SPCA, Cat Advocate Group at Odds Over Handling of Injured Feline

An accident involving an Ossining resident’s cat in April has pitted a local group of animal advocates against the SPCA of Westchester.

On Apr. 16, Drisy Nunez’s three-year-old gray tortie mix named Betty somehow pushed out the screen of the open window in her seventh-floor apartment, lost her balance and fell to the pavement below.

Betty the cat
Betty the three-year-old gray tortie mix.

Nunez, who adopted the cat in 2019 from her original owner who was dying, raced downstairs expecting to find Betty. Instead, as she later learned, the cat made its way to a nearby laundromat severely injured. A good Samaritan first brought Betty to PetSmart, but was told to take her to the SPCA. 

Nunez said she learned of Betty’s whereabouts after posting on Facebook, and visited the SPCA’s facilities on Sunday, Apr. 18. But Nunez said that once she arrived, she was unable to see Betty and was forced to sign over custody to the cat because she didn’t know how much medical treatments, that had already been initiated by the SPCA, would cost.

“That was on Sunday,” Nunez said. “On a Monday night, they said you have to sign her off to us, you can’t take her right now. You have to sign her off to us. They told me you have to start calling vets. I only had $5,000 to pay for medical bills.”

Since then, Nunez contacted The Cat Squad, a local cat rescue and animal rights group based in Briarcliff Manor. They staged a protest last Saturday on North State Road on Nunez’s and Betty’s behalf with about a dozen demonstrators near the SPCA’s property. 

The Cat Squad protest
The Cat Squad organized a protest outside the SPCA’s Briarcliff Manor campus last weekend decrying the organization’s handling of Betty, inset, an injured cat, who they say should eventually be returned to her rightful owner.

They hope the publicity will put pressure on the SPCA to allow Nunez to visit Betty and eventually allow her to take her home.

“Any other good shelter would have worked with her to help this cat,” said Virginia Leary, who identified herself as The Cat Squad’s director. 

However, SPCA Director of Development Lisa Bonanno-Spence said many of the circumstances that Nunez and The Cat Squad have been relating on social media and to others is inaccurate. Betty was taken for emergency veterinary treatment after being brought to the SPCA. She suffered at least two broken toes and a fractured spine.

Nunez’s son, who came to the facility, was not allowed to see the cat on Apr. 18 because Betty was still recovering from her treatments, Bonanno-Spence said, but when Nunez and a friend returned the following day, they spent much of the day with her.

“She was at the SPCA from about 9:30 till about 4:30, and she and her friend that came with her the were with Betty for hours in the back of our clinic,” Bonanno-Spence said. “She even went home and brought her some food and she spent hours with her. The only time anyone was denied seeing Betty was that initial day when she just came back.”

Bonanno-Spence said on Apr. 19, the SPCA did ask Nunez what she wanted to do because the organization needed to know whether Betty would continue care with them or if Nunez wanted to reclaim her.

The SPCA explained to her that if she did claim Betty the average cost of medical care with several veterinarians and animal hospitals would run $1,000 to $1,200 a day, and it was unclear how long that would last. 

Bonanno-Spence said Nunez initialed the form to surrender Betty because of the cost. Since then, a foster home has been found with an SPCA volunteer who is experienced in caring for injured cats. Since the current caretaker works from home, the individual has the time and the expertise to perform physical therapy four times a day.

“We have absolutely no doubt that Drisy and her family have a loving home; however, the type of care that Betty needs is very special and she really needs to be in a particular home and in a quiet one, and the medical expenses for the rest of her life might be an unknown,” Bonanno-Spence said.

Deborah Pangle, the president of The Cat Squad, echoed other claims at last Saturday’s demonstration and online that Betty may no longer be alive, accusing the SPCA of covering its tracks. 

The SPCA provided a photo of Betty, that is reprinted with this story, that it says was taken within the past week.

“This may be a small thing but it’s a microcosm of other things that go on there,” Pangle said of the SPCA, “and this was very personal.”

Nunez said she’s not convinced Betty is still alive, but if she is she would like to see her and get her back.

“When you bury a family member, it brings closure,” she said. “When they disappear, you don’t know if they’re out there or not, so every day, you think about it.”

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