It began with a heart-felt Facebook post and quickly picked up speed on social media. Outraged animal advocates, many of them volunteers and donors of the shelter, called Tree House Humane Society, angry over what they read, those answering the phone forwarded messages to the Board of Directors, or more likely on deaf ears. Nothing could help save a black and white cat named Little Miss Solid Gold (LMSG), claimed to have aggressive and biting behavior issues, even a no-kill animal shelter like Tree House with a once solid gold reputation of their own, saving cats just like her.
LMSG’s Life in a No-Kill Animal Shelter
Living in a shelter is not easy for any animal, the lucky ones end up in no-kill animal shelters like Tree House, unawares that something so fragile as an organization’s mission protects them. LMSG somehow ended up in Tree House’s former Bucktown location. Already timid, she didn’t adjust to the noisy and public shelter life easily. It took her two years to get adopted during the Clear the Shelters event last July, NBC Chicago even did a story on her. It’s uncertain how long she stayed in the home, but she was returned to Tree House for biting and allegedly aggressive behavior.
LMSG readjusted again to the shelter life, content in her condo at Bucktown, she would let caretakers in, on her terms of course, and if not, the caretakers knew to back away. She had hiding places for when she felt scared or threatened, hearing cats fighting in other areas. The caretakers understood her fearful and unsure, some say fractious, behavior, and respected her for it. According to sources, the adopter for LMSG was not properly screened to take care of a cat with behavior problems. Had the owner been given appropriate behavior advice and support, perhaps the cat wouldn’t have been returned. But Tree House’s respected behavior expert on staff and help line were no longer available.
Unfortunately for LMSG, the Bucktown location closed a few months later, as a result of a desperate financial attempt to raise money to open their new facility, about two years behind schedule. Moved to the main shelter location in Uptown proved to be challenging for LMSG, even in a similar condo, who already had enough problems adapting to change. Then another move, to the new facility in May. Too much change for a scared little cat. Kept in an area with lots of windows and only a small carrier to hide in, she did not feel safe hearing other cats in the shelter. Other cats at the new location had difficulty adjusting also. The result — two serious bite incidences, sending both employees to the emergency room.
The long-time interim Executive Director, Kerri Burns, decided that LMSG was a liability to the non-profit and announced at a staff meeting the decision to euthanize LMSG. Met with harsh disapproval from employees, Burns did not back down.
Angry that word leaked out about the euthanasia, Burns called the police on the hastily arranged through a Facebook post, small group of protestors that showed up at Tree House’s new, multi-million dollar facility. The police showed up, noticed the protestors were peaceful, not on private property, reminded them to hydrate as it was a hot day, and left them.
Burns continued to ignore the pleas to save Little Miss Solid Gold. She even ignored legitimate rescue groups, as well as those that stepped up offering to take the cat, even the ones that had a crate ready to take her off Tree House’s hands instantly so she would no longer be a liability to them.
Tree House posted a statement on their Facebook page later, since taken down, while deleting and blocking angry responses. Even those that wanted to leave their opinion on Yelp found that they couldn’t. What kind of humane, no-kill animal shelter treats its former volunteers, employees and donors like this?
A No-Kill Shelter Becomes a Kill Shelter
At the time my first story on Tree House Humane Society published last August, they were known as the largest, cageless, no-kill animal shelter for injured, sick and abandoned cats in the Chicagoland area. Founded on Chicago’s north side in 1971, Tree House’s mission “centers around the rescue, rehabilitation, and adoption of sick and injured stray cats.”
But, with the recent change in management, and in their Board of Directors, Tree House changed their mission statement to this: “Tree House’s primary mission centers around the rescue, rehabilitation, and adoption of sick, injured, abused, and neglected cats. Since our founding in 1971, Tree House has rescued and adopted more than 25,000 cats. ”
Claimed as a liability, Tree House made the decision to euthanize Little Miss Sold Gold because of her aggressive tendencies. Yet, she did not fit into the category of a sick, injured, abused or neglected cat, other than by Tree House management.
Tree House is no longer a no-kill animal shelter and it’s no longer the largest, cageless, no-kill shelter for injured, sick and abandoned cats in Chicago. But, no one bothered to tell the volunteers, donors or employees that continued to support Tree House, believing in it’s no-kill mission. One employee quit and walked out the afternoon after the euthanasia.
It’s only been a year or so that long-time, respected board member Steve Dale walked away from Tree House. He stood for his ideals, then when Tree House fired their leadership staff in the middle of a capital campaign, it left the shelter divided among board members, staff and volunteers, while donors withdrew their support.
The ASPCA’s stand on euthanasia is this, “While it cannot be said that the ASPCA is “for” euthanasia, it recognizes the inevitable necessity for euthanasia in certain circumstances. . . . Euthanasia must be understood for what it is: a last-step, end-of-the-road option to spare animals further hardship and suffering.”
Several volunteers and caretakers at Tree House said that LMSG was not suffering, it wasn’t the last step or end-of-the-road option. The only hardship was to Tree House, distancing itself from it’s grass roots reputation of rescuing stray cats while trying to protect their new image of a corporate-like, modern and upscale organization. To my sources’ knowledge, Tree House has never euthanized a cat for behavior problems until now, only if a cat was extremely ill or terminal.
Following Tree House’s demise since last year this doesn’t surprise me, after writing the three stories before this one, it only disappoints and angers me greatly.
Please share LMSG’s story on social media using #notmytreehouse, hopefully to save the next cat at Tree House claimed as a liability.