On June 26, 2013, Merced County authorities served a search warrant at Last Hope Cat Kingdom – a pet sanctuary in California. Merced County Spokesman Mike North was on site during the raid and later talked to the local ABC affiliate:
He said many of the animals were severely emaciated, some had their eyes swollen shut, and others were infected with diseases. A team of veterinarians from across the state evaluated the pets and euthanized about two hundred of them on site.
Approximately 100 additional pets were removed from the property. North indicated that Merced Co AC had been monitoring the sanctuary and that prior inspections had all been satisfactory:
County officials said they have received past complaints about the non-profit, but inspections never revealed any problems, until last week.
“Spot checks were done by Merced County animal control and confirmed the poor conditions of the facility and the animals that were housed in them,” said North.
But on September 20, reporting in the Merced Sun-Star painted a very different picture:
A Sun-Star review of Animal Control records revealed the agency transferred close to 2,000 kittens to Last Hope Cat Kingdom over a five-year period, nearly four times the number allowed by the rescue’s county-issued permit.
Last Hope Cat Kingdom’s permit allowed a maximum of 125 cats, but the county’s Animal Control sent 1,969 kittens to the facility through its foster group from 2009 to 2013, an average of 393 animals per year.
According to the Animal Control foster and rescue reports, the agency continued giving kittens to Last Hope Cat Kingdom’s volunteers up until the day of the search, June 25. Six kittens were transferred to the rescue group on the same day authorities raided the facility.
The average age of the cats given to Last Hope by Merced Co AC was 2 weeks. Last Hope was reportedly the only group that would accept bottle baby kittens and it was widely known that if Last Hope didn’t take the kittens, AC would kill the them. The pound would call Last Hope to pick up bottle babies an estimated 4 times a day during kitten season each year. Last Hope co-founder Renate Schmitz faced the same predicament as many other overburdened rescuers in areas where the local shelter doesn’t do its job:
Schmitz said her rescue sometimes stopped taking animals from the public, but said it was hard to say “no” to Animal Control. “If you don’t take them, you know they will be killed or euthanized,” she said.
Animal Services Manager Rick Blackwell acknowledged using Last Hope Cat Kingdom as the agency’s main rescue group for bottle babies, but said the nonprofit could have stopped accepting more animals.
Or the shelter could have stopped killing baby cats and started doing its job. Expanding the foster network jumps to mind, as does issuing pleas to the public on social media as bottle babies arrive at the shelter.
Dave Robinson, county Animal Control director, said in a recent interview that he was unaware the agency was sending that many kittens to Last Hope.
“One thing you have to remember about bottle babies is you probably have about 8 percent of them surviving,” Robinson said.
Say what now? Maddie’s Fund has rather different figures:
The veterinary literature reports intimidating mortality rates for orphaned kittens up to 12 weeks of age, ranging from 15% to 40%.
15, 40, 92 – whatevah, whatevs. It sounds like the director is attempting to whitewash his pound’s failure with orphaned kittens by implying they were going to die anyway but that is outright false. Many good shelters scramble during kitten season to get fosters and rescuers lined up for bottle feeding duty because it’s their job and because most of those animals survive.
And remember those “spot checks” and inspections the county spokesman had said AC was conducting at Last Hope? In light of the fact that the Sun-Star exposed AC had been giving the sanctuary kittens hand over fist, including the day of the raid, I wondered if the county was going to walk those inspections claims back:
“We would never knowingly create a problem,” Blackwell said. “If we had knowledge there was an issue, we would stop sending animals there.”
Blackwell confirmed that animal control officers visited Last Hope only when there was a complaint. The most recent complaint was filed in 2010, so it had been almost three years since a thorough inspection.
Robinson acknowledged that Animal Control hadn’t inspected the rescue annually. “I think going forward we realized we do need to have a role in the process,” he said.
Robinson said it’s possible that Animal Control officers were unaware Last Hope could have no more than 125 animals since the permit was issued in 2003 and by the Planning Department.
“Back in 2003, Animal Control knew what that number was, but over the midst of time, I think the number got lost,” Robinson said.
Oh please. More like: We weren’t doing our jobs but instead foisting our failures onto an overburdened rescue group. We tried to kill our way out of it with 200 on site kitten kills and lie our way out of it with claims of inspections and ignorance but then we were exposed by the local paper. So now, uh The Midst of Time and stuff.
No charges have yet been filed against Renate Schmitz or anyone at Last Hope Cat Kingdom.
(Thanks Clarice for the link.)