33 cats taken from shelter in bizarre work conflict
This article has been updated, correcting a paragraph which indicated criminal charges were dropped. Charges were never filed, and may not have been possible in the first place.
A total of 33 cats were taken from PAAWS RI, a nonprofit animal shelter that was formed in conjunction with the Care for Animals animal hospital located on Post Road, last week in what may have been a crime of passion following the dismissal of an employee.
“On the night of Tuesday, Nov. 7 a recently terminated employee of PAAWS RI and Care for Animals, along with another long-time PAAWS RI volunteer, illegally entered the veterinary clinic and shelter and removed 33 of our wonderful shelter cats,” reads a Facebook post from the hospital and shelter describing the incident.
The cat burglary was discovered by Dr. Annette Rauch, the primary veterinarian and member of the PAAWS RI board of directors, the following morning when she came in to unlock the building. In addition to the cats, their bedding, medication, food and medical and various adoption records were also taken.
The Facebook post indicated that many of the cats required specialized care and medicine, and many were scheduled for surgeries in the coming days following their abduction. The shelter did not receive any information about why or where the cats had been taken other than a note that was left at the scene that said that the cats were taken to “relieve stress” on the Care for Animals facility.
“Many of these cats had been in the shelter for an extended period of time and had developed a sense of security and comfort with our staff,” the post continued. “The thought of the stress that these cats went through in being ripped from their homes, stuffed into carriers and crates, and some transported in pick-up trucks is unfathomable.”
Dr. Rauch called the Warwick Police soon after the discovery and filed a police report with the intent of pressing charges for burglary and larceny, which has been obtained by the Beacon.
The report, filed by Officer Michael Walker, indicates that two individuals, Donna “Pumpkin” Harley and Tammy Sweeney – the former a volunteer of the shelter who was let go by Dr. Rauch and the latter a member of the PAAWS board of directors – were contacted by police in regards to their suspected involvement with the incident.
The two parties told police they had keys to the building and had a right to enter and exit as they chose and that they also had legal access to move the cats as they wished per the organization’s bylaws. They and other members of the PAAWS Board of Directors told Officer Walker that they “have been concerned about the direction PAAWS RI has been going and regarding decisions being made by Dr. Rauch,” and that, “It was felt that it was in the best interest of the cats for them to be removed from Care for Animals and have all of them placed in foster care locations.”
Dr. Rauch said in the report that Harley was fired last week due to her reaction to Rauch’s decision to euthanize a cat earlier in the day, in addition to “other ongoing issues and disagreements.”
“This was a purely vindictive and thoughtless act aimed at getting revenge for the loss of her job,” read the original Facebook post.
It is still not known where the cats were taken or where they reside at this moment, but Dr. Rauch has elected to work with a civil attorney, Steven Rodio, to resolve the issue. Rodio issued the following statement: “The parties are attempting to resolve the matter quickly and fairly and in a manner that ensures the safety and well being of the cats.”
An update to the Facebook post written a little after midnight on Saturday reported, “We have received information that the cats taken [from] the shelter and hospital will be returned within the next 24 to 48 hours. Although we are still uncertain of their whereabouts, we are hopeful that this will happen and we will update everyone as soon as possible. We thank the community for their outpouring of support and will update you as we know more.”
Neither Harley nor Sweeney responded to requests for comment regarding their version of the events. Care for Animals personnel deferred to Rodio for their statement. We will follow this story as it continues to unfold.