When one is involved in animal welfare issues as I am, sometimes a story crosses your desk that leaves you in shock, tears, and shaking your head in disbelief.
This week brought such a story out of North Ridgeville, Ohio, where on Monday a woman called animal control for help with a mother cat and her five kittens who were living in a woodpile behind her house.
The homeowner thought the humane officer, a retired policeman working for the city, would remove the cats and take them to a shelter to be euthanized. Instead, Officer Barry Accorti pulled out his gun and shot all five kittens to death as the woman’s four children listened to the gunshots in horror from inside the house.
The mother cat got away. The local humane society, Friendship Animal Protection League, is investigating.
Such actions, especially on the part of a so-called humane officer, are unfathomable. There is no excuse. And yet in the face of outrage pouring out from literally thousands of people across Ohio and beyond, the North Ridgeville police chief issued a statement claiming Accorti’s actions were appropriate. “Research and other animal organizations accept shooting as an acceptable means of euthanasia,” the chief said.
There is so much wrong with this statement that it is hard to know where to begin. First, no humane organization sees shooting as an acceptable form of euthanasia. If the cats had to be euthanized, it should have been done at a shelter by an injection from a trained euthanasia technician.
Second, while discharging a firearm in a residential neighborhood 10 feet from a home full of children might be acceptable under conditions of imminent threat, there was no threat from these kittens. The police stated that the kittens hissed and the mother guarded them aggressively, but this behavior is entirely normal, and any humane officer should be able to deal with it without resorting to gunshots.
Finally, this entire community seems to be woefully unaware of what is widely regarded as the most humane way to deal with stray and feral cats: Trap-Neuter-Return.
In TNR, free-roaming cats are trapped, brought to a spay-neuter clinic where they are altered and given basic care such as rabies shots, and returned to the environment. Stray and feral cats exist in every community in the United States. The idea behind TNR is to humanely reduce the population over time while addressing public health concerns and curbing nuisance behaviors such as yowling and fighting.
Feral cats have not been socialized to live with humans and therefore are not suitable for adoption. Kittens, however, are a different story. If caught young enough – and at 8 weeks this litter was pushing it – they can be socialized and placed into homes. I have socialized feral kittens myself. Yes, they do hiss and spit, but with some handling (gloves on at first), they soon relax and learn to be around humans.
What this entire episode says to me is two things. First, we must require training for humane officers — regardless of whether they work for the city, police department, or humane society — that addresses the needs of stray and feral cats, and provides best practice guidelines for how to manage this population.
Second, we must make members of the community much more aware of TNR so that euthanasia is not the first and only option that people like this homeowner turn to. Had she called a cat shelter or rescue group, it’s possible the kittens would be being socialized and the mom spayed. Instead the kittens are dead and the mom is at large, likely to get pregnant again and continue contributing to cat overpopulation.
Stories like this are why I advocate for small cats, and part of why I am doing this swim marathon fundraiser. Cats in our society do not have it easy. Lucky ones like my four made it into good homes. The rest eke out a tough existence wherever and however they can.
It is humans abandoning their unaltered cats and allowing their unaltered cats to roam who created the problem of so many unwanted stray and feral cats. It is our responsibility to solve this problem humanely, which the “humane officer” in this case utterly failed to do.
For more on this story:
Cleveland Plain Dealer – North Ridgeville clears humane officer of wrongdoing for killing feral kittens, but animal group wants action
WKYC – SPCA wants humane officer who shot kittens fired
Chronicle-Telegram – Police chief says shooting of kittens was justified
WKYC – North Ridgeville: People rally against shooting of feral kittens
WKYC – North Ridgeville officer back on job after shooting feral kittens
Statement by the Cleveland Animal Protective League
Statement by the Brimfield, Ohio, Police Department
Change.org – http://www.change.org/petitions/the-release-of-duties-of-barry-accorti-release-barry-accorti-from-his-position-as-north-ridgeville-humane-officer
Ohio SPCA – http://www.causes.com/actions/1754698-fire-north-ridgeville-humane-officer-barry-accorti-for-killing-kittens-in-front-of-children
Speak Out Against the Actions of the North Ridgeville Police Department
North Ridgeville City Council meeting, Monday, June 17, 2013, 7:30pm
7307 Avon Belden Road, North Ridgeville, OH 44039
Day 12 Swim Report
No swim today. I’ll be back in the pool tomorrow morning.