Sentinel & Enterprise: For all those pets just left behind

By Michael Hartwell

FITCHBURG — Animal advocates are hoping a kitten’s harrowing experience will help build support for legislation intended to protect abandoned pets.

Charlie, an orange tabby with big, soulful eyes is about 7 weeks old. Two weeks ago he was found in an empty tenement building at High and Johnson streets, covered in fleas and with some kind of injury on his back that may be a burn.

“There is no way he would have made it without help,” said Kathy Goguen, a volunteer with Fitchburg Friends of Felines, a local group that cares for stray and feral cats. She’s taking care of Charlie at her Fitchburg home, along with two adults cats and four other kittens.

Charlie has a problem with hissing at people, and Goguen said she is working to socialize the kitten and bring his weight up.
Sally Cragin, left, comforts Charlie, a 7-week-old kitten being fostered by Kathy Goguen, a member of Fitchburg Friends of Felines.

Sally Cragin, left, comforts Charlie, a 7-week-old kitten being fostered by Kathy Goguen, a member of Fitchburg Friends of Felines. Charlie’s mother was abandoned in Fitchburg while pregnant and gave birth to her litter of kittens on the roof of an apartment on High Street. Charlie was the only kitten to survive.

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An owner has already been selected for Charlie, but Goguen wants to wait until it weighs three pounds before releasing it.

Sally Cragin is a volunteer with Twin City Paws, a fellowship that promotes pet support, advocacy and education. She was contacted by a good Samaritan who spotted Charlie and his mother in the neighborhood.

Cragin said people in the neighborhood told her the owner of an adult female cat was evicted from his second-floor apartment. He chose to bring his pet snake with him but left the cat in the apartment, along with an open bag of cat food and an open window.

“I think it assuages their guilt,” said Goguen when asked why someone would both abandon an animal but leave it food. “So they didn’t feel like a total dirtbag.”

“This female cat got out and got pregnant,” said Cragin. It gave birth to a litter of five on the roof of the building. Kittens are born with their eyes closed and four of them fell to their deaths. One orange kitten survived and when Cragin found it it had somehow made its way down to street level.

She contacted the Ahimsa Haven Animal Rescue in Templeton, and the kitten was taken to a volunteer in Lunenburg to be raised. A 5-year-old girl at that home named the kitten “Charlie,” and after about a week he was moved to Goguen’s home to continue to receive care.

Cragin said they were able to capture Charlie’s mother and take it to Ahimsa Haven Animal Rescue. They are positive it was the right mother because the cat had loose belly skin, indicating it recently gave birth, and matched the description provided by neighbors.

Charlie was taken to Templeton and they were placed in adjoining cages, but Cragin and Goguen said the mother did not accept Charlie as her kitten. They had spent too much time apart at a crucial stage in development. After three days Charlie was returned to Goguen’s care, where he remains today.

Cragin and Goguen hope that Charlie’s story highlights an ongoing problem of exiting tenants who leave animals behind to die. They both endorse ongoing legislation intended to help find abandoned pets in vacant homes.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, is sponsor of Senate Bill 942, “Animal Abandonment in Vacant Properties,” which would require landlords and property owners, such as banks, to inspect recently vacated and foreclosed properties to search for abandoned animals. Any animals found would need to be reported to proper authorities.

It already passed the Senate unanimously and Eldridge expects it to sail through the house. He said he expected some pushback from landlords and banks, but that didn’t happen. He said there has been no opposition, and the bill has benefited from grassroots efforts to push it along.

“Protecting animals and animal rights has become a burning issue at the Statehouse, and it’s been bipartisan,” he said. “People are realizing that the way we treated animals, farm or domesticated, even 20 years ago is no longer acceptable.”

John Nuzzolese is president of The Landlord Protection Agency, a private national organization that helps landlords deal with tenant issues. When told over the phone about the proposed legislation requiring landlords to check newly vacated properties for animals, he loved the idea.

“It sounds like a very good bill. It would do a lot of good,” he said, adding that it is a national problem. “It’s a common thing that I hear, that tenants abandon pets in their property, and the landlord doesn’t know what to do.”

He said some landlords contact shelters or try to find a home for the animals.

The bill advises landlords to contact the police or local animal control services when they find an abandoned animal.

“I think you would get a lot of support (from landlords). Nuzzolese said landlords should be checking newly vacated properties anyways for damages and other problems.

Cragin said anyone who wants to donate to Twin City Paws, can send a check to United Neighbors of Fitchburg at 18 Fairmount St. in Fitchburg, attention: Twin City Paws. Donations of pet food and supplies can be dropped off at the library or city municipal offices.

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