As volunteers clean out property —

More than 200 cats found in city house


Photo by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland County SPCA employees record each cat as they are removed from a Wheeler Avenue home.

Staff Reporter

More than 200 cats were living in a Cortland home that was entered under a search warrant Friday morning, following ongoing complaints of odor and reports of animal cruelty.
As of late Friday afternoon, teams of volunteers with the Cortland County SPCA and other organizations had removed approximately 68 animals from the two-family house at 7 Wheeler Ave., where Eugina Cute had been living, said Police Chief Jim Nichols.
An estimated 150 cats had yet to be removed from the former clinic in the back of the property, and teams were preparing to enter the second building at about 5:15 p.m.
Portable lighting had been set up in the driveway by early evening.
“Right now, the plan is to go this evening as late as the volunteers and professional humane officers can keep going,” Nichols said Friday, add-ing that many had been on site since the search warrant was served at _7 a.m.
Ideally, Nichols said, all of the animals would be removed by Friday night.
“Tomorrow, we will proceed with evaluating any materials on the scene that might relate to the treatment of the animals,” Nichols said.
After consultation with the SPCA and veterinarian Bill Cadwallader, who oversaw and organized the removal of the animals, Nichols said the department would decide whether or not it was appropriate to criminally charge Cute or any other responsible parties.
The buildings are owned by PurrFect World Inc., which purchased the property in 2004. Officials said they had been unable to contact the non-profit organization, which had originally intended to operate a spay and neuter clinic in the building.
However, there have been no reports of a veterinarian on the premises for some time and officials were concerned that illegal medical procedures had been performed there.


Cute declined to speak with members of the news media.
Hazardous materials teams had entered the properties after reports of some chemicals in the clinic. City Fire Chief Dennis Baron said mainly disinfectants and animal pharmaceuticals had been found in the early afternoon, and later in the evening he said nothing had been found that required the attention of emergency personnel.
The Fire Department stayed on site to assist in the decontamination of the volunteers as they finished their shifts removing the cats.
Once an administrative search warrant was received, which officials were hoping would be by 6 p.m., Charles Glover, the city director of code enforcement, would be entering the building and determining if it was still habitable.
Between the costs of the hazardous materials equipment, the supplies, and the costs of medical expenses for the cats, Director of City Administration and Finance Andy Damiano said the cost of the operation could be as high as $30,000.
“The initial investment of supplies is well over $10,000,” Damiano said. “We will seek restitution from … whatever source is responsible for these deplorable conditions.”
Mayor Tom Gallagher said PETCO Animal Supplies Inc had donated the cages used to transport the animals individually, as well as food for the animals.
Two months of planning and countless meetings had been conducted, Damiano said. SPCA Cruelty Investigator Bill Carr had been interviewing neighbors and collecting written statements, but was unavailable for comment Friday.
“It took us a long time to develop the evidence to get a search warrant,” Damiano said, as he stood in front of a neighbor’s house.
Neighbors Jon and Pat Perrine of 9 Wheeler Ave. said it had been difficult to live in their home, due to the overpowering odor.
“Originally, they were going to be running a spay and neuter clinic, which we were OK with,” John Perrine said. “The poor cats, I can’t imagine how they’ve been surviving in there … This has been going on for two years. It should never have happened.”
Pat Perrine wondered where the people who had been funding Cute were on Friday as the cats were removed.
The cats are being kept in the former Cortlandville Fire Station on Route 281, where they will be tested for feline AIDS and leukemia. Gallagher said PETCO retail stores in Mattydale and De Witt have volunteered to assist in the placement of any animals healthy enough to be adopted.




Ernesto fizzles to drizzle for Cortland County area

Staff Reporter

Hurricane Ernesto won’t affect Cortland County as much as originally thought, officials say.
According to the National Weather Service, about a quarter to a half inch of rain will fall today. On Friday, forecasters said about 2 to 3 inches would fall.
Brenda DeRusso, assistant director of the county Emergency Management Office, said it appears cold temperatures over the Poconos helped break up the storm.
“It needs warm, moist air to fuel it,” she said.
As of 9 a.m. today, the Tioughnioga and Otselic rivers were steady, she said. The Tioughnioga’s monitoring gauge read about 3.5 feet while the Otselic’s read about 1.75 feet.
Flood stage for rivers starts when the waters reach 8 feet. In April of 2005, the river reached 14 feet, causing extensive damage to nearby portions of the county.
DeRusso said that as of 9 a.m. today, the 911 Emergency Communication Center had not received any calls about road erosion or water in basements.
“It appears as though, thankfully, it will just be one of those off-and-on drizzly days,” DeRusso said.
On Friday, county officials were bracing for the possibility of flooding.
“I spent the morning in the creek bed, trying to get some rail bars out of there,” Chuck Brown, an employee of the village of McGraw’s Highway Department, said Friday afternoon. “And we’ve been bagging up sand, getting calls from people wanting sandbags and driving them over most of the day.”
Temporary repairs of damage done by flooding earlier this summer were complete, County Highway Superintendent Don Chambers said, but crews were out Friday working on a few specific sites — most notably Telephone Road in Cincinnatus — cleaning debris out of waterways and ditches.
Despite the improved rain forecast, a wind advisory will still be in effect for Cortland County, according to the National Weather Service.
Wind could pick up to 30-35 miles per hour at moments during the next eight hours. It will mostly hit higher elevations, such as hilltops.
The National Weather Service predicted 1 1/2 to 2 inches of rain at most will fall on the area through Monday. Temperatures are expected to hover in the mid-to-upper 50s.




Teen pregnancy rates drop overall

Staff Reporter

Though pregnancy rates for Cortland County 15- to 19-year-olds went up from 2003 to 2004, they’ve dropped significantly since the 1990s.
According to preliminary numbers recently released by the state Health Department, for every 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17 in Cortland County, there were 23 pregnancies in 2004 — three more than the year before. 2004 is the most recent year for which figures are available.
And for every 1,000 girls ages 18 and 19, there were 37 pregnancies in 2004 — four more than the year before.
But teen pregnancy rates are still much lower than they were a decade ago. Since 1997, the pregnancy rate for girls ages 15 to 19 dropped by one-third.
Sarah Beshers, an assistant professor in SUNY Cortland’s health department, said it’s impossible to tell if a reverse trend of more teenagers getting pregnant is taking place.
“We’ll have to wait some years to say,” she said.
But it is clear overall rates have dropped significantly since the early 1990s, she said. Studies show delayed intercourse and improved views of contraception, especially condoms, has contributed to the drop, she said.
Also, it’s likely the county’s efforts since the early 1990s to curb teenage pregnancy have paid off, she said.
“The county really did make a very concerted effort to reign in teenage pregnancy,” she said.
The county’s biggest initiative has been the Zero Adolescent Pregnancy (ZAP) program. The program aims to substantially reduce the number of teen pregnancies in Cortland County through education and prevention.
Cindy Grey, ZAP coordinator, said ZAP employees, teenage peer tutors and volunteers who go into high schools, community centers and agencies to teach children about abstinence and safe sex.
“We are abstinence-based,” she said. “But if you choose, we say, ‘Here are your choices.’”
In addition to the programs, new methods of birth controls have helped lower the teenage pregnancy rates, Grey said.
In terms of a possible reverse trend of more teens getting pregnant, Grey agreed with Beshers, saying it’s hard to tell if one is taking place. First of all, it takes more than a year of increases to see that a trend is in the works, she said.
Secondly, the state’s numbers are just preliminary, she said, and subject to change.
Susan Williams, youth service supervisor for the Cortland Youth Bureau, agreed it’s speculative to talk about a trend of more teens getting pregnant.
“One year of numbers might not mean anything,” she said. “My knowledge is it’s too early to make that determination.”
But Williams said she wouldn’t be completely surprised if a reverse trend is taking place. Nothing has happened specific to Cortland but the atmosphere in the country has changed in recent years.





Cortland County farmers eligible for more flood aid

Staff Reporter

Cortland is one of 16 counties eligible for more than $2 million in federal funding aimed at rehabilitating cropland, but it’s unclear if any area farmers will qualify for the assistance.
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns made available $2.3 million in Emergency Conservation Program funding Wednesday for farmers in counties affected by flooding this summer.
The funding will be administered by county chapters of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.
“This funding applies specifically to rehabilitating damaged croplands, it’s not for lost crops or crop fields,” said Rob Gallinger, executive director at the Cortland County USDA Farm Service Agency. “The idea is to restore the land so that its capable of producing crops for next year, which obviously has a lot to do with bottom line in farming.”
Damages for which the funding could be used include areas where flooding caused erosion in crop fields, instances where some debris removal was needed, or damaged and washed away fencing, Gallinger said.
This funding has been used by Cortland County farmers in the past, including after flooding in April 2005, Gallinger said, but it was unclear how many area farmers would be eligible this year.
“We’ve taken a few calls and looked at some damages, but I don’t know how many farmers had those types of damages,” he said. “Basically what we’ve seen in Cortland County were mostly yield losses and damage to the crop itself.”
Any farmers who have experienced damages can contact the Farm Service Agency at (607) 753-0851, Gallinger said, which would then do a site inspection and come up with a damage assessment which would be forwarded to the state Farm Service Agency.