MSPCA: Petition on Euthanized Cat Doesn’t Tell Whole Story

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.

A petition drive launched by a Jamaica Plain cat owner after the MSPCA euthanized his pet leaves out key information about the elderly feline, the JP-based animal advocacy organization announced Wednesday.

All parties agree that Dryden, who had six toes on each front paw, was old and sick. He didn’t come back home the night of Sunday, Aug. 3. The cat’s owner, Benjamin Day, went to the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that Tuesday. He found that a would-be good Samaritan had brought the 14- or 15-year-old Dryden to the organization’s JP clinic — and that vets had just put the cat down.

The MSPCA has taken heat over the incident. As of Wednesday afternoon, 4,661 supporters had signed on to Day’s change.org petition titled, “Don’t Euthanize Cats Like Dryden Whose Owners Are Searching For Them.”

After an internal review of the case, the MSPCA released this statement:

Unfortunately, the information given about Dryden by his owner is incomplete. Dryden was brought to the MSPCA-Angell by a good Samaritan who believed the cat was homeless. He was in extremely poor condition upon his arrival.

Upon exam by a veterinarian Dryden was found to be emaciated and dehydrated. We conducted laboratory tests and found that he was suffering from advanced kidney failure, in addition to hyperthyroidism that was not being controlled. Moreover, Dryden was also urinating substantial amounts of blood. He had no identification tags or collar, nor was he microchipped—making it impossible for us to know if he had a home.

We held him for 48 hours and provided supportive care during that time to keep him comfortable, but his health continued to decline and our veterinarians felt that it was inhumane to continue to hold him because of his incredibly poor condition. Cats being treated for hyperthyroidism need medication every 12 hours to control this condition. We held Dryden for 48 hours in the hope that if someone was providing him with the care he needed that they would notice his absence within 12 hours and report him missing or come looking for him. During this time we reviewed all of our lost animal files and found no reports of missing cats matching Dryden’s description.

Dryden’s overall condition, combined with the results of laboratory tests performed by veterinarians, led us to conclude that euthanasia was the most humane option. The decision to euthanize an animal is always difficult, never made lightly and only ever made after all other options have been exhausted. We encourage all pet owners to have identification (tags, collar and microchip) on their pets at all times and to call their local animal shelter immediately to report a lost pet.

Day, the cat’s owner, previously told Jamaica Plain News that he couldn’t keep a collar on Dryden and, as the cat never left the yard, he hadn’t microchipped him.

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.

Day said the MSPCA’s response falls short.

“The MSPCA has chosen not to engage in a discussion of why they have no policy for holding cats before euthanizing them so their owners have adequate time to find them,” Day said in an email to Jamaica Plain News, “but this is exactly what almost 5,000 signers of my petition are asking them to consider. The fact is that my cat Dryden would be alive today if he were a dog, but the MSPCA has a double-standard for what they consider humane treatment for cats and dogs.”

Previously, Rob Halpin, spokesperson for the MSPCA, explained that 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.

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

Day said at least seven of the nearly 5,000 people who have signed the petition reported similarly quick euthanization of cats at either the MSPCA or other animal shelters, so the issue isn’t simply what happened to his cat.

“We are all supporters of the MSPCA and the good work they do,” Day wrote in an email to the Jamaica Plain News, “and we’re interested in a step forward for the treatment of cats, not PR spin or attempts to blame the victim.”

[Editor’s note: I significantly updated this post on Thursday, Aug. 28 with a response to the MSPCA from the cat owner, Ben Day.]

  • Sweetpea176

    It’s pretty common for cats to hide out when they’re sick, and will often find a place to be alone if they’re approaching the end of their life. It’s instinctive. Given his condition on arrival at the MSPCA, and given that he’d never left the yard ever before, it’s a pretty good bet that’s why Dryden left home to begin with. Don’t get me wrong — losing a beloved pet is heartbreaking in any circumstance. But it sounds like the MSPCA euthanized a cat that was already dying, which was probably merciful. Very, very sad, but merciful. I actually think the MSPCA is being pretty polite by not just stating that directly.

    If there had been a policy in place that required MSPCA to hold Dryden for a few more days before euthanizing him, it might have given the owner a chance to say goodbye, which would have been good for the owner. I’d want to have that chance if it were my pet. But it would have been at the expense of continued suffering for the cat — who was probably trying to be just left alone in peace to begin with.

    It’s sad, but not a cause to manufacture outrage with misleading petitions and calls for action.

  • Brian Sherman

    Glad to see the real story is finally out there. I was deeply suspicious of this owner’s story after reading that his previous cat, also elderly and living outside (in the city!) was once carried off to an animal shelter by someone who thought he was homeless.

    This cat was very very ill and the mspca did the right thing by not prolonging his suffering. And then the owner creates a petition and a smokescreen to divert attention from the responsibility he should feel for keeping his cat safe. Who lets their cat live outside in the city with no identification whatsoever?

    It would be good to get a response from the owner not that the truth is finally out there.

    I don’t think the mspca is perfect. I never have and I live in JP. But they clearly made the right call on this one.

    • Benjamin Day

      Hi Brian – I’m the owner of the cat. I have not had another cat taken to an animal shelter before. I’m sure that the MSPCA was doing what they thought best – one staff person told me that the decision whether to euthanize is very different if a cat is living in a home compared to living in the shelter, since cats tend not to do well in a shelter and the MSPCA doesn’t provide medications to cats they’re holding. I respect your opinion on this, and whatever you think about my particular case I hope you’ll consider supporting a policy protecting lost cats similar to what we have in place for dogs.

      • Carol

        If you loved your cat so much, why was he not on medication and/or the proper food for hyperthyroidism and kidney failure? You were the neglectful one here and not the MSPCA who, I think, did a blessing letting Dryden go peacefully. Only if you think you can provide a better home in future should you be allowed to adopt another cat.

  • Patty

    I totally support the change in policy to keep lost cats in the shelter for at least a week but as a long-time cat owner I am appalled that any “loving” pet owner would let a frail, elderly cat with kidney disease outdoors where the animal could be hurt by other animals or run over. It is not surprising that the cat was dehydrated but a cat that is described as emaciated did not get that way after a few days outdoors. I have had a cat die of kidney disease and it was quite obvious to me that my cat was sick. This pet owner must not bring his cat for routine care or he would have known his cat was ill and needed medication. I have had my issues with the MSPCA but in this case the owner appeared to have neglected his pet by not getting care or by not being responsible and having him euthanized himself. I recently adopted two cats from the MSPCA after I had to euthanize my beloved cat ,Lucy after treatment for her cancer was futile and it was cruel to keep her alive. I support the efforts to change the MSPCA policy but in this case, the cat sounds as if he was very ill, not being cared for properly and euthanasia was the only solution. I will be happy to sign the petition if the link is reposted. Please consider adopting another cat as they are micro chipped and leave the cat inside the house. Thank you

  • AlanThinks

    I wonder if any of the petition signers have concerns about all of the birds and chipmunks domestic outdoor and feral cats kill every day? Any compassion for them? Any concerns about the adverse environmental effects of the wanton killing by outdoor cats. It is estimated that cats in the US kill several billion birds per year – and not for food. How about getting our priorities straight?