Woodbury woman left her estate to a "no-kill" shelter, but the cat was euthanized after a possible miscommunication.
By Zac Farber
Woodbury resident Mary Ray knew what she wanted to happen to her cat when she died.
Ray’s will left her entire estate, including power of attorney over the cat—Jimmy, a gray-striped tabby—to Animal Ark, a “no-kill” Hastings pet shelter she had admired since touring the facility in 2004, Animal Ark executive director Mike Fry said.
When Ray died on Dec. 7 from diabetes at the age of 71, Woodbury police took Jimmy to the local Animal Humane Society. After a telephone conversation with one of Ray’s daughters, Humane Society officials decided to euthanize Jimmy, said Laurie Brickley, Humane Society vice president of marketing.
By Dec. 9, Jimmy was dead.
“It was all done really poorly and unprofessionally, and I would assign responsibility with the city of Woodbury and the Humane Society,” Fry said.
It’s a sequence of events that both Animal Ark and the Animal Humane Society are calling unusual, and many facts are in dispute about whether the proper procedures were followed, whether the humane society needed legal paperwork to prove ownership and even whether Ray’s daughter wanted Jimmy killed.
Fry said that he went to Ray’s house and told her daughter, Susan White, that Jimmy was dead.
“She had this shocked look on her face and immediately started crying, saying ‘The Humane Society killed him’ and saying ‘Oh my god, she loved that cat so much, oh my god she loved that cat so much,’” Fry said. “What information may or may not have been exchanged in that phone conversation, I don’t know.”
The Humane Society defended the action, saying Woodbury police gave them the daughter’s name and they “did everything the way our protocol calls for,” Brickley said.
“We contacted this person and she made a decision based on the cat’s medical care, being a diabetic cat, that no one in the family would be able to care for that cat, so she requested our euthanasia and pet cremation services,” she said.
In response to a complaint from Fry, Woodbury Police Sgt. Neil Bauer wrote that Jimmy “was placed in the care of the Animal Humane Society until the next of kin could make further arrangements.”
“It is unfortunate that the decedent’s wishes were not implemented upon her death,” he wrote. “However, considering the information that was available at the time, the City made reasonable efforts to provide care for the cat until next of kin could act upon the decedent’s wishes.”
A Cat’s Journey
Marlene Foote, a co-founder of Animal Ark, met Mary Ray, who lived at the 6800 block Sherwood Road in Woodbury, in 2004 and spoke with her about her decision to leave her estate to the shelter.
Foote, who voiced her concerns during a recent Woodbury City Council meeting, said Ray was adamant on the point of not wanting either of her daughters to benefit from her will.
“She told me she had broken up with the man she was going to marry, and she wanted to leave her estate to Animal Ark, and she specifically mentioned that she didn’t want either of her daughters—and she mentioned them by name—to have anything to do with her estate,” Foote said. “She said, ‘I’m not omitting them accidentally, I’m omitting them purposefully.’ But her wishes simply were not carried out.”
(Fry said he does not place blame for Jimmy’s death on Ray’s family.)
Foote said she discovered that Ray was dead when she called her house on Sunday, Dec. 11, and a police officer answered. (Ray had called Foote on Dec. 4 to discuss getting a new pet.)
“She must have been feeling reasonably well because the Sunday before she had called me and said, ‘Marlene, I just really need to get a dog, I love dogs so much.’ And so I found a dog that she would have been willing to take care of—a dog we had that had diabetes,” Foote said.
The next day, Dec. 12, Fry started making calls to find out what had happened to Jimmy.
“I could tell early on that things were getting a little weird,” Fry said.
Fry decided to record a phone call with a Woodbury officer who explained why Jimmy was put down. The message says that police were under the impression that the cat wouldn’t have anyone to look after it. The officer said the Humane Society doesn’t provide insulin for cats, which was needed in Jimmy’s case.
“Jimmy can’t come back to life,” Foote said. “All he needed was a shot of insulin and the police said, ‘Well, the Animal Humane Society doesn’t give insulin.’ Insulin is cheaper than a shot of Fatal-Plus, but they chose to give him the Fatal-Plus.”
Brickley, the Humane Society official, said that there was no way they could have known that Animal Ark would be involved in the matter.
“Animal Ark contacted us three days later, saying they were the authorized power of attorney to make decisions about this cat, but unfortunately we could not be psychic and know that was the case,” she said. “We used the information the Woodbury police gave us to contact the appropriate family member to make a decision about the cat.”
Asking For Action
Foote and Fry said the Humane Society is required by law to hold impounded pets for a minimum of five business days, and Fry has written an open letter to the city of Woodbury asking it to bring its “contracted impound center into compliance with law.”
“We’re asking the city of Woodbury to look at who they’re using for impound because it’s really horrible for people who make a will thinking their animals are going to be cared for, and then having them killed,” Foote said.
Brickley said the five-day holding period applies only to stray pets and is not applicable in Jimmy’s case.
“This is an owner-surrender, this was not a stray, this was a family member making a choice about their individual cat on behalf of the mother,” she said. “There is no legal hold required.”
Brickley said that there is conflict between Animal Ark and Mary Ray’s family and that the Humane Society is waiting for the verdict of a probate hearing to find out who gets to possess the remains of the cat.