A retired police sergeant now working part time as a humane officer for the City of North Ridgeville, Ohio, Police Department was dispatched last Monday to the home of a local couple who’d called to report a litter of feral kittens that had taken up residence in a woodpile in their back yard.
The woman who placed the call said the animals were a nuisance, bringing fleas and dead animals onto her property. Her husband also said the mother cat had been a nuisance for several years, but had grown especially fierce and protective of her litter and resisted his efforts to remove the kittens.
Like most people who call the humane society to remove feral dogs and cats, the couple assumed animal control would simply come and take them, leaving their fate to the vicissitudes of luck at the local shelter. They knew that some form of euthanasia would probably end their lives.
They weren’t expecting Humane Officer Barry Accorti’s brand of euthanasia, though.
Accorti responded at the residence, one of dozens of homes in a densely built subdivision just southwest of Cleveland. The mother and her four children were at home. The kids were upstairs as mom talked with Accorti outside. She told local TV station WKYC:
My heart breaks for my kids, and other kids who have to see this story. He told me the shelters were pretty much full and that they would be going to kitty heaven. My immediate thought was my kids who were upstairs seeing it. My 6-year-old came downstairs, and was crying, “Mommy, Mommy, he shot the kitty.”
The shooting took place right there on the property, just 15 feet away from a house where unprepared kids watched from the windows. The mom originally though the firearm Accorti had gone to his truck to retrieve was a tranquilizer gun. But when Accorti returned with a .22 pistol (not his Glock .45 service pistol) and allegedly told her he “wasn’t supposed to be doing this, but it was justifiable” before heading toward the woodpile, she understood what was going on.
The five 8- to 10-week-old kittens all died, but the mother cat fled.
After massive backlash, North Ridgeville Police Chief Michael Freeman issued a statement on the department’s Facebook page (which, though jammed with complaints and unavailable late in the week, was captured earlier by several online news outlets and humane groups). The statement explains the rationale for Accorti’s actions and finds no fault with them:
…The complainant explained she felt overwhelmed due to the fact that her children were inside the residence and heard the gunshots.
The complainant urged better communication in the future. NRPD recognizes the concerns of those who believe feral cats should not be killed for simply trying to survive but also acknowledges other research that recognizes the risks associated with these animals and the need to manage feral cats. Research and other animal organizations accept shooting as an acceptable means of euthanasia.
After visiting the scene, talking with the responding officer and re-interviewing the complainant, I have decided his actions were appropriate and have decided not to impose any disciplinary measures for the incident. We will talk with the humane officers about improving their communications with the public. We are here to help those who seek our assistance. Our agency prides itself on not telling people, “It’s not our problem or there is nothing we can do for you.” This would be the easy way out. To walk away and leave a safety issue unresolved is irresponsible. At no time does this agency condone or allow the indiscriminate killing of animals, but we will continue to assist residents when there is a safety or nuisance condition.
Shooting feral animals as a means of euthanasia is hardly a philosophical issue or policy quibble for many rural and suburban animal control departments. But doing so in a controlled environment — one in which the property owner and everyone occupying the property are informed and afforded an opportunity to keep a safe distance — is. These weren’t coyotes on someone’s back 40; they were kittens in a woodpile on a small lot in the middle of a dense neighborhood.
Accorti’s failure to offer any explanation for how he would proceed, coupled with the flippancy of his alleged “kitty heaven” remark (and his confession that he was about to step out of line) don’t factor into the department’s justification for his actions.
Accorti took Tuesday off following the shooting, but was back on the job Wednesday.