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No such thing as a free kitten

ACS’s “No Kill” march hasn’t spared SA’s cat ladies (or their cats)

Greg Harman
What more can you say? D’Anne Trethan wears her heart on her sign.
City of San Antonio
Photo evidence collected during the City’s raid of For the Love of Animals.

 

D’Anne Trethan’s love is as innocent as any child’s — and it’s as single-minded as an 18-wheeler facing down a stingy traffic light. For decades, the object of that passion has been the neglected and abandoned cats of San Antonio. During that time, she has collected, treated, de-sexed, and adopted out the strays. As she was able.

We’re standing in the front yard of her small rental with a cloud of ammonia tightening over us. It’s been months since the nearly 50 cats that once shared this home were seized and killed by the city’s Animal Care Services, but the odor remains.

“I couldn’t give ’em toys, but I gave ’em love,” her childlike voice peals. The silver-maned rescuer casts her outlined eyes to the blue sky above and starts to cry.

“I really felt like I was put on this Earth to take care of the animals. And to this day I don’t understand why God took them away.”

D’Anne knows her house, a would-be sanctuary just north of San Antonio International Airport, wasn’t the cleanest on the block. She also knows her neighbors have had it in for her for years.

Neighbor Michael Lee called D’Anne a “bad person.”

“It was like a Third World country over here: maggots, flies, stench,” says Lee, president of the homeowner’s association. “We couldn’t even open our windows. She painted half the house pink.”

There are two minds about San Antonio resident D’Anne Trethan. According to officials who kicked in her back door last September and seized 43 cats, including Candy, Corky, Roxanne, and Cuddles — killing most of them within days — she is a well-intentioned but misguided woman whose feline fixation only increases suffering.

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When is animal rescue animal cruelty?

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Others, including many involved in the broader rescue community, see something else: a woman who got in over her head, perhaps, but someone struggling to offer a humane alternative to a typically indifferent public and an overwhelmed Animal Care Services, which routinely gases incoming cats straightaway.

While D’Anne had long since given up on cat litter (relying on less-expensive paper towels instead), she spent thousands every year on veterinary care and hundreds each week for food. The cats were being de-sexed and, as they became more docile, adopted out.

Susan Farris, aide to former Coucilman Kevin Wolff, first became acquainted with D’Anne years ago during her morning public-affairs show on KTSA radio. As Farris regularly hosted guests from the greater animal community, D’Anne became a regular listener — and a frequent caller.

When Farris went to work in Wolff’s office, D’Anne found her there, too.

“She’s like one of those people that would call police departments because she was lonely,” Farris said.

Other calls were coming in, too. Neighbors phoned repeatedly with concerns about the number of cats at the woman’s house, or the length of her grass, or pooling water in her yard, or the stench of bundled cat feces.

“When this call came in I was just miserable,” said Farris, “but I figured I had to call code compliance because this constituent has asked me for help.”

Others weren’t as charitable. When D’Anne sought assistance from the head of the local Humane Society (who deflected calls from the Current to her press flack), the woman allegedly called D’Anne an animal hoarder and refused to assist in any way.

When D’Anne’s door was knocked in, the City was just a few months from dedicating a new $12-million facility off State Highway 151 as a way of externalizing their commitment to helping San Antonio become a “no kill” city by 2012.

Code Compliance officers visited the Clydville Road home the night before the raid and told D’Anne to get her cats out. She didn’t move fast enough. The next day a caravan drove past the Pawderosa Ranch and Lucky Dog Hotel, a landscaping business, and an empty lot, before parking in front of the house with pink plastic chairs and dusty plastic flowers wound around the tree limbs.

Warrant in hand, Eddie Wright, ACS
animal-cruelty investigator, kicked in the back door, D’Anne said.

The neighbors were right about something. The place was crawling with cats. The carpet had long ago been thrown out and floor-to-ceiling, wire-mesh catteries had been constructed in two rooms. Wright told one local television station that this was the first house he had ever visited that triggered his ammonia detector.

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How should the City address hoarders?

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Here’s a scenario for you.

You’re hustling your groceries into the back seat, fighting off a tightening migraine. As you settle into the front seat and start to close the door your eyes identify the luminous reflection of a cat’s gaze somewhere in the bushes. Closer, almost at your feet, a muddy pair of kittens stumble forward and fix dim, hungry eyes on you. They are obviously sick.

You:

a. Leave.

b. Leave, muttering a curse upon irresponsible cat owners.

c. Leave, promising yourself you’ll call someone when you get home.

d. Pull the pair into the car and head straight for the nearest vet.

There is a small core of faceless rescuers in San Antonio that repeatedly choose option d. Sometimes that means facing a raid. Even those that avoid the city’s animal dragnet and antagonistic relations with the neighbors grow weary. Due to the sometimes-illegal nature of their work, they also prefer anonymity.

One rescuer, who lives in a wealthy area in north San Antonio, said flatly, “I’m tired of us rescuers being vilified when it comes to cleaning up other people’s messes … We’re doing the City’s job and we’re vilified for it.”

ACS seized several animals from another who lives in a mobile-home park in Northeast San Antonio. While she was able to find friends to adopt her cats after they were taken, she blamed the City for terrorizing typically elderly rescuers who do what they can to take care of the animals others have dumped in the street.

“Animal Control is not picking up any loose animals like out of alleys or anything like that, they’re simply raiding us animal rescuers and hauling our spayed and neutered animals down to the pound and destroying them immediately,” she said.

Jenny Burgess, president of the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition, said the City is “in a state of flux,” but that “the change is not coming fast enough for those of us that are out in the trenches looking after these animals and trapping them and getting them neutered.”

Part of the change has been the recent revision of local ordinances, which now provide for trapping, neutering, and releasing — or simply TNR — of feral cats at sites designated as managed colonies.

In community after community, TNR has been proving its worth.

“The cats that are fixed are not a problem,” Burgess says. “The only problem is when people allow them to get so big, and they’re breeding, and the kittens, they’re diseased, and they’re starving, and they’re yowling, and they’re spraying. All of those things go away when you do a TNR program.”

Burgess would not comment specifically about D’Anne’s case, but allowed, “There are times when moving cats out from what you know is a dangerous arena is your only option. The trouble with that, though, is that others will always move in.”

John Bachman, co-executive director of San Antonio-based Voice for Animals, examined the City’s file on the case and disputes their position that the cats were too sick to be treated.

“Even in looking at those pictures, that I can see a lot of bad in, I could see … there was paper plates on the floor with food on it. So the animals were being fed and watered,” he said.

There have been major changes within ACS’s staffing that will affect enforcement, according to ACS Director Jef Hale. While Hale has been hampered in the past by a lack of staff to oversee the work of the agency’s cruelty investigator, that has changed. In the last few months, he has hired not only a field manager to oversee the animal-control officers and cruelty investigators but also a rescue and foster coordinator. Recent hires and ongoing recruitment will bring the number of ACOs from 32 to 38 and the number of cruelty investigators from two to four, he said.

Gary Patronek, professor of veterinary medicine at Tufts University, helped coin the phrase “animal hoarding” in 1997 as part of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. Patronek said hoarding as a psychological condition will literally allow an animal collector to “step over dead animals and not see something wrong.”

“You can find hoarders who have bags and bags and bags of empty dog food. Well, it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t enough. A sanitary environment is part of the deal,” Patronek said. “The animals don’t care if you’ve taken them in to veterinary care if they don’t have enough to eat or there’s filth in the house. It’s all part of a downward spiral.”

Still, the war with San Antonio’s “cat ladies” is far from over. And trust is a long way off. D’Anne’s rental was demolished Monday.

Though there would be budgetary considerations, Hale said he would consider licensing individuals to maintain home sanctuaries, as D’Anne was attempting to do.

“That certainly would be an option,” Hale said. “It comes down to the basic criteria, as long as the animals are being provided humane care. That to me is basically the most important thing.”

Caught in the middle, Farris can’t help seeing D’Anne’s perspective.

“Even though [the cats] were old and sick, I can see her point of view, too, about the irony of the City saying, ‘You’re not taking good enough care of those cats.’ And then the City takes them and two days later they’re dead. Sick old cats probably have a better existence than cats that are gassed.” •

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Is the City doing enough to address animal cruelty?

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Death: By the numbers…

Hoarding and rescue issues weren’t new to me when I started interviews for this week’s feature. Prior to coming to the San Antonio Current (and after a decade of newspaper work) I spent about seven months working for Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Kendall County. During that time, I was able to do a little number-crunching regarding Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) practices and euthanasia rates across the region. While the final report I generated there has yet to be released, the folks at WRR agreed to let me post the data I gathered.

As you review the numbers, consider that both Austin and Bandera have had active TNR programs for several years. Boerne does not have a program, and San Antonio’s only recently got officially underway.

— Greg Harman



AUSTIN

Fiscal Year

Cats

Received

Total

Killed

Percent

Killed

Per Capita of Population Served (City of Austin)

2001

7,930

4,063

51.2

.61

2002

7,667

4,710

61.4

.71

2003

9,152

6,111

66.7

.93

2004

9,176

6,073

66.1

.92

2005

9,802

7,025

71.6

1

2006

8,340

5,396

64.7

.76

2007*

3,978*

2,366*

59.4*

.33


BOERNE

Fiscal Year †

Cats

Received

Total Killed

Percent

Killed

Per Capita of Population Served

(Kendall County)

2004

1,296

934

72

3.9

2005

1,130

792

70

3.3

2006

1,086

789

72.6

2.6

2007*

372*

252*

67.7*

.83*

Boerne officials maintain only three years of shelter statistics.


BANDERA

Fiscal Year

Cats

Received

Total

Killed

Percent

Killed

Per Capita of Population Served

(City of Bandera)

2004

No data

No data

No data

No data

2005

52

5

9.6

.05

2006

63

5

7.9

.04

2007*

20*

3*

15*

.26*



SAN ANTONIO

Fiscal Years

Cats

Received

Total

Killed

Percent

Killed

Per Capita of Population Served

(City of San Antonio)

2001

17,301

16,714

96.6

1.46

2002

15,818

15,268

96.5

1.3

2003

15,473

14,821

95.7

1.29

2004

13,962

13,191

94.4

1.15

2005

18,822

15,810

83.9

1.38

2006

15,662

13,010

83

1

2007*

8,805*

4,067*

46.1*

.31*


*2007 data covers the first seven months of the fiscal year, from October to April. However, about 58 percent of all cat intakes occur during the five months from May to September. Therefore, these percentages and per capita rates should not be construed to suggest a significant variance from the year before.


Per Capita figures for years 2000-2005 are based on 2000 U.S. Census Bureau population statistics from 2000. The years 2006 and 2007 are based on U.S. Census Bureau 2006 population estimates.


Populations 2000 (actual) 2006 (estimated)

San Antonio: 1,144,646 1,296,682

Bexar Co.: 1,392,931 1,555,592

Austin: 656,562 709,893

Travis Co.: 812,280 921,006

Kendall Co.: 23,743 30,213

Bandera Co.: 17,645 20,203

Bandera City: 957 1,123


(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)


----


The Neighbor Nose:

The long road of bureaucracy


July, 05, 2003

Neighbor Nose: “BAD SMELL/LADY DOES NOT CLEAN UP AFTER HER CATS”

Survey Said: SEVEN-MINUTE INSPECTION DID NOT REVEAL ANY CATS OR CAT WASTE.


July 23, 2003

Neighbor Nose: “OVERGROWN YARD FRONT AND BACK”

Survey Said: Property owner cuts the grass.


November 18, 2003

Neighbor Nose (1): “VERY BAD ODOR COMING FROM PROPERTY”

Neighbor Nose (2): “80 CATS ON PROPERTY”

Survey Said (1): “ONLY SMELL FOUND WAS FOR CAT/DOG FOOD ON FLOOR OF CARPORT… NO VIOLATION.”

Survey Said (2): “DID NOT SEE ONE CAT AT ALL; NOBODY ANSWERED DOOR.”

Survey Said (2): Went back on December 18: STILL NO SIGN OF ANY CATS/WILL MONITOR.”

Survey Said (2): Went back on January 29, 2004: “STILL NO SIGN OF EXCESS CATS… ONE CAT VISIBLY SEEN.”


November 21, 2003

Neighbor Nose: “A BAD ODER GOING INTO NEIGHBORS YRD. IT SMELLS VERY BAD… WIND BLOWS… AND IT IS UNTOLERABLE [sic]…”

Survey Said: Under investigation.


June 25, 2004

Neighbor Nose: “MORE THAN 25 LOOSE CATS INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE HOME.”

Survey Said: Found one cat; Two weeks later, saw one more cat.


October 11, 2004

Neighbor Nose: “SMELL VERY BAD AND NEIGHBORS ARE NOT ABLE TO WORK IN YARD DUE TO SMELL COMING FROM HOUSE NEXT DOOR.”

Survey Said: Inspected 15 days later and “NO BAD SMELL DETECTED; SENDING NOTICE FOR WEEDS.”


October 18, 2004

Neighbor Nose: “SEVERAL CATS AT THIS ADDRESS.”

Survey Said: “NO CATS SEEN AT ALL; NO VIOLATION.”


January 10, 2006

Neighbor Nose: “AT LEAST 30 CATS IN HOME. SMELL IS UNBEARABLE AND THROWS FOOD ONTO FRONT YARD.”

Survey Said: Checked on January 17 and January 19 and “NO SIG[N] OF EXCESS CATS.”


June 19, 2006 and June 27, 2006

Neighbor Nose: “HAS 30 CATS SHE NOT CLEANING UP AFTER SMELL BOTHERING ***** - HAS BAGS OF LITTER AND FECES INSIDE HOUSE.”

Survey Said: Checked June 23 and July 14 and “DID NOT FIND ONE ANIMAL AROUND PREMISES; LEFT DOORHANGER/NO ANIMALS FOUND AT ALL; DID NOT SMELL ANY ODOR THAT MIGHT BE CAUSED FROM TOO MANY CATS; CLOSING COMPLAINT OUT.


October 24, 2006

Neighbor Nose (1): “TOO MANY CATS CAUSING RODENTS AND VERY FOUL ODOR.”

Neighbor Nose (2): “NO WATER IN HOME.”

Neighbor Nose (3): “BAGS OF LITTER IN BACK OF PROPERTY – HOLES OF STAGNANT WATER AROUND PROPERTY.”

Survey Said (1): Checked October 26 and “NO SIGN OF ANY CATS AT THIS TIME NO ODOR DETECTED EITHER.”

Survey Said (2): “WATER ACCOUNT IS ACTIVE ACCORDING TO SAWS.”

Survey Said (3): VIOLATION for pallets stacked with bricks. Rubbish in back yard.


May 29, 2007

Neighbor Nose: “WATER PONDING… ATTRACTING RATS, FLYS BAGS OF CAT LITTER ON PROPERTY ATTRACTING MAGGOTS. LEAVING FOOD FOR CRITTERS.”

Survey Said: Overgrown yard.


August 22, 2007

Neighbor Nose: “BAGS OF CAT FECES IN THE YARD… CITZ HAS OVER 50 BAGS OF FECES IN YARD AND GARBAGE CREW REFUSES TO TAKE BAGS.”

Survey Said: Trash is picked up by garbage truck. IN COMPLIANCE.


August 24, 2007

Neighbor Nose: “CITZ HAS MORE THAN 3 CATS, OVER 50 BAGS OF FECES ON PROPERTY AT TIME.. SMELL IS AWFUL FEEDS STRAY CATS BY SPREADING FOOD OVER THE PROPERTY.”

Survey Said: “NO CATS VISIBLE; NOBODY ANSWERED DOOR.”


September, 2006

Survey Said: “CALLED EDDIE WRIGHT WITH ANIMAL CRUELTY… WILL MEET TOMORROW TO PLAN COURSE OF ACTION TO DETERMINE HOW TO INSPECT NUMBER OF CATS ON PROPERTY. SAID HE WILL TRY TO GET WARRANT TO ENTER THE PROPERTY.”


September 6, 2006

Survey Said: “MET W/ EDDIE WRIGHT, ANIMAL CARE SERVICE, AND HUMAN SOCIETY – ANIMAL SERVICES WENT INSIDE WITH A WARRANT AND REMOVED APPROXIMATELY 30-35 CATS; NUISANCE HAS BEEN ABATED AT THIS TIME.”



What is animal hoarding?


  • More than the typical number of companion animals;

  • Inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in starvation, illness, and death;

  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling.


(Source: The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, Tufts University)



Want to learn more about TNR?

Feral Cat/TNR Workshop

Saturday, February 16

Animal Care Services

4710 State Highway 151

Noon to 2 pm


Or contact:

San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition

sanantonioferalcats.org?

Helpline: 210-877-9067?

Adoption List: http://tinyurl.com/n3b6o

* SAFCC needs outdoor locations where healthy, sterilized, and vaccinated feral cats may be placed as part of monitored colonies.


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