A Millcreek Township neighborhood is in mourning and in disbelief after the township’s animal control officer euthanized what residents say was a healthy, good-natured cat.
The incident occurred on the afternoon of July 29, when a woman in the 3200 block of Berkley Street contacted animal control about a stray male cat that had entered her home and refused to leave.
The woman, who asked not to be identified for privacy reasons, told the Erie Times-News the cat looked healthy and was friendly.
“The cat was super sweet,” she said. “He was letting me pet him and hold him the entire time. I also tried to check to see if I saw any fleas or anything on him and I did not notice anything.”
The woman said she messaged the Erie Animal Network Facebook group to post a photo of the cat to find the owner. When no one claimed the cat after a few hours, she contacted Millcreek Township Animal Control, hoping they would transport the cat to the Erie Humane Society.
“I had looked on the Humane Society’s Facebook page and saw they were closed for cleaning, so I would not be able to take him myself,” she said. “I called (Animal Control) to ensure they would still be able to take the cat there. The (officer) stated ‘yes’ and they had keys to the building.”
The cat never arrived.
Township says cat was aggressive, host to parasites
In a news release Friday, the township stated its animal control officer, Rich Lyall, responded to the home and immediately noticed the cat was host to several parasites.
Lyall also observed no collar, no identification microchip and no rabies vaccination tag, the release stated.
“Employing standard industry precautions that are specifically designed to mitigate the spread of animal borne illnesses, the officer used a catch pole to remove the cat from the home,” the release stated. “The cat reacted aggressively and risked the safety of all parties involved.”
The release continued, “Out of an abundance of caution, the cat was euthanized in accordance with Pennsylvania’s Animal Destruction Method Authorization Law, specifically out of an interest to public safety and because of the potential for the community spread of rabies and other animal borne diseases .”
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Millcreek Township Supervisor Kim Clear said it is standard practice for the animal control officer to take stray animals to the Erie Humane Society.
However, if the officer feels in danger or feels the animal could pose a danger to someone else, then “they would have to make the decision on whether or not to euthanize the animal,” she told the Times-News.
“In this instance, the officer felt that multiple parties could have been in danger because of the aggressiveness of the cat and the possibility of it having an animal borne disease or illness,” Clear said.
Neither Clear nor the Millcreek Police Department could confirm how the cat was euthanized.
Was there another option?
Nicole Leone, executive director of the Erie Humane Society, said animal control officers can always contact them if they’re unsure how to handle an animal.
“We have seen many cases of fearful animals that can be mistaken as aggressive. We have also seen many cases of pets requiring major medical care and have been able to help,” she told the Times-News.
“We are here to be used as a resource and provide support to help all domestic pets. Even if an officer might be a little less familiar with how to handle an animal, they can call us. They have our after-hours number. They have after-hours access to the building. We are here to support them.”
Clear said the township is in the process of renewing a contract with the Erie Humane Society to ensure animal control takes stray animals there.
However, she added, if the animal poses a threat, “it’s (Lyall’s) job to protect people and he made the decision to protect others. It was not an easy decision. He made the hard decision.”
Owner to file complaint
Candy Weigel, who lives at the corner of Berkley and 34th streets, considered herself the owner of the cat, having found it in July.
Naming him “Eli,” Weigel said her cat was just under a year old and enjoyed wandering around the neighborhood and visiting others.
“He was very sweet, he would go up to anybody,” she said. “He just wanted attention and he’d sit in your lap.”
Weigel said she was away on the day of the euthanasia and didn’t see the Facebook post on the Erie Animal Network.
When she couldn’t find her cat and realized he wasn’t at the Erie Humane Society, she contacted the township and later learned of the emergency euthanasia from Lyall and the Millcreek Police Department.
She now plans to file a formal complaint against the township, insisting animal control rushed to euthanize her cat instead of taking it to the Erie Humane Society.
“He was a perfectly clean cat,” she said. “We had all seen him in the days before. Every picture and video we have of him, he looks great. Then, all of a sudden, the animal control officer says he was not worth saving because he looks so bad, and he makes that assessment within a minute.”
Lyall could not be reached for comment for this story.
Advice for pet owners
Clear, who said she wanted residents to continue to depend on animal control, stressed the importance of responsible pet ownership.
“I want to encourage people to be responsible pet owners, and to make sure that your animals are tagged and they have their shots and they’re following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as well,” she said.
“As a pet owner myself, I feel so sorry for them. But we have to really practice responsible pet ownership.”
Stray animals can be taken to the Erie Humane Society, located at 2407 Zimmerly Road. They can be reached at 814-835-8331.