Shelter Puts Down Petaluma House Cats
Up To 210 Animals Could Be Killed
Pamela J. Podger, San Francisco Chronicle, 06/16/2001
Petaluma -- Petaluma animal shelter officials said euthanasia began yesterday on some of the wild cats removed from a squalid Petaluma home, where they bred unchecked under the care of a San Francisco woman.
Nancee Tavares, animal services manager at the Petaluma shelter, said that the feral cats were being tested yesterday and that those with chronic ailments or deemed unadoptable are being destroyed.
Marilyn Barletta, 61, had purchased her Petaluma home at 210 Baker St. specifically for the animals, commuting there daily from her Russian Hill abode to feed her brood.
Animal services officers had been getting complaints for more than a year about the foul-smelling home but were unable to gain access until May 22, when police responded to a vandalism report. Tavares said they removed 196 live cats over several days and found six dead, some of them cannibalized.
Barletta, who pleaded not guilty on June 4 to a felony charge of animal cruelty, has said through her lawyer that she thought spaying the cats would traumatize them too much. Lawyer John F. LemMon said after the arraignment that Barletta feared the animals would be killed if she notified officials, and that she had been trying to find suitable homes for them.
He wasn't available to comment yesterday on the fact that his client's worst fears were coming true. He has contacted Tavares for copies of her photographs of the animals and a videotape of the Petaluma home. A trial is scheduled for July 30.
Tavares said that she and other shelter staff have worked diligently to cope with the feline fiasco and that they are not the villains. She said Barletta is squarely to blame for the unchecked growth in the number of cats.
"If, in the beginning, she had her cats spayed and neutered and handled appropriately, this would have never happened. This is her making," Tavares said. "She created this problem, and I refuse to have the bad guys be the shelter or our staff."
Tavares said only 15 of the adult cats will tolerate human contact. She is crossing her fingers that these adults will be adopted along with the 30 to 40 kittens that have been born since the conditions were uncovered. She said the clowder had grown to 245 cats -- crowding the Petaluma shelter so badly that some of the pregnant moms and kittens have been taken to the Rohnert Park shelter.
She said the shelter has spent $800 on testing equipment for fatal diseases such as feline AIDS, leukemia and other diseases. Given the criminal charges, all the blood work is being verified by an independent lab as a precaution.
Tavares said it is possible that as many as 210 adult cats will be destroyed -- given first a tranquilizer, and then an injection of sodium pentobarbital.
"They are so wild, and they are not coming around. Their quality of life living in a cage is not good. Some people say, 'Why don't you turn them out in the wild?' -- but most of these animals have never been outside," Tavares said. "It is so sad. We are under a lot of stress, and we didn't create the problem. If she spayed and neutered properly, we wouldn't be in this situation."
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