BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – A Donnellson woman is pleading with local officials to return several cats that were trapped near her property and taken away.
In a story that’s turning out to have more than nine lives of it’s own, Donnellson city officials, PAW animal shelter are all wrapped up in the relocation of “Mama”. … and apparently another cat that was taken to the country as a stray.
Debbie Gilman is a senior living in and out of a home in Donnellson and she has six cats, four licensed with the city. The cats are semi-secure, but Gilman admits they wander around into a field behind a neighbor’s home and could be wandering elsewhere.
Several of the cats living on Gilmans’ property are highly sought after Bengal cats. Bengals are from a lineage of Egyptian Maus and Asian Leopard cats. It’s not unheard of for these animals to go for more than $1,000 a piece.
The cats are energetic and inquisitive and are bred for revenue and have unique stripe and spot patterns similar to leopards.
Gilman said she has sold a few of the cats, but has been battling illnesses and just wants to retire to the countryside and live with the pets.
On or around Oct. 10, one or more of her cats were live trapped and taken away. One was taken on the 10th was called “Mama”, a pregnant Bengal that was taken by Donnellson City Clerk Rebecca Schau to the PAW Animal Shelter in Fort Madison.
The cats, according to everyone but Gilman, were taken from a neighbor’s garage in a live trap that was set up there. Gilman said she isn’t sure that’s the case. She said no one has shown her proof where they were trapped.
West Point/Donnellson Police Chief Brad Roberts said no trap was put on her property. He said the cats were trapped roaming in a neighbor’s garage after that resident called in a complaint that they were in the garage.
“We got a call from a citizen who said strays were in her garage and wanted to know if we could remove them. Our policy is to provide a live catch, and then if we catch them and they have tags we make an attempt to find the owner. If that’s not available we take the animal to PAW.”
However he said two of the cats weren’t taken to PAW because they were recorded as strays with no way of determining ownership.
“That’s what we recorded, that they were strays and they had somebody out there that said they would take them for mousers,” Roberts said.
Gillman said she saw a Donnellson city staffer with a live trap and confronted him about the missing cats when she arrived at her home later that week.
“He was carrying a live trap in his hand and I walked right up to him and said “Where are my cats,” she said. “He told me right there that Rebecca (Schau) took one to PAWs and the other two were taken out to the country and released.”
Schau confirmed she took one cat to PAW, but said no cats were taken out and released in the country to her knowledge.
Gilman has another neighbor helping her care for the cats as she’s in and out of the home dealing with medical issues.
PAW Director Sandy Brown took the pregnant Bengal cat in on Oct. 10 and then transferred it to another rescue out of the state on Oct. 17.
Gilman claims she contacted Brown immediately after confronting the Donnellson city employee to see about getting her cat back. Gilman said Brown told her she didn’t have any Bengals at the shelter, but she doesn’t remember the exact date of the call to Brown, other than it was about two weeks ago.
Brown said the shelter followed protocols with the animal and kept it seven days, when they are only required to keep it five for a property owner to come claim it.
“The cat was pregnant and it’s very stressful in here with the number of cats we have right now, so we sent it to a partner rescue that specializes in caring for pregnant cats,” Brown said.
Brown said she’s never spoken with the owner of the Bengal that was sent out, because there’s been no confirmation of who the owner is.
Brown said another male Bengal cat was in the shelter’s possession for about six weeks, before someone adopted it. She said the only time she’s spoken with Gilman was when the woman called about some of her cats being shot by someone in the neighborhood and asked advice on how to keep them safe.
Brown told her to make sure the cats are contained inside the property when she’s not there, are looked after, and are in good health.
“To me, this is all about the welfare of the animal and nothing else,” Brown said. “We still have not spoken to the owner of the cat so we did what was best for the animal.
“We’ve done nothing wrong here.”
Brown said she won’t consider trying to get the cat back because of the safety factor considering some of the other cats on the property have been shot and are known to roam the neighborhood.
Roberts confirmed at least one of Gilman’s cats had been shot and killed. Officers questioned neighbors but found no solid evidence to charge anyone with the shootings. One of the animals was shot in the neck while sitting on Gilman’s porch, according to the owner, but Roberts said her initial report of the incident had some inconsistencies.
Gilman also said one of the Bengal cats that was released in the country found its way home malnourished, but is doing better now. She just wants the others returned so she can get her life back to normal.
Once the animals are taken to the shelter, they are evaluated for health, fed and then spayed or neutered. No breeding value would remain with any cat taken to a rescue.
Gilman said that is of no concern to her as she has no intention of continuing to breed the animals due to her health.
“None of that matters to me. I just want “Mama” back,” she said.
Roberts said it’s unfortunate that this incident has garnered so much attention for his department, and for PAW.
“For us it’s scary, because they want to pick apart everything we do. There’s a risk of disease here and when they go into other properties and get into garbage they clearly are hungry and then can transfer disease,” Roberts said
“Our first priority is public safety and then to try and reunite the animal or animals with the proper owner. And it’s against city ordinance to let them run at large.”
He said the city has no way of housing nuisance animals and PAW has always been there to help protect and provide a temporary home for animals that are running at large.