Stannards have new lease on life

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

The Stannard sisters — Frances, in the foreground and Shirley behind her — were arrested in September when they had 45 cats in their 16-foot camper trailer where they lived. They now have an apartment at the Good Samaritan in Delmar and are pleased the charges against them have been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.

NEW SCOTLAND — The future looked brighter to the Stannard sisters — Shirley and Frances — after they appeared in town court Thursday night. They spoke of a newfound sense of freedom and worth.

The charges against them had been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, and they had just moved into an apartment they can afford for the low-income elderly.

The Stannards were arrested on Sept. 29 on one count each of failure to provide sustenance to animals, a misdemeanor. After being forced out of their trailer-park home, they were living in a small camper with 45 cats, which were taken to the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society. Thirty of the cats were deemed “past saving,” the director of the humane society said earlier, and were euthanized.

Shirley Stannard’s original plan had been to drive south with her sister, where she imagined the cats living happily with them on a small plot of land. As the Stannards waited for court dates in October and November, the weather turned cold and they left their camper to sleep in a women’s shelter called Mercy House, run by Catholic Charities.

They had never been arrested before and were nervous their first time in court, as they sat side by side in the crowded courtroom, patiently awaiting their names to be called. Town Justice Margaret Adkins in October appointed a public defender for them, Michael Jurena.

Tuesday, the sisters stood before the bench for two minutes in the courtroom they had visited three times as Jurena proposed their case be adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.

Adkins explained to the sisters, “If you are not arrested in the next year, these charges will be dismissed.”

She also told them that they could have “no animals, no cats, none at all.”

“We understand,” said Shirley Stannard as her sister nodded gravely.

“If you’re re-arrested,” cautioned Adkins, “the original charges return.”

She concluded, “Good luck” as the sisters turned to walk away.

Outside the courtroom, the Stannards said they were surprised and relieved with the disposition. They had hoped, at best, to pay a fine and do community service.

“I guess they figured we weren’t the jerks they thought,” said Frances Stannard.

“They must have realized that we weren’t horrible people,” said Shirley Stannard.

Frances Stannard said that, when Jurena spoke to them earlier that evening, before they appeared at the bench, he said, “I couldn’t let anything happen to you ladies.”

The sisters, who were raised in a large family on a farm in Bethlehem, had taken in stray animals all of their lives. Later, they had worked, cleaning other people’s houses.

“The people we used to clean for, we’d take care of their animals,” said Frances Stannard. “They trusted us.”

They conceded that recently they had taken in too many stray cats.

Asked if it would be hard now to live without pets, Shirley Stannard said, “Not for a while.”

“We lost too much,” agreed Frances Stannard.

“It’s time just to settle down,” said Shirley Stannard.

“To heal,” agreed Frances.

“We go to Walmarts and feed the seagulls,” said Shirley Stannard. “We can still pet them. We just can’t own them,” she said of animals.

Earlier in the week, the Stannards, who had been on lists for several subsidized residences, had moved into the Good Samaritan complex in Delmar.

“We’re in the senior apartments for low income,” said Frances Stannard.

They share a bedroom and also have a living room, kitchen, and bathroom. They’re signing a year’s lease for the apartment and then will re-evaluate what they want to do, as their court obligation will be fulfilled then, too.

“We’re hanging on to the trailer,” said Shirley Stannard.

The trip south, said Frances, “was really her dream; I was going along with it.”

As for their plans for the upcoming year, Frances Stannard said, “We’ll take one day at a time.”

“I don’t need a lot to fill my days,” said Shirley Stannard. “Maybe some volunteer work.”

She doesn’t think they will have any trouble fulfilling the court obligation not to be arrested over the course of the year. “I spent a lot of years not getting into trouble,” said Shirley Stannard, who was 65 when she was arrested. Her sister was 73. Neither had ever been to court before this year.

They were apprehensive, after all the publicity surrounding their arrest, when they first went to court. They were gratified to be treated with respect.

“It was a learning experience, seeing all these people in for different reasons,” said Shirley Stannard.

“It’s different than on TV,” said Frances Stannard. She went on about Judge Adkins, “She was great.”

“She doesn’t make you feel like you’re a bad person,” said Shirley Stannard. “She treats you like a human being.”

Frances Stannard said she wanted to thank her and to thank an Enterprise reader, Phyllis Johnson, who gave the Stannards a gift of stuffed animals after reading about their ordeal.

“She gave us a cat that had a part in her wedding. We named her Fluffy,” said Frances of the stuffed toy.

“And she gave us two little Beanie Baby cats…She had them a long time,” said Shirley Stannard. “They’re our pets for now.”

The Stannards said they were also grateful for the care and acceptance they found at Mercy House.  Frances was sick with pneumonia so couldn’t enjoy the Christmas party there last Monday but was grateful for the Christmas stocking she was given, as was her sister.

“Mercy house was terrific — the staff and the guests,” said Shirley Stannard. “They were all younger than us but very accepting of two old ladies. I think we need more shelters like that. There are homeless people who need help.”

“We’re not homeless,” Shirley Stannard had said as she pointed to her camper last fall after media reports had labeled them homeless.

Now the sisters are excited about their new home at Good Samaritan. “We met a few neighbors,” said Frances Stannard. “They seem nice….We had to keep to ourselves till this was over tonight. I acted like a snob. I’m not really that way. We had to keep under wraps.”

“Now we have a sense of freedom; we can get on with things,” said Shirley Stannard.

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