Valley animal groups unite?

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Tony Lariccia

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Mary Lariccia


Cat Ladies Society Volunteer Kim Koocher

Working together would pay off for pets, leaders say

By Elise Franco

Two Mahoning Valley animal agencies are working to regain footing after months of turmoil.

The six-week shutdown and investigation of the Cat Ladies Society last fall and the firing of two humane agents at Animal Charity on Jan. 11 due to lack of funding may prove that local shelters need to work together to survive, said philanthropists Tony and Mary Lariccia of Boardman.

“All these shelters need each other. We should all sit down and talk and see what we could do to strengthen them,” Mary Lariccia said. “I hate to see a shelter close because that means the animals who are there have no one.”

The Lariccias have made sizable monetary donations to both agencies, most recently $50,000 to Animal Charity.

Volunteers at Cat Ladies Society, a no-kill shelter on Mahoning Avenue, had a long road back after they were shut down last fall and investigated on animal-cruelty allegations.

On Sept. 15, Animal Charity seized 83 cats from the Cat Ladies Society after completing its own investigation.

Charges never were filed, and the shelter came to an agreement with city Prosecutor Jay Macejko on Oct. 25, allowing it to reopen under specific stipulations.

Kimm Koocher, shelter volunteer, said having to close for six weeks was “devastating, financially.”

“Aside from that, the adoptions have been good, and we’re all happy to have animals here again,” she said.

Dr. Robert Reynolds, a veterinarian with South Mill Veterinary Clinic in Boardman, said solid finances are vital to running a successful shelter.

“It costs money to provide drugs and help,” he said. “Many strays have every disease in the world.”

Dr. Reynolds, who has worked in the area for 32 years, said both organizations would be better off financially if they put aside past differences.

“Money could be better spent if there was cooperation between the different organizations that try to save the animals,” he said. “If you’re duplicating services then it’s not the wise use of funds.”

Working together is exactly what Gary Pilcher, chairman of the Animal Charity board, said he wants to do.

Pilcher said he met recently with Diane Less, of Angels for Animals in Canfield, to discuss ways all local shelters could help one another.

“Angels board members want to explore with us ways we could coordinate, not just with each other, but with the other shelters in the area,” he said. “It really would change the face of animal welfare in the area.”

Koocher said volunteers at CLS would be willing to work with Animal Charity if the agency would answer questions about what happened to any remaining cats confiscated from the shelter.

“There’s a lot of water under the bridge, and there’s still a lot of bad feelings,” she said. “It would be nice to make the gesture to extend us the courtesy of at least telling us what happened to our animals ... An apology might be nice.”

Pilcher said, in response, that someone from CLS contacted Animal Charity recently about any remaining cats. He said his agency isn’t trying to keep anything from CLS, and the person who called was told the rest of the cats that were confiscated in the raid had been adopted.

“We don’t have any property of theirs,” he said.

Koocher said despite the shelters’ different approaches — CLS is a no-kill shelter, while Animal Charity will perform euthanasia — she thinks it’s critical they learn to cooperate.

She said she would like to see CLS and Animal Charity eventually be able to offer a free spay or neuter service a few times per month to residents unable to afford the costly procedure.

“I think it’s vital and beyond important,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll get anywhere if we’re circling each other [like vultures]. It’s a lot of wasted effort and counterproductive.”

Mahoning County Dog Warden Dave Nelson said for these and any other local shelters to survive, they must have a plan and a strong financial footing.

“You’ve got to know on the financial end how much you have coming in as well as coming out,” he said. “You have to draw the line on how many [animals] you can affordably maintain.”

Pilcher said the board acknowledges that the recent controversy at Animal Charity could have a ripple effect.

“Diane [Less] told me that what happened with us hurts [Angels] too,” Pilcher said. “If it looks, by the general public, like one agency doesn’t have its act together or hasn’t managed itself well, I think it tends to make other shelters guilty by association.”

Nelson agreed and said residents want transparency when it comes to these organizations.

“You’re in a general area where you have a lot of animal-loving people,” he said. “People want to see they’ve got their acts together.”

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