Happy Cat Rescue shut down, Scotts allowed no more pets

Happy Cat Rescue

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
In January, a donor to Happy Cat Rescue relates to a rescued cat named Molly kept in one of the kennels stacked in the garage attached to Marcia and Charles Scott’s home.

GUILDERLAND — In Guilderland Town Court on Dec. 19, supporters of Marcia and Charles Scott sat in the gallery as well as people who had raised concerns about their Happy Cat Rescue operation.

Charles Scott appeared before the bench first, with his lawyer, John McFadden. Three times, Judge John Bailey noted Mr. Scott’s hesitancy and asked if he understood the agreement his lawyer had reached with the Albany County District Attorney’s office.

In two separate agreements — one for Marcia Scott and another for her husband, Charles Scott — each was charged with six counts of “Torture/Injure/Failure to Feed an Animal,” all unclassified misdemeanors under the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law.

The matter is to be adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, meaning that, if the Scotts for the next six months do not violate the agreement, the charges will be dropped.

However, the agreement is to remain in effect for the rest of their lives. The Scotts must permanently cease all operations as a rescue organization and they may not “possess, reside with, or own any animals” with the exception of five designated cats that are to be returned to them.

Also, the agreement says, the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society or an agency designated by the society may search the premises of the Scotts’ Guilderland home, to ensure they are abiding by the agreement.

“Do you agree with it?” asked Judge Bailey from the bench last Thursday evening.

“I’ll agree,” said Mr. Scott.

Noting Mr. Scott’s hesitancy, the judge said, “You do not have to agree.”

The judge went on, “I need to know you voluntarily agree.”

After a long pause, during which the white-haired Mr. Scott looked down and then at his lawyer, but not at the judge, he said, “I agree.”

“Once again,” said Bailey, noting the hesitation, “you’re not pleading to anything. There’s no guilty plea.”

“I understand it, all of it,” said Mr. Scott.

“Do you wish to proceed?” asked the judge.

“Yes, sir,” Mr. Scott said quietly.

About 45 minutes later, when Mrs. Scott’s lawyer, David Marinucci, arrived in court, she too, said she understood and agreed to the terms of orders and conditions of the adjournment.

Just hours before arriving in court, the Scotts had shared their concerns, and the reason for hesitation, with The Enterprise. The Scotts had run Happy Cat Rescue from their Meadowdale Road home since 2011 and estimated that, with the help of many volunteers, they had saved hundreds of cats over the years.

 

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Side by side: Marcia and Charles Scott pose for a picture in their Meadowdale Road home last Thursday about an hour before going to Guilderland Town Court where, in exchange for having charges against them dropped in six months, they agreed to permanently discontinue their Happy Cat Rescue shelter. Their cats had been seized after a raid in October.

 

The Scotts say they do not know who their accuser is and they did not torture or injure animals. “Mohawk Hudson made accusations that never happened,” Marcia Scott said of the humane society, which is based in Menands.

The arrest report lists the complainant as Gail Hughes-Morey of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society.

Alison Simpson, the events and community relations manager for the humane society, told The Enterprise on Monday how events unfolded from the society’s point of view. “Information came to us from an adoptee,” she said. “With the help of the Guilderland Police, we went in … We saw about 52 cats between the garage and the house.”

She went on, “It was clear it was a rescue that started with good people with good intentions and spiraled out of control.”

Asked about the six counts of torture, injury, and failure to feed an animal, presumably for six cats, Simpson said, “I wasn’t there. I can’t personally speak to the charges.”

She didn’t know about any specific injuries or tortures but said the Guilderland Police had taken pictures, which she hadn’t seen.

Curtis Cox, deputy chief of the Guilderland Police, said on Monday that he would have to do research to find out if the pictures taken during the Oct. 2 raid were available. He had not seen the pictures and did not know the specific base of the charges.

“It was their case,” Cox said of the humane society. “They would have to tell you the specific reasons for the charges.”

“It was overcrowded and not great ventilation,” said Simpson. “It got to be too many cats.”

“We don’t think they’re hoarders,” Simpson said of the Scotts.

She said of the humane society, “Our mission is to help take care of animals and the people who care for them. Some people are more worried about the animals than the people who care for them.”

Asked how the society would address the needs of people who care for animals, like the Scotts, Simpson said, “We don’t know … We’re not sure how to fix that.”

Simpson did say that the day after the Scotts appeared in court, they came to the shelter to pick up the five cats they had been allowed to keep and were given a tour of the facility where their other cats are being housed.

The Scotts said told The Enterprise could not afford to fight the claims with a trial since they had already expended more money than they had, paying for the lawyers who arranged what they ultimately would agree to — shutting down their rescue and never owning any new cats themselves.

“We don’t know what we did wrong,” Marcia Scott said.

“We’ve been told we’ll lose the ACOD (adjournment in contemplation of dismissal) and face two years of jail time,” said Mr. Scott on Thursday afternoon. “We don’t have the money to fight. We’ve already been bankrupted having to pay two lawyers. And we won’t get our cats back if we go against them.”

Mostly, Mrs. Scott said, they were deeply hurt by a television news report that termed their home a house of horrors and said they were torturing animals. The Scotts want their good name restored.

“Torturing — that’s the worst thing anyone could say to me,” said Mrs. Scott. “We always took in the worst cases, the ones no one else would. I’ve gotten cats brought to me that were frozen, starving, scraped off the ground. I’ve slept on the floor next to them, and cared for them until they were well.”

Mrs. Scott says her husband awoke her on the morning of Oct. 2. “I thought there was a bomb scare,” she said. “Officers were everywhere … They just raided our house; there were so many people in so many rooms.

“Cops were banging at our door,” she said. “They had a search warrant for our home and property. They turned our house upside down.”

At that time, the Scotts said, they had 10 cats living in their home that were their own personal pets — all rescued cats with “special needs.” They also had 21 cats in kennels in their attached two-car garage; the space from which the rescue operation ran. And they had 20 more kittens inside, from four different litters, they said.

Their two-story house, on 14 acres, is set back from Meadowdale Road. It has four bedrooms and is about 2,600 square feet.

“We always kept kittens in the house,” Mrs Scott said, explaining, “Kittens are very vulnerable.”

Once kittens were old enough, and “vetted” by a veterinarian, Mr. Scott said, they would join the older cats in kennels in the garage.

On Oct. 17, the Scotts were arrested. “We were brought into the police station, had mug shots taken, [were] finger-printed — the whole nine yards,” said Mr. Scott.

“We pleaded ‘not guilty,’” said Mrs. Scott of their first appearance in Guilderland Town Court.

“We each got our own lawyer,” said Mr. Scott, “because Marcia’s lawyer said he couldn’t represent both of us.”

The Scotts said they started their rescue after they both retired. Marcia Scott, who is 65, worked for a mechanical contractor. Charles Scott, who is 70, worked in computers for the state’s Department of Social Services, designing large main-frame applications, he said.

“We wanted to do something good with our lives,” said Mrs. Scott of their reason for starting Happy Cat Rescue.

Their home is filled with cat toys, beds, scratching posts, and memorabilia. There’s a ceramic cat-shaped cookie jar in the kitchen, cut-out wooden cat figures over a door frame, a plush cat on the living room couch, and steps next to a bed that would allow a cat to access it.

When Marcia Scott’s phone rings, it makes the sound of a real-life cat’s meow. Her email address includes the words “cat lady.”

“We’re never empty,” she said of the 35 to 40 kennels that had been stacked in their garage. Aside from fundraisers and donations for the not-for-profit Happy Cat Rescue, the Scotts said they chipped in a lot of their own money.

They also collected adoption fees to cover costs of food, litter, and veterinary fees, they said: $145 for a kitten, and $80 for cats over a year old.

Accusations

“I’m the one who turned them in,” said a woman whose name is being withheld because otherwise she would not speak to The Enterprise.

“It’s not a rescue,” she said of Happy Cat.

The accuser has 15 rescued cats of her own. She’s retired now but worked her whole life in prisons, she said, and does not like to see animals caged.

She has no children of her own, she said, and in her will is leaving her money to three different shelters.

Asked how often she had been to the Happy Cat Rescue shelter, she said, “I had been there one time but had heard about the mess for years; it’s known in the [rescue] community.”

Asked what she had observed on that one visit that moved her to act, she said, “The cats were all in cages in a cold garage. He was tottering around, didn’t know where he was,” she said of Mr. Scott.

She said of Mrs. Scott, “She sells cats and makes a lot of money.”

“Sue said, ‘You have to call animal control,’” the woman said of Sue Green.

Green has long been active in animal rescue work in Guilderland and regularly writes updates on Guilderhaven activities that run in The Altamont Enterprise.

Green, who is retired from her job as a social worker, described for The Enterprise one bad experience she was aware of with Happy Cat Rescue.

“In September,” Green said, “we were contacted by a well-meaning individual whose friend was handed a cat from Happy Cat. She never got adoption papers.

“The cat was losing weight and wouldn’t eat. When records were required, Marcia refused,” she said of Mrs. Scott.

Green said the cat tested positive for FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and also had bartonella, which can be transmitted to humans, as well as stomatitis. “The cat had to be euthanized,” she said.

The Enterprise asked Green, who had been in the gallery at Guilderland Town Court on Dec. 19, what her response was to the agreement. “We got what we wanted to accomplish,” she said, adding, “What was accomplished is what any legitimate rescue group would hope for.”

Laurie LaDuke volunteered at Happy Cat Rescue in 2014 and 2015, she said. She went on to found Furballs Rescue. “I ended up with all the Happy Cat volunteers,” she told The Enterprise.

Asked to describe any problems she saw at Happy Cat, LaDuke said, “Their records were messed up … The cats were always in the garage in cages … They had cats that were unadoptable with no exercise.”

LaDuke added, “none of the cats got exercise.”

She said of Mr. Scott, “He practically lived out there, feeding and cleaning.” LaDuke added, “But he never let the cats out of the cges. He worked around them.”

She said of Marcia Scott, “She was adopting out cats that were pregnant, sick, and feral.” LaDuke added, “One of the feral cats clawed my husband.”

LaDuke also said, “She didn’t want to reimburse for sick cats.”

Supporters

Barbara Jager of Guilderland Center has been a volunteer at Happy Cat rescue for the last two years since she retired from the Human Resources Office of the Guilderland school district.

Jager wrote one of 73 letters to the town court in support of the Scotts and Happy Cat Rescue.

She was doing her regular  morning routine — “cleaning and disinfecting kennels, feeding, brushing and loving all the cats” — on Oct. 2, the morning of the raid.

“I generally get there about 9 in the morning,” Jager told The Enterprise. She was about half-way through her chores when she heard a knock on the door, she said.

A Guilderland Police officer — Charles Tanner, according to the arrest report — “politely explained why they were there,” she said. He told Jager that officers from Animal Control and the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society were outside.

“I showed the officer the side I cleaned,” she said. “He remarked that it was cleaner than a lot of houses he’d been in.”

Jager said she owns a cat herself, and the kennels on the other side of the garage, she said, were typical of what a cat would do overnight. Some of the cages had feces in the pan, she said. She believes that Mr. Scott had done his usual clean-up of the kennels the night before.

Jager said she was “quite shocked” with the charges against the Scotts and speculated someone who was upset with Marcia Scott may have lodged them. Jager gave an example of something that has caused friction: “Marcia won’t adopt out a cat if the person is going to declaw,” she said, adding that Mrs. Scott “is very outspoken.”

The arrest report filed by the Guilderland Police says six cats were not provided “medical attention” and that 32 cats were not provided “proper ventilation.”

In her letter to the court, Jager addressed potential concerns, stating, “Every kennel gets cleaned out in the morning. Litter, bedding, food and water removed so the kennel may be completely wiped down with disinfectant wipes. Visual assessment of the cats’ health, brushing and petting take place and then fresh litter, bedding, food and water go back in the kennel. After the cats are attended to, they get canned cat food in addition to the water that is always present.”

She also wrote, “The only cats that share a kennel are those that come to Happy Cat together from the same home and it’s presumed they are a bonded pair. If they were separated, it could cause more stress than they are already experiencing, leaving their home.

“Regarding air quality in the garage: The air conditioner/fan was working until around Sept. 25th. Mr. Scott was waiting for someone to help him lift the new unit into the window. It’s an awkward spot and he is unable to do it himself. This wasn’t an issue the week before the inspection since it was cool and the door could be left open a bit for some fresh air, but with all the ripe apples on the ground in the adjacent orchard, I was hesitant to keep the door open that day, allowing bugs and flies to enter. The door was being opened intermittently, every 10 minutes or so to dispose of water.”

Jager, a minister’s wife, concluded her letter, “I don’t know the source of the complaint but I truly believe it is unfounded. The shame of this is that Happy Cat and the Scotts have been maligned. I pray their good name will be returned to them.”

The Enterprise asked Jager if she could recall any instances of neglect or abuse at Happy Cat. She thought a while and then said that, one morning when she came in to do her chores, she found a cat had been moved into a crate with another cat. “It had food and water but there was no litter pan,” she said, adding, “Apparently, a volunteer had trapped a street cat at 2 or 3 in the morning and had moved cats around.”

Jager had started her volunteer work at Happy Caat Rescue by serving on the board of directors, she said; she served as the secretary, taking minutes for a year.

In addition to her early-morning duties, Jager would take cats to the veterinarian when needed, she said.

The veterinarian used by Happy Cat, Carla Hernas, who earned her VMD (Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris) at the University of Pennsylvania and has a practice in Schenectady, also wrote a letter of support.

“My experience with Marcia is that she is an exemplary pet owner,” wrote Hernas. “She has always shown great consideration for the health of the cats in her care and does not hesitate to promptly bring them to me for treatment when she notices anything amiss with them. Furthermore, she is very attentive to keeping their vaccines and physical exams up to date.”

The veterinarian went on, “Her attention to her cats’ medical needs is a direct result of the emotional bond between Marcia and her cats. In discussion with her, her love for her cats is powerfully evident.

“In my over 35 years of practice I have but rarely encountered a pet owner so devoted to the health and happiness of their pets.”

Hager concluded her letter, “In my professional opinion, Marcia Kenneally Scott takes extremely good care of her pets, and I wish more of my clients were like her. The world needs more cat rescue organizations like hers, rather than fewer.”

Five cats

The Scotts said on Thursday that they were deeply concerned about what has happened to the cats that were taken by the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society. They worried that they had been euthanized.

“It didn’t cost them a cent because they stole from us,” said Mr. Scott of the humane society. “They get a hundred bucks a pop,” he said of the society’s cat-adoption fees. “They had all our vet reports,” Mr. Scott said, and the Scotts still need to pay outstanding bills.

The website for the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society says fees vary based on breed, age, and other factors. Fees for two currently-listed cats include $125 for a 4-year-old black domestic shorthair, and $150 for a five-month-old gray shorthair female.

Mr. Scott said it was “very, very difficult” to decide on the five of their 10 personal cats that they would be allowed to keep under the agreement.

“Knowing that Mohawk Hudson doesn’t have patience with cats that need work,” he said, “we took the cats that would be least adoptable to give the others a chance. All of our cats were special needs.”

He listed each of the cats the Scotts chose to keep and the reasons why:

— Salem: A black spayed female with short hair who is about 7 years old. “She has a herpes virus infection in her eyes, which is common for street cats,” said Mr. Scott;

— Zena: Another spayed female who has orange and brown short hair and is about 5 years old. “She developed partial paralysis in her hind quarters and still has a problem with the litter pan so we cover the whole dining room with a plastic sheet to keep the rug intact,” said Mr. Scott;

— Cumba: A third spayed female with white and black short hair who is about 5 years old. “She has a herpes virus and a chronic upper respiratory problem … She sneezes on walls and it keeps you busy trying to clean it … She’s our shoulder cat; she’ll jump right on you”;

— M.J.: A neutered male with black and white short hair who is about 10 years old and named for Michael Jackson. “He came to us in really bad shape and we did a lot of work to get him healthy,” said Mr. Sscott. “He’s 10, which makes him hard to adopt”; and

— Rocky: A black and white short-haired cat who is about 5 years old. “Rocky’s a three-legged cat, a street cat … the only survivor of his litter. The umbilical cord wrapped around all the babies and it strangled them all but Rocky who lost a back leg.”

“It would have been nice to keep Mittens, the mom, but we were limited to five so we had to break the two of them up,” said Mr. Scott. “Mittens is healthy so she has a chance to be adopted.”

The court agreement says that, when these five cats die, the Scotts are “NOT allowed to acquire any new animals.”

The Scotts are mourning the cats they had to give away and worry about their future. Among the five are Luna, Salem’s brother, who has just one eye.

“When they came to us, we thought they had no eyes,” said Mr. Scott of Salem and Luna. “Marcia kept working with them, putting on hot packs,” he said.

Pinto also has eye issues. And Frankie, a male, has “dental issues that we missed,” said Mr. Scott. “He was drooling and we didn’t catch it right away,” he said. “He needs teeth removed.”

In addition to Mittens, Rocky’s mother, who won’t be returning to Meadowdale Road, the fifth cat is Trixie. “We’re a bonded pair,” said Mr. Scott of himself and Trixie. “Trixie had a street attitude, and I worked with her.”

Trixie had badly matted and gnarled hair, he said, and he used a special brush, bit by bit and day by day, to untangle and smooth her fur.

“We became pals,” he said. “I’m happy she’s capable of being friends with one person. That means she might be adoptable. She might be able to bond with someone else.”

Describing their house now, without any cats, and the way it will be after the five cats they are allowed to have die, Mr. Scott said, “It’s hollow.”

“It don’t feel right,” Mrs. Scott said.

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