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Cat Defender

Exposing the Lies and Crimes of Bird Advocates, Wildlife Biologists, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, PETA, the Humane Society of the United States, Exterminators, Vivisectors, the Scientific Community, Fur Traffickers, Cloners, Breeders, Designer Pet Purveyors, Hoarders, Motorists, the United States Military, and Other Ailurophobes

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Brave Little Fred the Undercover Cat Has His Short, Tragic Life Snuffed Out by a Hit-and-Run Driver in Queens

"Gather kittens while you may
Time brings only sorrow;
And the kittens of day
Will be old cats tomorrow."
-- Oliver Herford

Fred is dead. The fifteen-month-old gray and yellow American Shorthair who captured the hearts and imagination of New Yorkers back in February when he went undercover in order to help nab a quack vet in a Brooklyn sting operation was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver at around 8 a.m. on August 10th.

His owner, Assistant Brooklyn District Attorney Carol Moran (See photo on the right of her and Fred) carelessly allowed him and his brother George to scamper through an open door at her Howard Beach, Queens home and out into the street as she and her husband were taking out their fourteen-year-old and sixteen-year-old dogs. When George returned alone a few minutes later Moran went to look for Fred only to be informed by a neighbor that there was a cat lying in the street.

Apparently this was not the first time that Moran had allowed Fred to go outside unsupervised. "Usually we catch them right in the yard, or somebody will go out under the deck and come out with cobwebs on his whiskers," she told The New York Times on August 12th. (See "A Detective. A Celebrity. And That Was Just Life No. 1.") "I don't know what he saw, or what struck him, or what possessed him."

To her credit, Moran collected Fred, wrapped him in a blanket, and buried him in her yard. She also planted flowers on his grave.

Fred first attracted worldwide attention when Moran volunteered him to play the role of a cat in need of neutering in an effort to catch twenty-eight-year-old Kingsborough Community College student Steven Vassall who had been operating for at least seven years as an unlicensed veterinarian. (See Cat Defender post of February 14, 2006 entitled "Special Agent Fred the Cat Goes Undercover to Help Nab Quack Vet in Brooklyn Sting Operation.")

"I suggested him in the role because he would be really comfortable in remarkable situations," Moran told the New York Daily News on August 13th. (See "Claws Celebre Kitty Cop Killed in Queens Hit-Run.")

In addition to desexing animals, Vassall had also been performing abdominal surgeries, dental work, and vaccinations. A Boston Terrier named Burt was returned to his owner only partially stitched up and covered in blood after Vassall had operated on him in order to remove a foreign object from his abdomen. A cat named Tiger died while it was in Vassall's care although there is not any evidence that he was responsible for its demise.

Because he operated as an itinerate veterinarian who plied his craft at an undisclosed location, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office was forced to mount a sting operation in order to catch him red-handed. With an undercover agent posing as his owner and with little Fred ensconced in a pet carrier, Vassall was lured to an apartment where he agreed to desex Fred for $135. The entire transaction was captured on video and Vassall was arrested as he exited the premises with Fred.

Vassall was originally charged with, inter alia, impersonating a vet and torturing and injuring animals. On July 6th he was arraigned on a new forty-two-count indictment charging him with fraud, unlicensed practice, criminal mischief, aggravated cruelty, and petit larceny stemming from eight additional cases. (See New York Post, July 7, 2006, "Smack at Pet 'Quack'.") He remains free on a $2,500 bond that he posted back in February.

Once his part in the arrest was made public, Fred became the most famous feline in Gotham. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes introduced him to the media at a news conference (See photo below on the left) where he was presented with a Law Enforcement Achievement Award and a detective's badge (See photo at the bottom of the page). Henceforth he would for ever be known as "Fred the Undercover Cat."

Although Hynes stated back in February that he might have additional undercover work for Fred, the famous feline appears to have spent most of the ensuing months doing charity work. For instance, it was only last month that he appeared in Shubert Alley with Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters at a pet adoption benefit where he was given a special "Broadway Barks 8" citation. At the time of his death plans were being discussed to have him demonstrate pet care in the public schools. He sans doute would have been good at that, too.

During his short and tragic life Fred achieved much but he also suffered mightily. He was born homeless on the mean streets of Brooklyn where he had to fend for himself. When he was picked up by Animal Care and Control last September he had a collapsed lung and was suffering from pneumonia.

At first he did not respond to treatment and was slated for extermination until Moran adopted him. Subjected to a regimen of antibiotics, steam showers, and chest poundings, Fred was slowly nursed back to health. He originally divided his time between the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office and Moran's residence before finally settling in for good at the latter. He and his brother George were named for the Weasley twins from Joanne Rowling's Harry Potter series.

"He was my baby. He was very, very sweet. He was very attentive to us," Moran told The New York Times. She also described him as a "live wire" who liked to chase her other cats and dogs.

Despite her contrition, Moran knows that it was her carelessness that cost young Fred his life. "I feel like we've let everybody down," she told the Daily News.

"He belonged to the world. I wish I could apologize," she told Newsday on August 11th while simultaneously asking that paper not to disclose her address. (See "Beloved 'Undercover Kitty' Fred Dies.")

Recriminations will not bring back Fred, but Moran's irresponsible behavior is nonetheless reminiscent of that of Bill Clinton who has allowed at least two of his dogs to be run down by motorists. It is incumbent upon all cat and dog owners to remember that most motorists not only do not look out for animals, but that some of them in fact go out of their way to run them down.

Instead of stuffing most of the public's money into their pockets, the crooked politicians who run this capitalist dystopia should pour a few shekels into animal protection legislation. Speed limits need to be lowered everywhere but especially in residential and mixed-residential areas.

"Watch for Animals and Pedestrians" signs should be conspicuously posted everywhere and public service announcements should be aired on radio and television in order to underscore this point. Running down animals, domestic and wild, should also be criminalized.

Cat owners should either fence in their yards or use high-tech devices in order to keep their pets out of the street. Even with fenced-in yards, cats should not be allowed outside without supervision in areas where there is heavy vehicular traffic. Cats need and deserve their freedom but at the same time owners must take measures to ensure their safety.

The blithe spirit that was Fred has now been stilled forever. In time, his life and exploits will recede into memory and his story will become lost amongst the millions of other tragic stories that New York City gives birth to every day. Nonetheless, there are not words which can adequately convey the enormity of this tragedy. He was a cat who had accomplished much during his sojourn on this earth and he would have undoubtedly done much more if he had been permitted to go on living.

Moran described Fred to the Daily News as a "shooting star" who "burned fast and bright and passed quickly," but that eulogy fails to acknowledge the part that she played in his death. On the other hand it was her kindness that saved him from the knackers at Animal Care and Control in the first place.

As is the case with all affaires de coeur, the tuition in animal care is always steep. Unlike Clinton, hopefully Moran will learn from her mistakes and be more attentive to the safety of the other cats and dogs under her protection.

Photos: Alan Raia of Newsday.