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This animal welfare case appears to have staying power

Published: Sun, September 19, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

There are, of course, more impor- tant things in the world than the welfare of cats. Which is not to say that the welfare of cats is inconsequential.

We have a feeling that the Youngstown area is about to get a lesson in the relative importance of cats and the people who care about them.

Last Wednesday, agents and officers from Animal Charity, armed with a warrant, raided the new quarters of the Cat Ladies Society at 2217 Mahoning Avenue and removed about 80 cats. Animal Charity said it was following up on reports that the cats were receiving substandard care. Operators and supporters of the shelter take strong exception to that characterization of their shelter and the care provided there.

Most animal-abuse cases are pursued quickly and relatively quietly. Even those that make headlines tend to fade away.

That doesn’t seem likely this time. The dynamics are different.

It is not Animal Charity’s word against a lone perpetrator; it is one organization’s version of how these animals were being treated against the word of a sizeable number of volunteers.

It is also emerging as a dispute between humane agents who may take a pragmatic view on a broad range of animal-welfare issues and a volunteer group that has defined itself , first and foremost, as a no-kill shelter.

During the weekend, there’s an apparent stalemate. People attending an open house at the Cat Ladies Society shelter said they have received no official word on the fate of the cats that were removed, although there are indications some may have been euthanized.

No official word

The search warrant that was issued by Youngstown Municipal Court has not yet been returned, so there is no official record of how many cats were taken or what other material or evidence was removed from the premises.

Neither have there been any charges of abuse lodged against Kimm Koocher, who operates the facility, or any of the volunteers. Koocher says she has retained a lawyer.

There is no question that Animal Charity performs a valuable service. Its agents undergo training and are certified. They are called upon to respond in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations.

But it is also clear that volunteer agencies, of which there are several in the area, are necessary, even if each takes slightly or even radically different views of what’s best for animals.

The Cat Ladies Society has voluntarily stopped taking animals since the raid, so there’s no way to know the condition of the facilities when there are more than 80 cats in residence, many of them sick. Koocher conducted tours of the facility over the weekend, proudly pointing to its ventilated litter area, elaborate climbing tree and a photo board showing cats lying in beds, on shelves and on the floor in a pool of sunshine. At some point those photos will be held in comparison to the evidentiary photos and video taken by Animal Charity.

Until then, the question will remain as to whether Animal Charity acted in the best interest of some seven dozen cats, or whether it missed an opportunity to work with West Side volunteers who were providing a level of help that money can’t buy.

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