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Cat Defender

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Salem, Massachusetts, Is Going After Cats Again Much Like It Did During the 1692 Witch Trials

"I love cats because I love my home and after a while they become its visible soul."
-- Jean Cocteau

As some cynics maintain, no good deed goes unpunished. Doubters should just ask Suzanne Sullivan.

As proprietress of the Clipper Ship Inn (See photo above) in Salem, Massachusetts, she has been taking in and housing homeless cats for years. She feeds them, provides them with litter boxes, vaccinates and sterilizes them, and makes an effort to find good homes for as many of them as it is feasibly possible.

Although it is unclear exactly what services, if any, that Salem provides for homeless cats, Animal Control Officer Don Famico admits to directing residents with unwanted felines to the Clipper Ship Inn. For her part, Sullivan also traps and sterilizes feral cats.

All went reasonably well until about four years ago when a disgruntled employee blabbed to city officials about the cats' presence. Since then Sullivan has found herself involved in one legal imbroglio after another.

In that sense her situation is similar to that of the Hemingway Home in Key West. After all, it was also a disgruntled employee who sicced the USDA on Papa's polydactyl cats. (See Cat Defender posts of August 3, 2006 and January 9, 2007 entitled, respectively, "USDA Fines Hemingway Memorial in Key West $200 a Day for Exhibiting Papa's Polydactyl Cats Without a License" and "Papa Hemingway's Polydactyl Cats Face New Threats from Both the USDA and Their Caretakers.")

In addition to the homeless cats, the Inn has two mascots and when a health inspector spied them near the breakfast area he took away the motel's license to serve food. (See photo below on one of them perched at the front desk.)

The official also claims to have counted between thirty-five and fifty cats in the basement. The matter was referred to court but no action was taken at that time.

For its part, the motel contends that it only has twelve to fifteen cats and that they are confined to three rooms in the sixty-room motel. All felines have been removed from the basement. (See photo below of a typical room at the motel.)

Acting on its own, the Health Department declared the Inn to be a de facto ancillary animal shelter and subsequently drafted guidelines requiring it to provide, inter alia, one litter box per cat, perches near windows, and rabies vaccinations for all of them.

Acting through her attorney, Tom Delaney, Sullivan is contesting the new guidelines on the grounds that her establishment is being singled out for punitive enforcement. "My understanding is some of the bed-and-breakfasts in town have cats," Delaney told The Salem News on April 26th. (See "Motel Gets Its Back Up About City's Crackdown on Cats.") More to the point, some of them serve meals with cats under foot, he added.

Delaney is also challenging the one litter box per cat rule by contending that cats kept at the Department of Public Health's animal research facility are forced to share their litter boxes with eleven other cats. Vivisectors who torture and kill cats in the pursuit of their worthless research have forfeited whatever right they may once have had to speak out on both animal welfare and sanitary issues.

Delaney is additionally arguing that the requirement that the cats be provided with window perches is excessive. "It is a perch, not a room with a view," he added.

Although Sullivan has not commented publicly on the brouhaha, one of her tenants, Rose Wolf, has not been hesitant to do so. "... the quiet but tireless labors of dedicated individuals like Suzanne Sullivan must be supported in order that a fraction, at least, of the pets so heartlessly discarded each year may be saved," she told The Salem News on May 3rd. (See "My View: Clipper Ship Inn Owner Performing an Important Public Service.")

Besides, none of the motel's guests have ever complained about the cats. Of course, that could be partially attributable to the fact that the felines are kept well out of sight.

Generally speaking, however, the motel's two mascots are a welcome distraction to most travelers in that their presence gives the old inn a touch of home. As Jean Cocteau once said, "I love cats because I love my home and after a while they become its visible soul."

By going after the Clipper Ship Inn's cats, the city of Salem is bucking a nationwide trend that favors pet-friendly lodging establishments. For instance, there are some motels that even rent out cats by the night to keep guests company.

The health board is scheduled to meet and discuss this matter again soon but Delaney is hoping that before then it will realize that the Clipper Ship Inn is performing a public service and therefore should be supported.

Just as importantly, Salem should not be anxious to repeat the crimes of 1692 when it rounded up and unjustly killed an unspecified number of cats for allegedly being the familiars of witches. This was in addition to the fourteen women and six men that it executed on the grounds that they were witches and warlocks.

Photos: Clipper Ship Inn.