Webster’s House animal shelter to close; State’s Attorney’s office considers cruelty complaint

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Melissa Jackson, left and Mary Donnelly prepare paperwork for each of the cats in the shelter

Melissa Jackson, left and Mary Donaldson prepare paperwork for each of the cats in the shelter. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Webster’s House animal shelter, the 16-year-old Chester organization that specialized in rescuing cats, has been asked by its longtime landlord to vacate its home at 1758 Route 103 South by July 1, according to shelter manager Mary Donaldson.

In preparation for the closing, Webster’s House, formerly known at The Animal Rescue and Protection Society or TARPS, is finding new shelters or homes for the 39 cats currently in its care.

On Friday, representatives of Humane Societies including Springfield, Highland Cat Rescue and Lucy MacKenzie of Windsor came with a veterinarian to photograph, ID and catalog all the animals. By the end of the day, at least 12 were placed with the societies

Health check

Dr. Tom Olney and Betsy Perry check out a cat.

In an unrelated situation, after a monthlong investigation, Chester Police have sent a report to the State’s Attorney’s office following a complaint of animal cruelty at Webster’s House. The complaint, according to Chief Rick Cloud, was made to a statewide Humane Society, known as Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals.

There are no charges at this time and if any are brought, he said, they would be misdemeanors.

Cataloging cats

Clockwise from left, Janet Klimenok of Highland Cat Rescue, Webster’s House board President Betsy Perry, shelter manager Mary Donaldson, Dr. Tom Olney and Sue Skaskiw catalog cats.

Sue Skaskiw, executive director of VVSA, said her organization had gotten an anonymous call about the situation concerning the health of the cats and began working with the Windsor County Sheriff’s Department.

On Friday, Cloud said that his department conducted interviews and visited the site. He said they found “quite a few sick cats” but that that is not unusual since some owners give up their cat when it gets sick.

He added that the state Department of Agriculture has inspected the shelter and re-licensed it. That took place on Feb. 23, according to Donaldson.

mug shot

Cat pictures are taken.

Cloud emphasized that the shelter was closing down solely because of the landlord issue and not because of complaints.

In an interview at the shelter on Friday, Donaldson concurred, saying, “We’re shutting down voluntarily because we have no place to go with 39 cats.” She said that the investigation was prompted by “a disgruntled former volunteer who complained about the cats not getting proper medical care.”

She added that following the investigation, Chester Det. Matt Wilson told her this week that the state’s attorney’s office was offering two options: have a wellness check or find placements for the cats and close the shelter. She said she replied that that was a moot point since the landlord had already given the shelter its walking papers.

Donaldson said that the shelter has had a recent health issue — an outbreak of kennel cough — that forced the shelter to self-quarantine for about a month. She said the shelter worked with its veterinarian to clear that up but it came back once in two or three cats.

Donaldson said that all of the shelter’s vet records have been subpoenaed by the State’s Attorney’s office and that she expects that will clear up the situation.

There are currently 14 regular and four occasional volunteers who clean the cages and litter pans, and feed and play with the cats. Donaldson, who has been shelter manager for five years, said that closing down the shelter will also mean that one human also will have to find a new home — Donaldson herself.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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