By Enrique Lopetegui
Remember our favorite cat lady D'Ann Trethan?
On September 6, 2007, Animal Care Services seized and, according to Trethan, euthanized 37 cats she was caring for at her home. Trethan claims the City has nabbed 50 felines. She sued the City, and the City responded. Sort of.
Trethan sued for seizure of property without due process (the City was supposed to hold a hearing before destroying the animals), physical pain and mental anguish (“I didn’t have a broken arm or anything but, you know, it’s all inside,” she said Monday), and for the value of the cats. She now wants the City to make things easier for animal lovers who turn their homes into sanctuaries. Even though the lawsuit doesn’t mention a specific figure, she has a pretty good idea of how much it would take to make her happier.
“I ask for $10 million to be used for a grassroots program to benefit the citizens that are helping the animals,” she said, referring to her idea to organize up-to-code home shelters. “The more help people get, the more help the animals get.” The jury trial has no scheduled date yet.
You can laugh all you want, but Trethan has a legitimate question the City hasn’t been able to answer yet: When did the City destroy her cats?
On the day of the seizures, ACS public information officer Lisa Norwood was present at Trethan’s house on Clydeville Street. In a written statement to the court, she described what she saw.
“In this area [the front porch and yard], Officer Wright used a device that measures the amount of ammonia in an environment,” Norwood wrote. “Ammonia is a by-product of cat waste and can accumulate in areas where large numbers of cats are kept.” Large amounts of ammonia were found in and out of the house, according to the City.
After the officers repeatedly knocked on the door, identifying themselves as ACS employees carrying a warrant, the team entered the house through a side door and found her on the phone with “local television stations.”
“Within five minutes I did receive numerous calls on my City cell phone,” wrote Norwood. She claims the press told her that “frantic” phone calls from “a D’Ann” indicated ACS was “breaking into her home.”
Inside the house, Norwood saw “numerous loose cats … some food was scattered on the floor and on the various pieces of furniture … no litterboxes or fresh water [were] evident.” Trethan has told the Current the animals had plenty of food and water.
Norwood noticed that “some [cats] appeared to be suffering from some sort of disease or illness as they had mucus or discharge coming from their eyes or noses.”
Trethan says that after the City seized the animals, ACS’s Dr. Melissa Draper told her the animals would be euthanized. Draper could not be reached for comment.
“I can’t speak for Dr. Draper but I will certainly ask her if she'd like to speak with you about this case and her involvement in diagnosing the cats,” Norwood wrote the QueQue on March 9.
Right after seizing the animals, the City gave Trethan a notice to appear in court for a September 19, 2007 hearing “to determine whether the domestic felines … should be returned to their owner or, if neglect or abuse is determined, the final disposition of said cats.”
On that day, Municipal Court 5 judge Tino Guerra ruled that the animals should be “given to a non-profit animal shelter, pound, or society for the protection of animals, but if no such placement can be made within a reasonable period of time and public health and safety would be served by doing so, the animal(s) may be humanely destroyed.”
The problem is that, according to Trethan, “the [woman] representing the city” told her the cats were already dead.
“[She] told me that, if I signed the [September 19, 2007, Notice of Administrative Hearing], they would reduce my fine [from $1,729] to $200,” Trethan said, adding that she was so shocked by the news of the cats’ euthanization that she signed the paper under the “agreed by” line, waiving her right to a hearing.
“I signed this under duress,” she wrote on the margin of the official hearing notice she provided the QueQue. “My cats and I had no hearing.”
Finding the name of the mysterious woman who, on the day of the hearing, supposedly told the cat lady that her animals were already in cat heaven, has been hard for the QueQue. Trethan doesn’t remember her name, and Trethan’s lawyer, Gregory Canfield, didn’t return our repeated phone calls. Norwood wrote to us that “[ACS] is represented at administrative hearings connected to our cases by staff from the Municipal Courts ... [and] they may be able to tell you which attorney was assigned to this particular case.”
On Thursday, City Attorney Judith Sánchez — who signed the City’s responses and perhaps knows who the mysterious lady is — told us “I can’t speak about a case in litigation, but I can tell you this: The animals were in deplorable condition,” even though the City’s answers (signed by her and served on January 22, 2010) admit that the City “has not informally [sic] consulted any experts at this time” and that they are still “in the process of researching its records for details regarding the euthanizations.”
Municipal Court Five on Frio St., as well as Central Filing had no records of who was the City’s prosecutor on Trethan’s hearing, but somebody at Central Filing said “maybe it was Clarissa…” So the QueQue went up one floor to the prosecutor’s office, and spoke to Assistant City Attorney Sam García.
“Hmmm … It looks like Clarissa’s handwriting,” García told the QueQue, “but it may have been Chris Hebner.” But Trethan claimes the person “representing the city” was a woman. If prosecutor Clarissa Chavarría (who at press time didn’t return the QueQue’s message left at the prosecutors office) was the person in Trethan’s hearing, why didn’t she sign the notice presented to Trethan on September 19, 2007? When the QueQue asked García for samples of similar notices, we saw that most of them include both signatures: The defendant’s and the City Attorney’s.
“Yes, but it is not required,” said García. “All you need is the judge’s or the defendant’s signature.” Really? So why did the prosecutors sign in all those other ones? “It’s a better practice, but it is not essential.”
So all we have is the City’s responses to Trethan’s suit. In 25 of 39 answers, the City objects that the cat lady’s requests are “overly broad,” “unduly burdensome,” and/or “not relevant” to the case. Trethan’s requests include things like the number of times the City has seized cats and euthanized them, whether the City has at any time disciplined animal services employees for failure to follow City policy, what that policy is, and who makes it.
“It’s all about money,” Trethan told the QueQue. “The more animals that ACS takes in, the more money they can get. If they really cared about my cats, they would have left them with me and helped me [have a] clean and up to code [shelter] … [The cats] were 15, 16, 17, and 18 years old. I had to be doing something right for them to live that long with me … even in a dirty house!”
The QueQue asked Norwood whether the City had found the records that would explain when and why the animals were killed.
“As the time period in question was a transition period between our former computer data system and our present one, the department will attempt to locate the written euthanasia logs from three years ago and effort [sic] identification of the specific animals you are referring to,” Norwood wrote in an email March 8. “I have asked staff to move forward with locating said logs.”
“They don’t have anything,” Trethan told the QueQue on Sunday. “What can they have? Maybe I did something wrong, but what they did was even worse. That’s why they have no answers.
“The shelters are always full, and the citizens are willing to take responsibility, but there is really no place for the citizen to turn to in order to receive any kind of help, so we end up turning our own homes into shelters because there is no other place to put them. We love the animals and we want to help them, so we just do the best we can. I want to use all of what happened to my cats and me to show the problems the citizens have, all because we love animals and care enough to dedicate our time, money, and energy to help them. The city needs to take the limit off of how many animals we can have. As I have said so many times over the years: Rescue the rescuer!”
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