more experience and more dedication with difficult cats, and there is no indication that they asked for the assistance of any of them.
I look forward to City Critters’ explanation for the death of Shannon. They received many inquiries about her death on their Facebook page but simply deleted them all. I asked their President to present her side but she did not return my phone call.
Her heartbroken foster mom wrote this in an email to me about Shannon’s story:
She should be remembered. She gave birth to three beautiful tabby girls whose future is much brighter than hers. She loved to chase things and could catch toy mice in the air. She liked shadows on the wall. and she loved staring out the window at pigeons. She liked to be petted but softly and with respect. She would purr and roll and rub around my legs. She was still trying to make something her own. When I had to do some repairs around the studio she was my helper. Following me around and very interested in what I was doing. She just needed to be a part of something. She needed time… I still can’t believe that Shannon is dead. I still feel that I was responsible. I really do. I was her friend. I let her down. I so trusted the wrong people. I should have known better.