How the Hell Do You Lose 1,200 Cats?


What happens when rescue groups go bad? Just ask Purrs From The Heart, a Chicago group whose mission is to pull animals from the city’s shelters and place them in foster homes until they can be adopted.

In September, the city received a complaint about Purrs From The Heart, alleging that the cats it "rescued" were living in inhumane conditions. Now, a week or so into the investigation, the state’s Department of Agriculture says it can’t account for 1,216 cats Purrs From The Heart pulled between April and September.

You’ve got to be freaking kidding me! How the hell do you misplace 1,200 cats? What kind of utter failure of oversight caused this to happen?

When state officials went to a South Side apartment where as many as 150 cats in Purrs From The Heart’s care had once lived, there no cats were there. The organization also said it sent a bunch of cats to a rural barn; investigators didn’t find any cats there, either. Oh, and oops — neither the apartment nor the rural barn were authorized foster providers.

Of course, Purrs From The Heart is throwing its foster carers under the bus, saying that the apartment’s tenants are totally to blame. Never mind that the organization somehow managed to let these people keep 150 cats in their place. Oh no, that’s not a problem at all. And the fact that some of the cats in the care of that "foster home" managed to somehow get killed or starved — nope, that’s not an issue, either.

Just in case blaming the foster carers wasn’t enough, they blamed Chicago Animal Care & Control’s shelter, too. According to a Chicago Tribune article on the investigation, Brian Przybylski, who runs Purrs From The Heart with his wife, Sherry, says the shelter shouldn’t have allowed the group to pull so many cats.

I see you talking, but all I hear is, “Blah, blah, blah, responsibility is hard!"

The city says Animal Control verifies that applicants are licensed by the state and asks them to provide vet and shelter references ÔǪ and, of course, they "try to inspect an applicant’s facilities" if that applicant’s facility happens to be based in Chicago, according to the Tribune article.

Yes, the city’s oversight should have been better. Their own records state that Purrs From The Heart was only licensed to foster 28 cats. But in truth, the city has worked with up to 300 agencies to get cats out of the shelter before they’re killed, with generally positive results, and maybe shelter staff didn’t have the time or equipment to properly monitor rescue groups.

But Purrs From The Heart should have been conducting better oversight, too. How did the group manage to find itself in a situation where too many people were authorized to rescue cats in the organization’s name? What were the Przybylskis doing this whole time? Did they commit the cardinal rescue sin of over-control and failure to delegate? Did they make the error of trying to take on too much? Who knows?

My problem is that whoever is to blame — and I don’t think anybody’s off the hook here — it’s the cats that have suffered. They starved, they were killed, they were turned out to fend for themselves God knows where, and all because the city and this rescue group couldn’t keep their act together.

The Przybilskis do say they plan to close the rescue group by the end of the year because of their own "health and family problems," and will transfer any cats still in their care to other agencies.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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