August 30, 2007


Cat clinic owners ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution

cat clinic

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland County SPCA employees record each cat as they are removed from a Wheeler Ave. home on Sept. 1, 2006. The owners of Purr Fect World, a spay and neuter clinic nearby, were ordered by a judge today to pay $40,000 in restitution.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A city judge this morning ordered the owners of a cat clinic, closed in a raid a year ago, to pay $40,000 in restitution to the city and Cortland County SPCA.
A restitution hearing had been scheduled, but questions over whether the city and the SPCA were entitled to restitution prompted Judge Thomas Meldrim  to issue the order after lengthy closed-door conconferences between the attorneys. The nonprofit Purr Fect World was found guilty in May of neglecting some of the cats.
Purr Fect World was ordered to pay the city $30,000 and the SPCA $10,000 for the care of cats seized from the Wheeler Avenue spay and neuter clinic on Sept. 1, 2006.
The city had requested about $68,000 in resititution, and the SPCA had requested almost $14,000.
The sentencing will be held Sept. 20 at 9 a.m.
The organization was charged with 49 counts of misdemeanor neglect after city police and fire officials, along with the Cortland County SPCA, raided the corporation’s house and spay-and-neuter clinic at 5 and 7 Wheeler Ave. on Sept. 1.
Nearly 300 cats were found on the property the day of the raid, which officials conducted after neighbors complained of feces and urine smells coming from the property.
On May 10, Meldrim delivered a split decision after the nonjury trial, finding Purr Fect World guilty of 28 counts of failure to provide proper food and drink to a harbored animal, an unclassified misdemeanor under the state Agriculture and Markets Law. Meldrim found Purr Fect World not guilty of 21 counts of the same charge.
The maximum fine for a conviction of each crime is $1,000, according to the state Ag and Markets Web site.
The Sugarman Law Firm of Syracuse represented board members Eugenia Cute, 54, of Homer and Lisa Alderman, 43, of 503 Third St., Liverpool.
Cute was living in the house at the time of the raid. She and Alderman were originally charged with the misdemeanors that the corporation faced at trial, but those charges were later amended in City Court to apply only to Purr Fect World.
The 28 counts the corporation was convicted of stemmed from cats that had to be euthanized after the SPCA confiscated them.
During the trial, many of the witnesses testified about strong odors coming from the house and clinic, as well as to the large amounts of feces found throughout both buildings.
An Oct. 26 agreement between the city and Purr Fect World allowed the SPCA to take custody of the roughly 275 cats and begin to adopt them out. Purr Fect World retained ownership of the cats and agreed to pay for the continuing care, but on Jan. 30, the organization relinquished ownership of the animals and the responsibility for the costs of their care.
The last check signed over to the SPCA by Purr Fect World was dated Dec. 19, and the SPCA paid more than $11,000 for the care of the animals between that date and February, when the last of the cats left the former Cortlandville Fire Station on Route 281. The fire station had been converted into a temporary animal hospital and shelter.
City officials have said these costs are not the responsibility of the SPCA, nor would the taxpayers pay for the care of these cats.
City Director of Administration and Finance Andy Damiano didn’t wish to comment on today’s proceedings, other than to state that the city reserves its right to pursue the matter in a civil proceeding.
The city had incurred about $68,000 in caring for the animals prior to the agreement with Purr Fect World, and city officials have said they intend to recover the full amount from the corporation.
Including money spent by the city, the SPCA, Purr Fect World, cash and in-kind donations, the cats had cost about $150,000 since the initiation of their seizure.
As part of the civil agreement in October, Purr Fect World supplied a bond of $32,000 in an interest-bearing escrow account that would be either handed over to the city or recovered by the organization, pending the resolution of the criminal case.
“We want to see what transpires with the order relative to restitution and whatever else the court may sentence them to (in relation to the criminal trial) before we move ahead,” with the civil matter, Lawrence Knickerbocker, the city’s lawyer, said Wednesday.



Lawsuit seeks to reopen spay and neuter cat clinic

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A Wheeler Avenue spay and neuter clinic that was shut down by the city of Cortland last Labor Day filed a civil action Tuesday, seeking to prod the city to move ahead with its request to reopen the clinic.
The clinic was closed after a raid a year ago and nearly 300 cats were seized from the facility, which authorities said was unsanitary and unsafe. The owner was charged with with neglecting the cats and was ordered this morning to pay $40,000 in restitution to the city and Cortland County SPCA.
Purr Fect World Inc. filed the order to show cause Wednesday in the Cortland County Clerk’s Office.
Larry Knickerbocker, the city’s lawyer, said Wednesday evening that the court filing is meant to hurry along the city’s inspection of the white clinic building so the spay and neuter clinic can reopen.
According to the petition, the organization’s attorney, James Stevens of Sugarman Law Firm in Syracuse, called and sent letters to the city’s Code Enforcement Office attempting to schedule an inspection, however the attorney was never contacted with a date.
Stevens was not available this morning.
Knickerbocker said code officers have been ill or on vacation and pointed out that the city has had other priorities.
Retired Homer veterinarian Bill Cadwallader has acted as the city’s consultant throughout the process, and Knickerbocker said Cadwallader would likely be present for any inspection.
“We’re trying to coordinate with the veterinarian to go in and look so that we can discern if it’s all properly ventilated and the proper size for the number of animals that are going in there,” as well as the proper storage of medications and other issues the city found when the warrant was served, Kinckerbocker said.



Groton resident fights fires in Mont.

Staff Reporter

GROTON — Kraig Senter returned to his Groton home Sunday after working 16-hour days over a two-week period fighting a massive forest fire in Montana.
The experience was often grueling, he said.
“You’re not climbing hills up there, you’re climbing mountains up and down all day long,” said Senter, 22. “But even more than that, you’re carrying a heavy hose, tools and chainsaws.”
Senter, a forest health technician for the state Department of Environmental Conservation based in Allegheny, said fighting the Jocko Lakes fire from Aug. 10 to 24 around Seeley Lake, Mont., in the Rocky Mountains, gave him the chance to be outdoors, his passion, while doing something that made a difference.
“It’s just another excuse for me to get outside and do something productive,” said Senter, a 2003 Groton High School graduate and 2007 SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry graduate.
Senter was among the approximately 1,000 trained firefighters called in from around the country to help fight several large wildfires.
By the time he arrived in Seeley Lake, which is about 30 miles northeast of Missoula, Mont., a fire in the area had engulfed 18,000 square acres and was 5 percent contained.
The blaze, which had been caused by lightning, was a Priority 1 fire, meaning structures were being destroyed.
During his time there his crew helped bring the fire to a 35-percent containment level. A drop in the area’s humidity made their job a little easier, Senter said.




Democratic aldermen’s petitions challenged

2nd, 4th Ward incumbents say move is in response to missed deadline by their primary challengers

Staff Reporter

Two embattled incumbent Common Council Democrats facing a primary have had their independent nominating petitions challenged, a move that the incumbents say was prompted by their opponents’ inability to get their own independent party line.
Aldermen Shannon Terwilliger (D-2nd Ward) and Nick DeCarlo (D-4th Ward) both filed as members of the self-created Crown Citizens Party on Aug. 21.
Filing petitions under an independent party line would ensure that both candidates are on the ballot in November, regardless of the outcome of the Sept. 18 primary, in which both are being challenged from within their party.
The deadline for filing specific objections to the independent petitions was Wednesday.
Ann Doyle, of 70 Lincoln Ave., filed her specific objection to Terwilliger’s petition Monday and Katherine Wolpert, of 3 York St., filed her challenge against DeCarlo Wednesday.
Although Democratic Election Commissioner Bill Wood said he had yet to see the objections and cannot comment on specifics, he said he and Republican Election Commissioner Bob Howe would today set a date to review the challenges.
Terwilliger and DeCarlo are claiming that Wood and other influential party members are backing their primary challengers, while neither of the incumbents’ seats are being contested by Republicans.
In response, Wood has maintained potential political candidates should never be discouraged from running for office.
Wood confirmed Wednesday that neither Terwilliger nor DeCarlo had received the endorsement of the Democratic Party at a June county Democratic Committee meeting.
“The party endorsed Clay Benedict and Brian Tobin overwhelmingly,” Wood, also the chair of the county Democratic Party, said.
“What they found was a technicality,” Terwilliger said of the challenge to her petition. “I just feel it’s unfortunate that my own party leadership is working so hard to keep my name off the ballot … (the party leadership) are the ones digging so deep.”
Terwilliger suggested that the challenges to her and DeCarlo’s petitions were a result of a failure to get Benedict and Tobin on the ballot under independent party lines.