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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.
A fortnight later, her 48 cats were missing, according to an investigation by an Auckland animal welfare agency.
The SPCA says while the uplift is “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 Pixies Animal Welfare says she has no regrets.
“I understand it’s hard. [The couple] I love their animals and they have had a tough time, but these cats were in a dire situation, ”says Charmaine.
She says the uplifted cats have since been diagnosed with a number of health problems, including breathing problems, symptoms of feline flu, eye infections, bad teeth, kidney problems, mastitis, and birth deformities due to inbreeding.
While her organization has a no-kill policy, she says a cat with “gashes around its neck” must be euthanized.
CHarmaien is furious that action was not taken sooner.
“I’ve been in the rescue for many years and I’m pretty brave and excited, but I broke down and cried when I saw these cats,” she says.
“They had been in those cages day in and day out with no toys, scratching posts, or anything to entertain them.”
Charmaine 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 Charmaine could take his nine ginger cats.
Graeme’s ginger cats were the first to be returned to the Pixie Animal Welfare Sanctuary. Photo: Dominico Zapata.
The next day, Charmaine knocked again. This time she had signed a contract to take custody of the animals.
Graeme is concerned that his cats may be euthanized by the SPCA, and says he signed the contract on the understanding that it was a temporary arrangement.
“As soon as we find another place we will get the cats back,” he says.
After the contract was signed, Charmaine picked up the cats.
Photos showed police officers at the scene at the time of the incident.
Charmaine says she has since spent more than $ 4,000 on veterinary bills for the cats and expects that number to double.
Eve Belmont continues to deny that the cats were mistreated and believes the uplift is “theft”.
“Graeme had no right to sign this contract because they are my cats,” says Eve.
“We worked with the SPCA and they helped us and paid some of our vet bills.”
She is sad to hear that one of the animals was euthanized and says that she did not give Charmaine permission to kill her cat.
The SPCA says it has not condoned animal rights activists who took matters into their own hands.
“SPCA investigations can be hampered by the actions of well-meaning members of the public or organizations, if animals are illegally removed from property or if relevant information is not passed on to our inspectors,” the SPCA said in a statement.
Alan Wilson, general manager of the SPCA regulator, says the organization must act within the law and that has not always been well understood.
He says the SPCA often had to deal with “complex” issues that involved multiple agencies in order to provide assistance not only to animals but also to their owners.
Alan said SPCA inspectors are always ready to work with outside rescue workers, but warn that illegal actions by activists could hamper law enforcement.
-Stuff / Sharnae Hope.