BERLIN – When 10-year-old cat Maggie disappeared last fall, her owners blamed a fox.
Imagine their surprise last week when they were informed she was listed for adoption on a Philadelphia rescue’s website. When they called to claim her, they were told she’d been placed in a PetSmart for adoption the day before.
“It was just in the nick of time we found her,” owner Laura Stearns said. “She’s so friendly I know she would have been adopted in no time.”
Maggie was just one of several missing Berlin cats who turned up in the Philadelphia shelter. In recent months, posts about missing felines have popped up with some regularity on a community Facebook page. Stearns said her neighbor’s cat disappeared in October, followed by her cat in November.
“Then we started noticing other cats disappearing in the neighborhood,” said Stearns, who lives on Main Street.
About a week ago, the owner of a missing cat from West Branch Street contacted the local group Community Cats Coalition and shared a photo in an effort to find the cat. It was after that point that Susan Coleman, director of the coalition, realized some of the cats that had been trapped by a Berlin resident and brought by Community Cats Coalition to Philadelphia were pets.
“A woman was trapping on her private property,” Coleman said. “We were just the transporter.”
Coleman said she apologized for the situation and has helped ensure the cats who belong to town residents have been returned. The coalition is dedicated to the rescue and care of stray and abandoned cats. Coleman said she simply responded to a call from a Berlin woman who said she’d trapped stray cats on her property. The coalition agreed to pick them up and transport them to Philadelphia, where a high-volume clinic spays and neuters up to 90 cats a day.
“If they’re not microchipped we don’t know they’re people’s pets,” she said, adding that her group worked with the Pennsylvania organization because it was capable of handling more cats than local facilities were.
Stearns said she didn’t blame the nonprofits involved, as they were committed to a good cause, but was upset that the neighborhood resident who trapped the cats didn’t communicate with neighbors.
“They basically wiped out our whole neighborhood of cats because they didn’t care for them,” she said. “We’ve never had a feral cat problem in Berlin. They were lured into cages with food. She was putting the food out—of course they were coming on her property.”
Police Chief Arnold Downing addressed the situation during his regular report at Monday’s meeting of the town council. He said his department had been involved and worked to ensure cats were reunited with their owners.
“I’ve had the opportunity to speak to all the people affected in this,” he said. “Out of all the cats we believe most of them have been returned. The one that hasn’t been returned we don’t believe was trapped.”
He stressed that Community Cats Coalition and the organization in Philadelphia were reputable, established nonprofits “that have a good mission.”
In this case, pets just happened to get caught up in the process.
“Them taking cats out of the community that actually have not been spayed and neutered that they think are feral cats, that’s a good thing,” he said. “In this situation several cats which were pets got caught up in the situation.”
In the wake of the unusual incident, he encouraged residents to put collars on their pets.
“If you have a pet, the universal way to say ‘I am a pet’—have a collar on,” he said. “That means dogs, cats, iguanas, whatever you got. If you have a collar on it, it goes ahead and says that I am a pet and I’m valued by my owner.”
Downing said missing pets should also be reported to his agency as well as Worcester County Animal Control.
“We know you’re going to post it on Facebook with a pretty picture of the cat or the dog or whatever the animal is,” he said. “Go and do that but make sure you contact us because we might have the phone call that, hey, someone picked up this dog or cat.”
He said he’d also advised Community Cats Coalition not to remove any more animals from town without contacting his department.
“Again, no animal that they take is ever euthanized at all,” he said. “They’re taken to a state where it’s a no kill. Maryland is not that. That is one of their missions, to make sure the cats themselves, animals, in this situation cats, are not hurt or harmed.”
He said that’s why pets that went missing as long as four months ago were able to be reunited with their owners.
“I think we have a whole lot of detectives out in our community, I might hire a couple of them,” he said. “I think the communication with everyone was the key and is the key. We have a lot of things to do but if it’s important to you it’s important to us and pets are part of the family. We value that. Again, help us help you. Pets should not be roaming freely in such a way they may go ahead and be hurt or injured. Try to control your animals as best you can. That’s our statement to everyone.”
Stearns is now keeping her cat indoors. Though Maggie doesn’t like it, her family wants to make sure she doesn’t go missing again. Stearns said they’re exploring the possibility of adding netting to the top of their six-foot high fence to ensure the cat doesn’t leave the property.