Deceased couple left 150+ cats in Yorktown Heights; 176 cats found in Crystal Springs, Mississippi
BRUNSWICK, Maine––Can Feline Fix by Five get us out of Groundhog Day?
What does fixing felines have to do with either groundhogs or Groundhog Day, or the deaths in Yorktown Heights, New York, disclosed on Groundhog Day, of New York City Department of Sanitation chief Patrick Hickey, 57, and his wife Mary Hickey, 57?
Maybe more than you think.
Feline Fix by Five, promoted by Marian’s Dream executive director Esther Mechler and United Spay Alliance spokesperson Stacy LeBaron, is a seven-year-old educational campaign promoting recognition that the safest time to spay or neuter cats is before the cats reach five months of age.
This is because many female felines have their first heat and become pregnant before six months of age, the traditional veterinarian-recommended age for spay/neuter only because, going back many decades, veterinarians tended to presume that cats mature at the same rate as dogs.
(See AVMA insight: cats are not dogs, so “Fix felines by five months”)
Groundhogs fill in for badgers
Groundhog Day, with origins in the ancient European custom of predicting the arrival of spring by watching badgers, is an unofficial U.S. holiday celebrated each year on February 2.
North American immigrants, finding no badgers in the northeastern U.S. and Canada, adopted groundhogs as lookalike stand-ins.
Nineteen-year-old Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper city editor Clymer Freas (1867–1942) in 1886 designated February 2 as the quasi-official Groundhog Day, and so it has been ever since.
Groundhog Day with Bill Murray
This by itself had nothing to do with cats, fixing cats, the deaths of Patrick and Mary Hickey, or even with actual groundhog behavior, for that matter.
Groundhogs, except for size and living in burrows, are vegetarian rodents, having little at all in common with European badgers, who are mustelid carnivores.
But in 1993 comic actor Bill Murray made a film, Groundhog Day, in which a narcissistic, self-centered, cynical television weather reporter descends into a personal hell that obliges him to endlessly relive Groundhog Day until he finally makes some positive life choices.
That by itself has nothing to do with fixing felines or Patrick and Mary Hickey, either.
Consequences of not fixing felines
But many of the animal-related headlines around the U.S. on Groundhog Day 2023––those that were not about groundhogs––did have a lot to do with the consequences of either not fixing felines, or not fixing them before they birth unwanted litters.
Among the Groundhog Day 2023 headline news items were the ANIMALS 24-7 feature “Return-to-field” = animal control neglect of duty, two cases allege, concerning in part the alleged failure of Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control to accept owner-surrendered cats.
This, Southern California Cat Adoption Tails founder Julia Mildenberger contends in a current lawsuit, is why Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control found 195 cats and 43 dogs at Southern California Cat Adoption Tails on October 26, 2022.
Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control publicized the raid and the impoundment of the animals on October 31, 2022, but apparently has yet to bring any related charges.
Groundhog Day 2023 deja-vu
Several other Groundhog Day 2023 animal-related articles also had a quality of deja-vu about them.
Though the people, places, and numbers of cats involved differed from previous parallel cases, each involved a situation that animal advocates, rescuers, and law enforcement have seen thousands of times before.
Patrick & Mary Hickey
Ben Crnic of the Yorktown Daily Voice, at 5:30 p.m. on Groundhog Day, appears to been first to publish coverage of a hoarding case in Yorktown Heights, New York that within 24 hours drew global notoriety.
“A seemingly endless amount of cats were seized from a Northern Westchester home after a man and woman were found dead by police during a welfare check,” Crnic began.
An informal obituary apparently posted by New York City Department of Sanitation personnel on February 3, 2023 confirmed that the man and woman were Patrick and Mary Hickey.
“The cats were found on Monday, January 30, 2023, around 9:50 p.m.,” Yorktown Daily Voice reporter Crnic said.
“The 150 cats were mostly Abyssinian mixes,” Crnic added. “Many were found suffering from conditions including upper respiratory, eye, and skin infections, malnutrition, and dehydration. Some had more severe injuries that required immediate medical attention, and some had died.
“All of the cats were described as starving,” Crnic said.
Yorktown police chief Robert Noble told media that the couple, who he did not name, appeared to be in their fifties, were found in bed, and that foul play did not appear to have been involved in their deaths, believed to have been several days earlier.
Shelters “out of space”
The Hickeys had owned the dilapidated 49-year-old house at 149 Cordial Road since 1993. Set well back among trees from neighboring houses and the road, the house had reportedly once been a daycare center.
The deceased may have been cat breeders at one time.
Noble urged “available animal lovers to adopt,” said Ben Nandy of Westchester 12 News.
“Authorities said humane enforcement officers have been moving the cats to shelters,” Nancy added. “However, the team said they can’t rescue all of them right away, because the shelters they are using are currently out of space.”
ANIMALS 24-7 discovered a hint that this may not have been an isolated incident.
Two women who then lived less than two blocks away on Cordial Road on November 4, 2018 posted a Facebook message beginning, “YORKTOWN, NY – Cats left by owners. Currently indoor/outdoor cats who need homes. NON-FERAL. All love attention and people. All are spayed and neutered with ear tips. Foster situation/ rescue groups interested would be ideal!”
176 cats in Mississippi
Humane Society of the United States president Kitty Block meanwhile devoted her Groundhog Day blog to HSUS efforts “to support local law enforcement agencies with an alleged neglect case involving nearly 200 cats in Crystal Springs, Mississippi,” Block wrote.
“By day’s end,” Block said and Mississippi media confirmed, “responders had removed 176 cats from three residential properties owned by one individual.”
Fargo man threw cats out of car
In Fargo, North Dakota, April Baumgarten of InForum reported, in a February 1, 2023 story running on Groundhog Day, “Police are looking for a man who threw two cats out of his vehicle before running over and killing one of them. On Facebook, the Fargo Police Department released images of Fargo Animal Pound security footage that caught the January 23, 2023 incident.
“The two cats were estimated to be less than a year old, likely 6 to 8 months old, Fargo Police spokeswoman Katie Ettish said in an email,” Baumgarten continued.
“The man had intended to surrender the cats to the pound but became ‘agitated’ when he was told there was a fee he had to pay to give up the animals, Ettish said.”
Feline Fix by Five
Breaking out of the mobius loop of unwanted cats and kittens becoming neglected and abused will take a lot more than just waking up with good intentions on the morning of February 3, as the Bill Murray character did in the film Groundhog Day.
First, people responsible for cats, and their veterinarians, need to be awakened to the need to fix cats sooner, rather than too late, if at all, to prevent surplus litters.
But Feline Fix by Five is making a start, c/o email@example.com or www.unitedspayalliance.org.
Esther Mechler says
Thank you both for raising awareness with your springtime story (stories) about the need to fix by five! The shortage of vets and vet techs is making it harder to get appointments in a timely manner and we encourage those vets who have learned the techniques of pediatric and Quick-Spay to sponsor – i.e. mentor – other vets in their area who have not yet learned these techniques.
“Each one Teach one” could lead to more efficient, effective delivery of these [genuinely] lifesaving surgeries. Thank you!!!
For more information do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
jeffrey d young says
Just delt with a case and since in a more rural area cant get anyone to do anything. We like to think we have great laws protecting animals, but we poorly enforce them and would much rather turn a blind eye. At the same time we are moving human medicine over to animals and have some ridiculous standards only for the increase in revenue not for the good of our companion animal friends. Such hypocrisy.
Jamaka Petzak says
As this is an issue that affects not only the animal advocacy community but every community on several levels, I advocate for ACCs, Humane Societies, shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries to neuter EVERY cat capable of reproducing BEFORE adopting them out. Public funds need to be prioritized for this lifesaving effort that also benefits society at large.
Millie P Schafer says
Hoarding really has little to do with getting animals spayed/neutered. Hoarding is an illness and unless treated, the behavior will continue.
Millie P. Schafer, Director
Neighborhood Cat Helpers
Merritt Clifton says
To say that “Hoarding really has little to do with getting animals spayed/neutered” because “Hoarding is an illness and unless treated, the behavior will continue” is an evasion of reality much as would be saying that “Alcoholism and drug addiction really have little to do with access to alcohol and drugs,” because “Addictive behavior is an illness and unless treated, the behavior will continue.” The precondition for animal hoarding is easy access to surplus dogs and cats, just as the precondition for alcoholism and drug addiction is easy access to alcohol and other addictive drugs. There are many entire nations in which alcoholism and drug addiction are practically unknown because of societal choices to make alcohol and other addictive drugs very hard to get. Non-Islamic societies are unlikely to ever make that choice, because the use of alcohol is so deeply ingrained in our culture, but we can make the choice to eradicate animal hoarding by encouraging spay/neuter to the point where homeless and unwanted dogs and cats are very difficult to come by.