MSPCA Puts Down Cat While Owner Searches for Him

The MSPCA euthanized Dryden, a cat belonging to Jamaica Plain's Benjamin Day, within 48 hours of a neighbor bringing the cat to the clinic.

Benjamin Day

The MSPCA euthanized Dryden, a cat belonging to Jamaica Plain's Benjamin Day, within 48 hours of a neighbor bringing the cat to the clinic.

Dryden, a cat with six toes on each paw who enjoyed knocking over cups of water, never left Benjamin Day’s JP yard. But when the elderly, sick cat didn’t show back up one recent Sunday night, his owner started posting flyers. On Tuesday the owner checked in with the JP-based MSPCA to find that, only hours earlier, the animal welfare organization had euthanized his cat.

Someone had picked up Dryden, possibly a well-meaning neighbor who didn’t know the 14- or 15-year-old polydactl cat was being cared for by Day. Workers at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, seeing how thin the collarless, un-microchipped cat was, put him down within two days of him being brought to the facility.

An MSPCA spokesperson explained that their employees were presented with an elderly, emaciated, cat in renal failure with no ID. There are only so many cats they can care for at a given time, said Rob Halpin, director of public relations for the MSPCA, and Dryden was not a good candidate for adoption.

“I feel profoundly sad and I want to relay that to Ben,” Halpin said. “We’re broken up about it.”

It turns out that while stray dogs in Massachusetts must be held for a week before they are euthanized, no such law protects cats. Each shelter or clinic must make its own policies, according to research a shaken Day did in the wake of what happened to Dryden. Halpin said the MSPCA has no iron-clad policy on how long a stray cat must be held before being put down.

A Petition for Longer Stray Cat Wait Times

Day, director of organizing at Healthcare-NOW!, which advocates for a single-payer health system, is putting his background to work in trying to change policies and possibly even laws to ensure beloved cats who wind up at shelters get enough time to be found by their frantic owners. On Tuesday he launched a change.org petition urging the MSPCA to adopt new wait-time rules on cats in Dryden’s position.

“I hope something can change,” Day said.

Halpin of the MSPCA said there won’t be a review of the process for stray cats. Given the volume of surrendered cats, tough decisions like the one made in Dryden’s case will continue. The MSPCA accepts all animals surrendered to it, but it is not a “no kill” shelter. Between the MSPCA’s three adoption centers, about 13,000 animals are brought in each year. The most recent statistics show 79.9 percent of those are adopted back out.

Fifty Paws Between Them

Dryden had a brother, also a polydactl cat. Mickey had seven toes on his front paws and six each on his hind paws. Between them they had 50 toes.

Dryden and Mickey came into Day’s life when his father’s marriage brought a sudden spike in the number of animals in his dad’s house.

“It was a bit of a zoo,” Day said.

So Day, who lived in New York state at the time, took on the polydactls.

“They both had tons and tons of toes,” he said.

Mickey, who died of heart disease several years ago, nearly got taken to a shelter by neighbors. He was padding around the neighborhood on his big bear claws, getting fed at multiple homes as some cats do, Day said. Neighbors were convinced he was a stray and had even named him “Hemingway” in honor of the author’s love for extra-toed cats. Luckily, a neighbor thought to attach a collar to Mickey with a note asking if anyone owned him. So Mickey was never taken away for possible adoption — or worse.

Day, who also serves on the JP Neighborhood Council, said Dryden did not have a collar because he couldn’t keep one on him. And Day said he never put a microchip in Dryden because he always stayed close to home.

The MSPCA strongly recommends that cat owners to microchip their felines and keep them indoors.

All of that is too late for Dryden, of course.

“The only way I can think of to honor Dryden’s life,” Day wrote in his change.org petition, “is to make sure this never happens to another cat.”

A close-up of Dryden's six-toed paws.

Benjamin Day

A close-up of Dryden's six-toed paws.

  • ImmodestyBlaise

    Tragic all around. Lessons other cat owners should be taking from this:

    1. Always, always, always microchip, even if they’re indoor-only. You just never know.
    2. Before you paper your neighborhood with LOST CAT posters, drop one off at Angell first so the shelter will be aware your cat is missed, owned and wanted should it come in to the shelter.

    I am heartbroken this happened to Mr. Day. Have a peaceful tenth life, Dryden.

    • Kamie

      I totally agree – only $12 per YEAR, I would say is a MUST for indoor cats. Because they are not as street wise

      • anieva

        Not to put too fine a point on it, but I called the MSPCA and it can cost $81 plus dollars for the exam that you need if your pet hasn’t yet seen a doctor there. If it were as simple as a $12 fee a year, more people would do it. So, that’s another point: if the MSPCA wants us to do it this “nonprofit” (which charges exorbitant fees and pays its higher ups ridiculous amounts) should invite the public to do it with a simple, inexpensive process. That would be useful to all, except perhaps the finances of the hospital.

      • ian

        It’s only $12/yr if you want to pay for the APB service these companies provide. If you don’t pay the fee, the basic service still works which matches the chip with your contact info.

  • anieva

    Frankly,
    this steams me. Did the surrender counselor tell the people who brought
    the cat in that he might be euthanized soon? That if they found a
    sickness the euthanizing might happen more quickly? Did they offer those
    people the opportunity to take the
    cat if it was found to be weak or sick? That would take care of the
    overpopulation problem, at least where individual cats are concerned. We
    are not reinventing the wheel. The MSPCA has been in its business for
    years; they couldn’t have thought of these things yet? And as far as not
    microchip is concerned, we didn’t always have those and this is an old
    man who might be on a budget. A non-microchipped cat should not have a
    great chance at being put down than a microchipped cat. As for collars,
    how often do our indoor cats run outside without collars? Really, the
    esteemed MSPCA doesn’t have the good sense to have a policy for such
    potential heartbreaking situation? And they aren’t even going to
    reconsider the policy they have now? Don’t we donate enough money that
    they could find some time to rethink this after an event like this?

    (Sorry, I already posted this under the Facebook post, but I think we really need to ask why the MSPCA can’t bother itself to rethink a bad policy.)

    • Kamie

      What kind of policy would you suggest? It will be much more helpful to make a suggestion than just say ‘they should have better policy’. It will your argument that much more convincing.

      • anieva

        I already made suggestions. Please read them.

    • ian

      Yes, the MSPCA tells you when surrendering that they will euthanize surrendered adult cats that are unlikely to be adopted. I know because I’ve called them about apparent stray cats I’ve seen in my neighborhood. We don’t know what the exchange was with this neighbor, but I’ve always found the MSPCA to be compassionate but upfront with this policy.

      • anieva

        I didn’t question whether they talk about that fact that they euthanize. Clearly, I was not questioning that. It is one thing to say the cat will be euthanized if unlikely to be adopted. (And, by the way, this was clearly not about adoption.) I asked if they say that the cat was in imminent danger of being euthanized. This is a reasonable question to ask. To be told a cat will be put down is different than saying it might be put down tomorrow or the next day. Such info can change the mind of a person surrendering. But if the MSPCA is as busy as they say, you can’t guarantee that the intricacies explained unless there’s a policy in place to do so. I question whether THAT is part of their policy. Furthermore, do they tell the people that for cats they legally only have to wait two days? Many people would think twice if they knew that. Do they say, ‘Hey, you might want to take the cat home with you while we put a listing that it’s been found.’ Wouldn’t that be a good idea? We have computers. You don’t need the cat on MSPCA property to put its name and description in a database for anyone who inquires after lost cats. And then that takes care of overpopulation. Did they say, ‘We’ll take the cat for two day, but after that do you want it?’ I mean, there are ALL sorts of things they could easily do. Why is it so hard for people to accept that? This is not demonizing and it is asking questions for obvious answers. This is about accepting that the MSPCA is not perfect – perhaps very far from it if they refuse to even think about a change – and facing the fact that changes should be made. What I’m saying is really not complicated: reconsider the way info is given and the policy in place because there’s more than one way to get things done. We are not helpless.

        I’m sorry to take up so much space here, but it’s very clear that things were not being understood.

  • Matt Leston

    This so sad to hear about. But, I have concerns about totally demonizing an animal shelter in this situation. Based on the article, it sounds like this was an elderly cat that was very skinny and very sick. The change.org petition said Dryden had hyperthyroidism and this article says he was also in renal failure. I have had two cats that each had one of these serious diseases. I can tell you from experience they are both extremely difficult to (1) manage and (2) stabilize in a home with a very attentive and loving owner. When a skinny sick cat with these medical conditions comes into a shelter, with no identification and no microchip how is it completely the shelter’s fault if they determine the best decision is putting the cat down when no one stepped forward to claim him?

    I hate that this happened to Dryden and I hate that Mr. Day has to bear this loss, but I do think this terrible tragedy could have been avoided if Dryden were kept inside, or at the very least microchipped or wearing a collar.

    • anieva

      And if the policy were different.

    • TangotheScribe

      There are plenty of shoula woulda coulda’s but I don’t think they are trying to demonize the shelter. This is more trying to call attention to the policy on “stray” cats and suggesting it be reviewed. I understand that the cat was thought to be a stray and was elderly and sick. I understand that the shelter felt it was best to put him down but perhaps they should reevaluate whether 2 days is enough time. I’ve had outdoor cats and they would sometimes not come home for an entire day/overnight. Heck, I had one cat that left for a week then came back. If they are keeping stray dogs for 7 days, maybe they should consider upping the time for cats as well.

  • Jamie Gordon

    When I first saw this article I decided not to comment. Today, I received a link to a Change.org petition started by Mr. Day and since Change.org will not allow me to post a comment disagreeing with the petition, I decided to post my comments here.

    Here is what I don’t understand, Mr. Day states in his petition that “Dryden’s vet, who had been caring for him for almost a decade,
    works in the same MSPCA building where he was euthanized as an
    unidentified stray.” If Mr. Day cared enough to take his cat to one of the more expensive veterinary clinics in the state, why wouldn’t he spend the money to microchip his outdoor cat? Why is he now demanding that the MSPCA change its policy when he could not be bothered to take a simple step that would have prevented this horrible situation from happening in the first place? If Dryden had been chipped he would have been scanned by shelter staff and could have been returned to Mr. Day instead of being euthanized.

    If this had happened to me I would be blaming myself, not the shelter.

    • Brian Sherman

      Exactly right. Glad the truth is now out there. We have to stop blaming the animal shelters for doing the often difficult work that pet owners refuse to do.