Battle Waged To Save Trapped Cat From Euthanasia; National Group Sparks Letter Writing Campaign To Elected Officials

SNOW HILL — It remains to be seen if a last ditch, national effort to save a semi-domesticated cat snared in West Ocean City as part of a larger investigation into a different cat that tested positive for rabies last month will be successful, but it certainly won’t be for lack of effort.

In June, a cat found at a townhouse community in West Ocean City tested positive for rabies. The rabid cat was part of a larger colony of cats on the property that was being cared for by a local non-profit organization, including spaying and neutering, all of the requisite shots and feeding. Essentially, the cat colony is feral, but is cared for by the local Community Cats Coalition organization.

In the wake of the discovery of the rabid cat near the West Ocean City townhouse community, several other animals were rounded up including a raccoon and an opossum that were eventually euthanized by Worcester County and later tested negative for rabies. In addition, a cat named Oliver, who was part of the colony cared for by the local Community Cats Coalition, was trapped in the area and now apparently awaits it fate with the county’s Animal Control Department, although sources from the national animal advocacy group Alley Cat Allies in Bethesda believe Oliver could be euthanized at any time if he hasn’t been already.

Last week, Alley Cat Allies interceded with a letter to the Worcester County Commissioners urging them to allow the Animal Control Department to turn Oliver over to the local Community Cats Coalition organization to quarantine the animal for as long as it takes to ensure it is not rabid at its own expense and effort. After getting little in the way of response from the commissioners, shelter staff or Animal Control Chief Susan Rantz, Alley Cat Allies on Tuesday reached out to its vast membership to intercede on Oliver’s behalf and as a result, over 56,000 emails were reportedly sent to the Worcester County Commissioners.

Alley Cat Allies spokesman Peter Osbourne told The Dispatch on Wednesday the organization believed Oliver was set to be euthanized at any time, adding urgency to the effort to save the cat, who, for the record, may or may not be rabid.

“The situation is developing in the last few hours,” Osbourne said at mid-day on Wednesday. “We’ve heard they plan to euthanize the cat today [Wednesday] if it hasn’t been euthanized already.”

For her part, Rantz, when reached on Wednesday, said she could offer little information on the status of the cat and asserted Animal Control is simply following the prescribed protocol.

“We have no comment at this point in time,” she said. “It seems there have been plenty of comments on social media. The health department and ourselves are just doing our jobs and we’ve gotten caught up in the middle of this.”

Osbourne said Wednesday if the issue had fallen on deaf ears in the county, the message was clearly hammered home with an email blitz to the commissioners this week.

“We’ve asked our followers to reach out and they have responded with 56,000 emails to the county,” he said. “We’re trying to make it clear to them there are options available. There are two organizations willing to take the cat and quarantine it for as long as is needed to ensure it is not rabid. They are willing to do this at their own expense and effort. All of the effort is on our end. They don’t have to do anything other than simply turn over the cat.”

There is apparently considerable frustration for the animal advocacy groups over the lack of response from the county and its animal control department and its perceived unwillingness to even discuss the outcome for Oliver. Alley Cat Allies senior attorney and associate director of humane laws and policy Rebekah DeHaven said on Wednesday all efforts to intervene on Oliver’s behalf have been rebuked.

“We have tried to have conversations with the County Commissioners and Animal Control and there has been very little willingness to even come to the table to discuss the options,” she said. “It appears they don’t have any intention of allowing that to happen.”

The frustrating part for DeHaven and the advocacy group is there could be a positive outcome for Oliver if the county agencies showed some willingness to bend.

“There’s an option for a live outcome,” she said. “A non-profit is stepping up to the plate to quarantine Oliver for as long as it takes with its own funds and its own efforts.”

According to the letter sent by Alley Cat Allies Animal Control and Sheltering Liaison Alice Burton last week, Worcester County Animal Control has said the policy is a group such as Cat Connections cannot claim ownership of the cat. However, when asked who owns Oliver, Burton was told the cat is technically owned by the townhouse community homeowners association, certainly a group by any definition. In the letter, Burton explained Cat Connection had Oliver and other cats in the colony the appropriate shots and presented the paperwork to Animal Control to no avail.

“My understanding is that the cat in question, who was ear-tipped and previously vaccinated for rabies, was trapped after a cat found in the same vicinity tested positive for rabies,” the letter reads. “I have had multiple conversations with shelter staff, health department staff and Chief Rantz. I have also attempted unsuccessfully to contact several Commissioners via phone and email. In my conversation with Chief Rantz, she relayed that a raccoon and an opossum were also trapped from the same location as the impounded cat. According to Chief Rantz, both the raccoon and opossum were euthanized and both tested negative for rabies.”

The letter suggests with the appropriate shots, a domesticated cat should be allowed to be quarantined to determine if it is positive for rabies and euthanasia is a measure of last resort.

“For domestic animals such as cats, quarantine offers a humane method for safeguarding against rabies and is practiced by animal control agencies and health departments across the state of Maryland and the nation,” the letter reads. “Despite persistent outreach, I remain troubled by the lack of consistency and lack of transparency I have experienced. I am trying to assist several legitimate incorporated animal organizations in your area in explaining to them the procedure in which the Worcester County Animal Control and the Worcester County Health Department have approached the situation and the life of this cat, but after a week’s worth of conversations, the rationale behind the decision to euthanize this cat is no less clear and answers to basic questions remain unanswered.”

Essentially, the letter suggests the quarantine option presented by the non-profit organization is the best outcome for the cat as well as public safety.

“Put most simply, Worcester County can and should allow a well-equipped, experienced organization to assume the care for the length of the quarantine period,” the letter reads. “The latter option is a humane, judicious use of taxpayer funds that fulfills the county’s responsibility to protect residents and other animals from any possible rabies risk. I have yet to hear any valid explanation as to why the county insists on euthanasia. When given a more humane option that is both economically feasible and safe for the public, the answer should be obvious.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.