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Little Shelter pursues penalty after adopters dump cats

The Little Shelter's cattery manager Dianna Cutolo with

The Little Shelter's cattery manager Dianna Cutolo with Chester and Lucy on Friday, May 12, 2017. The cats were adopted from the Huntington facility four years ago and dumped at a kill shelter in Tennessee earlier this year. The out-of-state shelter found the connection to the Long Island shelter because the cats were microchipped. Credit: Steve Pfost

A local rescue group is seeking justice for two cats by pursuing a breach of contract penalty against the adopters who dumped them at a Tennessee kill shelter.

Officials at Little Shelter in Huntington credit microchips for the return last month of Chester and Lucy, who had been adopted out as kittens four years ago to a Long Island couple. At a Tennessee shelter, workers had scanned the unwanted felines for identification and found the Huntington nonprofit listed as the secondary owner.

“You’re like ‘Oh crap, they’re down in Tennessee. What are we going to do?’ ” said David Ceely, Little Shelter’s executive director. “A trip from Tennessee for two cats — cats especially don’t travel well — it’s very stressful for them to go through airports and be in carriers.”

When the Huntington rescue reached out to the couple, who had moved to Tennessee, they said their children, a toddler and a newborn, were allergic to cats, Ceely said.

“They responded back to us in a voicemail saying they were too far away so they didn’t want to call us to let us know,” he said. “They thought they had to bring them to a shelter — but they brought them to a kill shelter.

“They think they’re disposable.”

Now, the Huntington nonprofit points to a clause in their adoption papers, which spells out a $1,000 penalty for pet owners who fail to contact Little Shelter when they don’t want their pets anymore.

“We’re going to contact our lawyers and speak to them about recouping $1,000 and holding them accountable,” Ceely said.

Many rescue groups have clauses requiring adopters to bring back unwanted pets, a way to prevent animals from being put out on the streets or put to death in crowded shelters. At Little Shelter, a microchip is another layer of protection.

But very few groups stipulate a financial penalty and even fewer pursue a monetary penalty, said Gary Rogers, head of the Nassau County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“I think it’s great that they’re going after them,” Rogers said, “and it’s an example that every rescue group should follow.”

He said rescue groups should not just charge adoption fees, but should also check the homes and the pets’ welfare: “It’s not just money, it’s quality homes.”

Ceely, who’s been at the shelter 15 years, said he recalls the nonprofit pursuing penalties in three cases, and succeeding in two. Shelter officials declined to identify the Tennessee shelter and the couple.

Chester, an orange, purring “lovebug,” and Lucy, a more reserved black cat, are in quarantine but are healthy. They’ll be up for adoption soon, and officials want them to go together to their next home.

Flying them back cost Little Shelter more than $800, and the nonprofit expects to recoup costs through donations and the penalty clause.

“If we need to put a lien on the house,” Ceely said, “we will, or some sort of lien somewhere.”

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