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.[selfie]
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."