The pictures being posted online are very much like the faces of the missing after a tragedy. In this case, the faces are cats and kittens. Their tragedy is being rescued and then let down by the group that stepped up to save their lives. As the story surrounding Purrs from the Heart unfolds, it has left rescues scrambling throughout Chicagoland to pick up the pieces while law enforcement and the department of agriculture puts together their own case against the organization and its leadership - founders Sherry and Brian Przybylski.
Purrs from the Heart, a small suburban rescue organization, pulled over 1,200 cats from Chicago Animal Care and Control over a six-month period. Now, the search is on to find where those cats ended up and how many are still alive. According to a WGN report, 500 cats died many others ended up at a house on Chicago’s Southside where conditions were deplorable and many more cats died of illness.
The effect of this situation ranges far beyond the 1,200 cats pulled and unaccounted for in this particular case. It’s effecting current and future rescue efforts for organizations of all sizes in the Chicago cat rescue community.
The pieces of the puzzle
“It has been very frustrating. So much effort is now going into looking for the missing cats,” says Allison Tarr of the CACC Cat transfer team. Her group of volunteers networks photos of the cats from CACC to rescue. “We have no idea right now how many cats are missing, how many died for sure or even how many found homes. It will take a long time to do right by these cats. In the meantime, it’s all taking away from rescuing other cats that need help.”
Chicago’s cat community has come together to put together the pieces of a very complex puzzle to try to find out the fate of the cats taken in by the rescue. That has included trapping cats in the neighborhood surrounding the Southside home were cats were dumped. The lack of information has made it challenging even for organizations like Tree House Humane Society, a group that manages many of the cities feral cat colonies.
“In this situation, it has been very difficult to really know how many cats were released outside and how many have indeed been trapped already, which has been frustrating for us,” says Jenny Schlueter, the community cats program director the organization. “Normally when we start a new TNR project, we work with a feeder or if there is no feeder identified, we canvass the neighborhood in an effort to find as much information as possible before attempting to trap the cats there. Knowing even some basic information makes trapping much easier and more efficient so we can get to the next project more quickly.”
In this case, community groups on the Southside near the Paulina house where cats were dumped have stepped up efforts to trap cats. Those groups have been running active Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs to manage the cat population in the area.
The ripple effect
While that work continues, there is the bigger question – what happens to the cats once they are re-rescued. Space opens up for cats at no kill shelters and rescues as more cats are adopted and this is a slower adoption time for many rescues and shelters. While groups are stepping up to help, that could have a ripple effect on current rescue efforts in the cat community.
“Every day we have to reassess the cats on our waiting list to determine who needs our services most urgently,” says Schlueter. Tree House is Chicago’s oldest, largest, cageless, no kill cat shelter. “At any given time we have about 100-200 cats on our list, and we get calls about medical emergencies, threats of abuse and other urgent rescue situations every day.
“We recognize that the Purrs cats need urgent attention as well, and we are doing our best to juggle their needs with all the other pressing situations we are working on,” she adds. “We already have a couple of new fosters waiting to lessen the burden on those who have the bulk of the cats. We will continue to look for more fosters for them so they can receive their treatments from the comfort of a home until they are healthy and ready to come into the shelter.”
“We’ve taken in some kittens from Purrs from the Heart that have ringworm, which means they’ll need to be isolated longer,” adds Tarr who also is the founder of CARF: Critical Animal Rescue Fund. “That will take some space from healthier kittens that have a quicker turnaround. We also took in some of their cats from their Petco location.”
“It’s a case of re-rescuing cats that had already been rescued. We had not planned on taking on additional cats through the end of the year because it’s a slower time for us,” says Lauren Rizzo from St. Sophia’s Forgotten Felines. Her group has taken in four, one of which is FIV+. “We feel like many of the other rescues – how can we say no.”
In the case of Lulu’s Locker Rescue, they’ve added one of the foster homes from Purrs from the Heart to their program. Lulu’s focuses on FIV positive cats (and black cats and dogs) and that particular home had taken in an FIV positive kitty from Purrs. The organization says they are still pulling from CACC and can do more with more fosters.
The inability to say no by Purrs from the Heart is also part the problem here. Throughout the summer, Purrs from the Heart took in many very sick cats and kittens that needed to be bottle fed - both are a strain on resources even for well established organizations. Although it may be difficult to turn down a cat in need, rescue organizations and shelters make decisions every day based on their capabilities. It’s often a difficult call to make.
“We are in the same boat with our Community Cats Program. We get dozens of request for assistance daily and we have to reassess our project lists continuously to prioritize the most urgent requests,” says Schlueter from Tree House. “Normally, we address the situations in where there are sick kittens or the kittens are of the age where they need to be trapped quickly in order to meet that window of time when socialization is still a realistic option. Of course, we also prioritize cat colonies that have been threatened or ones that don't have a caretaker. Or, even if they do have a caretaker but that person is overwhelmed and not really able to provide sufficient food or shelter for them.”
Other effects on rescue
The greater Chicago-area is blessed with many dedicated cat rescues, most of which work very hard to not get in the same situation at Purrs from the Heart. Hopefully as these groups step up, more people will donate to help their work and also volunteer to help with fostering and caring for the cats in need. It would be terrible if the bad deeds of one group undermined the efforts of so many other organizations.
Maybe the most chilling effect of this case could involve changes that may come down the pike at CACC. Nationally, 7 in 10 cats that enter open access shelters are euthanized for lack of space. Great strides have been made by the all-volunteer transfer team at CACC to greatly improve those numbers in Chicago. (This group networks but doesn’t have any authority on who pulls cats.)
Changes in the rules for the Homeward Bound program (the program that allows groups to pull from CACC) will most likely be on the horizon. What remains to be seen is how that will affect the many good and responsible groups that pull from the facility every day. As for Purrs from the Heart, a statement on their website says they are closing down effect December 31.
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