Is this No Kill? The Death of Shannon.

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.

Like New York City Animal Care and Control and the ASPCA, City Critters had a solution when an issue arose. It’s the blue solution.

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.

This entry was posted in ASPCA, Cats, Maddie's Fund, Mayor's Alliance, No Kill, NYCACC. Bookmark the permalink.
  • mikken

    I really feel for the foster mom. She had no idea they would kill this cat. And clearly, knowing the cat’s history, they should have tried another volunteer who has experience taming ferals. Or … just another volunteer. Why didn’t this volunteer realize that she was out of her depth with this cat? Why didn’t they try contacting the foster mom? So many other choices not even considered.

  • db

    And these are the people who are doing the rescuing? God help all of the animals if this is the best we can do for them. Shannon didn’t need to die. There were so many options . . . I’m sorry little girl that we humans let you down. I’m sorry for her foster mom who obviously loved her very much. I’m sorry that so many people still see killing as the best option. I bet Shannon would disagree . . .

  • It’s just wrong in every imaginable way. RIP, darling Shannon.

  • YesBiscuit!

    Even in the absolute worst case scenario I can conjure in my mind – one where the only person on earth who was available to provide care for Shannon in the empty apartment until Jane returned was in fear of serious bodily injury – I do not see how killing was an option. Sufficient food, water and litter boxes could have been left for Shannon until Jane got back into town. Mayor’s Alliance of No Truth.

  • db

    Just sent an email to City Critters – don’t know if anyone will even read it, but they need to know, at least, that people are watching.

  • siferal

    “City Critters picked up Shannon, a young stray cat nursing three kittens on St. Patrick’s day 2012.” – – – “And clearly, knowing the cat’s history, they should have tried another volunteer who has experience taming ferals.”

    …so we have some confusion as to Shannon’s real level of socialization (is she a stray? a feral? a semi-feral?)…which is understandable, given her unknown history…but nearly every one of us has had the experience of encountering the unexpected or unpredictable behavior in a cat we originally intended to place in a home. When the cat was pulled from the shelter, this can present a real difficulty, as often there is zero clue as to where the cat really came from. In other words, no one (with chops) would suggest dumping a cat onto the street when there was no information to suggest that the cat had survival skills. However, in this case, john is right that the least complicated solution – and way better than death – would have been to return her to the location she was found at. I’m interested to know how she was physically acquired – was she trapped? How were her kittens acquired, and how old were they at the time?

    she was running around in an empty apartment? really? a cat with known behavioral challenges observed in an indoor environment? was she EVER in a crate? if not, then the crimes against her began much earlier than her unwarranted execution, and she was set up to fail.

    maternal instinct, stress of capture and confinement, repeated shuffling – all sources of stress for even the most well-adjusted cat, much less a cat who may have never been all that “place-able” to begin with.

    and let’s acknowledge that that’s OK. just because we the humans decide that the cat belongs in a home doesn’t make it so. Specifically to the feral issue…we should never try to tame ferals unless death is the only other option (ironically). There are plenty of friendly socialized cats dying, we don’t need to create more.

    the bottom line is that even IF Shannon’s willing foster had NOT existed, death was not the appropriate avenue for this cat. and i say that having been in an eerily similar situation – responsible for a cat who repeatedly did harm to her fosters. she was NOT feral, and is now in a home, and fairly well-adjusted…but it took MONTHS of dedication (on my part, i might add, since i didn’t feel comfortable asking anyone else to assume responsibility or risk) and barbecue gloves and layered clothing and some damn quick reflexes – and yeah, amitriptyline in her food, because it was that serious and we were willing to try anything and some of the meds was better than none. and i learned a whole hell of a lot…mostly that everything is really a crap-shoot, and sometimes you just have to do the best you can, because “ideal” rarely exists.

    death is never the “best we can do” and certainly not when there are other viable options – why is this so reminiscent of Oreo?

    • mikken

      Siferal, my comment was not intended to suggest that Shannon was feral, but that she would have done better in the situation if she had been handled as feral – a taming crate, moving her through the appropriate steps, etc.

      Frankly, I’m surprised the group did not suggest someone with feral experience for this cat. Although not as surprised as I was at finding out that they killed her without so much as a phone call to her last successful fosterer…

      • siferal

        Mikken…sorry – i didn’t meant to imply that you personally were confused…just that there WAS and IS confusion, which is true, and warranted. All cats, regardless of level of socialization, should be crated initially upon moving them to a new environment. Regarding the specific issue of “taming” ferals, we don’t support such a process, unless we are discussing the socialization of kittens who have heretofore had little to no human contact, and they are being socialized for placement. Frankly, I’m surprised that CC did not pursue finding someone with (apparently) much experience at all for this cat. If they believed she was feral, she should have been TNR’ed. They obviously classified her as “stray” and were intending to place her – so the greatest disappointment beside their end solution is that this would be standard practice for any rescued cat of theirs.

    • goober grape

      This is what happens when you let rescue groups carry the burden for the city shelters. ACC wants to keep their kill lists down, so send a bunch of volunteers to pull the animals and then good luck. There is no excuse for this except cheapness. Funding should go to better, cleaner facilities with professionals working in them. Vets, not techs. Managers who will fire people for showing up stoned or making mistakes that lead to unnecessary deaths. If you’re not committed to keeping as many of these cats alive as possible, then you have no business working in a shelter or a rescue group. I feel for the foster and poor Shannon RIP.

      • goober grape

        Another senseless thumbs down for a comment. Truth is these groups often don’t know the animals well enough to ensure them a happy life once they’re out of the shelter. I had two references called to pull a kitten from death row. But they knew nothing about the kitten, which had myriad health problems that led to it dying within days after I spent at least a grand at the vet then a 24 hour animal hospital. As for the cat I described below, the group never warned me that she was difficult. “Shy, depressed, good with other cats.” The total opposite was true, but I felt sorry for the cat and kept her a week.

  • there’s a lot of contention about returning a cat to the street, some feel that once a cat (even a true feral) has been brought indoors, they somehow lose any survival instincts and can’t possibly be returned. i think that’s mostly false but a lot of people buy into it. maybe CC thinks this way and erroneously believed they truly had run out of options. we need better communication in the rescue community, so many people could have helped Shannon if only they had known she was in danger. are rescues afraid of asking for outside help for some legal reason? in any case, in an effort to keep this incident quiet they’ve made things so much worse, it not only makes CC look bad, it hurts the credibility of the entire No-Kill movement.

  • The cat just had kittens!!! She was probably being protective, a natural instinct, then moved from home to home is so stressful. She could have, should have lived. Disgraceful..

  • Guest

    This is what happens when you let rescue groups carry the burden for the city shelters. ACC wants to keep their kill lists down, so send a bunch of volunteers to pull the animals and then good luck. There is no excuse for this except cheapness. Funding should go to better, cleaner facilities with professionals working in them. Vets, not techs. Managers who will fire people for showing up stoned or making mistakes that lead to unnecessary deaths. If you’re not committed to keeping as many of these cats alive as possible, then you have no business working in a shelter or a rescue group.

  • goober grape

    My two cats were feral rescues, and they were taken as kittens that would not have survived in the wild. They still always had wild instincts, and I liked that about them. Domesticated animals live with us in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Their existence should not be contingent upon human whim, and it’s disrespectful to act otherwise.

    That is why when people visit my home, I warn them that my cats are weird. One was more aggressive (she passed away recently), but I told people to leave her alone. The other was shy, and I would encourage them to bribe her with her favorite treat cheese.

    Now I have another cat that I just adopted. He was a street cat and fits in here. But for a while, I had a foster who had a hard time adjusting. She needed crating, but she did ok after a week, becoming more playful and feeling more confident when allowed out for supervised play time. At any point when she felt threatened, she knew her kennel was her safe place. This is not much work for the foster. Euthanasia is unbelievably cruel.

  • arslonghis

    I find this article so depressing. There is so much that can be done (unless one is a PETA member, thinking that death is best). Did the cat go to the vet to see if there was any pain? Was the cat in heat again? I have a foster that was so unpredictable and aggressive after coming from the shelter, she came unspayed as she had the usual URI. She went into a crate. After her spaying and some dental work she is a different cat, and has an application pending. I remember being scared of her at first, but never did I think of having her killed. I was careful, wore cat gloves even to clean the litter box, and now I can put her in a carrier, hug her, she is so much better (5 months later). So sorry for Shannon.

  • Why would people work with cats if they can’t handle them? My cat goes crazy when I take her to the vet. She hatedps the pet taxi. We have moved several times in te past & it takes her months to get used to a new place! This is outrageous for this cat to have been killed

  • This is horrible. Taking a life is a more serious decision than it was made in this case. Shannon had a place where she felt comfortable and it was only 6 days away. Any cat with behavioral issues left ALONE in an empty apartment with no social outlet is going to revert to it’s normal instincts. She was not capable of being left alone. Cats with issues like this can be frightening but killing should not have been an option. There were plenty of other avenues to try before such an end. Shame one that volunteer foster and shame on City Critters if they approved the killing.

  • Dyslexic care bear

    That’s so sad and messed up they should not be aloude to do that it’s not that Hard to deal with an angry cat and can you Blane her for being so angry if I was constinly moved around like that I would be to. Oops Gess I should be killed to

  • Dyslexic care bear

    Think if we acting this way tords people there wouldn’t be a fucher generation cause there would be no teen agers why treat animals different than people that’s messed up poor thing may she rest in peace hopefully she’s in a better place she deservice it