Dozens of cats were lifted from an abandoned building in Coromandel after a self-appointed rescuer rushed in to rescue them.
It’s the latest twist in a saga that includes an SPCA investigation, multiple heated exchanges, and two pet owners living rough in their car so they can afford to house their pets.
Two weeks ago, locals in the coastal town of Thames described a “cat prison” in which barren rooms were filled with meowing moggies and cats trying to escape through barred windows.
Cat owners Eve and Graeme Belmont told Stuff they had bred the animals for about four years and denied they did anything wrong.
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A fortnight later, her 48 cats were missing, according to an investigation by an Auckland animal welfare agency.
The SPCA said while the uplift was “well-intentioned,” it may be illegal for rescuers to take matters into their own hands.
The SPCA is the only recognized non-profit organization in New Zealand, along with the MPI and the police, that can enforce the animal welfare law.
But Charmaine Wolmarans of Pixie’s Animal Welfare said she had no regrets.
Chris McKeen / Stuff
Charmaine Wolmarans of Pixie’s Animal Rescue rescued 48 cats from the Thames.
“I understand it’s hard. [The couple] I love their animals and they have gotten into difficult times, but these cats were in a dire situation, ”said Wolmarans.
She said the uplifted cats have since been diagnosed with a number of health problems, including underlying breathing problems, symptoms of feline flu, eye infections, poor teeth, kidney problems, mastitis and birth deformities due to inbreeding.
While her organization had a no-kill policy, she said that a cat with “gashes around its neck” must be euthanized.
Wolmarans was angry that action was not taken sooner.
“I’ve been in the rescue for many years and I’m pretty brave and excited, but I collapsed and cried when I saw these cats,” she said.
Many of the cats and kittens have health problems such as eye infections.
“They had been in those cages day in and day out with no toys, scratching posts, or anything to entertain them.”
Wolmarans decided to act after reading the January 24th Stuff report.
On January 29, she drove from Auckland’s north coast to Thames and told Eve and Graeme Belmont she was ready to take custody of the cats.
The conversation quickly became “heated” and Eve refused to give up on “her babies”.
However, Graeme agreed that Wolmarans could take his nine ginger cats.
Dominico Zapata / things
Graeme’s ginger cats were the first to be returned to the Pixie Animal Welfare Sanctuary.
The next day, Wolmarans knocked again. This time she had signed a contract to take custody of the animals.
Graeme was concerned that his cats might be euthanized by the SPCA and said he signed the contract on the understanding that it was a temporary arrangement.
“As soon as we find somewhere else, we’ll get the cats back,” he said.
After the contract was signed, Wolmarans raised the cats.
Photos showed police officers at the scene at the time of the incident.
Police have no record of participation in an incident, although this photo shows two officers at the scene.
Wolmarans said she has since spent more than $ 4,000 on veterinary bills for the cats and expected that number to double.
Eve Belmont further denied the cats had been mistreated, saying she believed the uplift was “theft”.
Dominico Zapata / things
Eve and Graeme Belmont want to get out of the Thames as soon as possible, but have difficulty finding a suitable location.
“Graeme didn’t have the right to sign this contract because they are my cats,” said Eve.
“We worked with the SPCA and they helped us and paid some of our vet bills.”
She was sad to hear that one of the animals had been euthanized and said she had not given Wolmarans permission to kill her cat.
Dominico Zapata / things
The building that housed the cats is on a side street off the main street in the Coromandel town of Thames.
The SPCA said it will not condone animal rights activists who take matters into their own hands.
“SPCA investigations can be hampered by the actions of well-meaning members of the public or organizations, when animals are unlawfully removed from property or when relevant information is not passed on to our inspectors,” the SPCA said in a statement.
Alan Wilson, general manager of the SPCA regulator, said the organization must act within the law and that was not always well understood.
He said the SPCA often has to deal with “complex” issues that involve multiple agencies in order to provide assistance not only to animals but also to their owners.
Wilson said SPCA inspectors are always ready to work with outside rescue workers, but warned that unlawful acts by activists could hamper law enforcement.