"Cat after cat has sat out there and just withered away."
-- former employee of Tenth Life Sanctuary
Maury Swee of Tenth Life Sanctuary in Clewiston, Florida, first rose to national prominence in 2006 thanks to his efforts to save a tiny kitten named Chipper that purposefully had been run through a wood chipper. (See Cat Defender post of July 13, 2006 entitled "Heroic Little Kitten, Fiendishly Run Through a Wood Chipper by Some Devil, Loses His Nineteen-Day Struggle to Live.")
On a more mundane level, he used his periodic newsletters in order to promote himself as a man who not only cared deeply about cats but also as one who was intimately involved in veterinary research. For example, in his August of 2008 newsletter he claimed to be working on a modified cobra venom serum that was supposed to cure Feline Leukemia (FeLV).
He was so engrossed in his research in fact that he could not spare the time for such legal niceties as the Animal Welfare Act's requirement that anyone who experiments on animals first must be licensed by the USDA. (See photo above of him with a pair of kittens.)
Also interspersed amongst his incessant appeals for donations were photographs that marketed Tenth Life to the world as not only as a model sanctuary for cats but one that was situated in idyllic rural southern Florida. (See photo below of some of the cats in an outdoor enclosure.)
Knowledgeable residents of southern Florida knew an altogether different Swee. To Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control he was a hoarder who kept four-hundred cats in squalid conditions at his Boca Raton home.
That was in 2003 and after his run-in with the authorities there he simply moved his operation to Clewiston where he set up shop a few months later as Tenth Life. It did not, however, take long for him to once again run afoul of the law.
For instance, Jay Senter of Friends of Surfside Cats gave him $16,000 in desperation to take a dozen cats off of his hands. That was a monumental lapse of judgment that he later would come to regret.
"(The sanctuary) gets (money) from foolish people like us, frantic, last-minute, panicked people, (who fear) that the cats will be killed and we write a check and don't investigate because the pictures on the web site look slick," he told WPBF-TV of Palm Beach Gardens on January 17, 2004. (See "Cat Rescuers Fear Operator Is Keeping Cats in Crowded Conditions.")
At the insistence of Surfside Cats and WPBF-TV, the Hendry County Sheriff's Department and Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services opened an investigation into Tenth Life but nothing came of it. Business went on as usual at the sanctuary until the middle of last year when all hell broke loose.
That was when a disgruntled former employee and her colleagues broke into the compound and documented wholesale feline abuse and neglect. On October 28th, they disclosed to the world exactly what they had discovered in a silent video entitled "Suffering of Cats at Tenth Life Sanctuary." Since its posting on YouTube, it has been viewed more than fifty-one-hundred times.
Several cats that appear to be dead are clearly visible in the video and many more appear to be suffering from facial diseases of one kind or another. Others are drooling at the mouth, some have blood running from their eyes, and still others are missing patches of fur.
Several of the buildings are in disrepair and litter boxes do not appear to have been emptied in quite a while. The activists also claim that both food and water were in short supply.
As far as it is known, some of the cats were kept in outdoor enclosures whereas others were confined to cages in a barn and at other locations where temperatures sometimes exceeded one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit. In that stifling environment, the caged cats also were deprived of both sunlight and fresh air.
The animal rights activists also claim to have discovered a freezer full of dead cats and a cemetery that contained the remains of hundreds, if not indeed thousands, of cats. It thus would appear that the "lifetime (of) care for sick, unwanted, and feral cats" that Swee promised in his newsletters more closely resembled Thomas Hobbes' state of nature where life was said to be "nasty, brutish, and short."
"Cat after cat has sat out there and just withered away," the unidentified former employee told WZVN-TV of Fort Myers on November 9, 2009. (See "Sanctuary for Unwanted Pets.")
As the years have dragged on more and more individuals have come to experience the pangs of remorse that Senter felt back in 2003. One such individual is Tara Peterson who gave twenty-three cats to Tenth Life.
"Rallying them up on that day was stressful, but I kept telling myself 'they're going to a better place'," she told WZVN-TV. "I (later) just felt sick. I was like 'what have I done'?"
Swee from the outset denied the charges. "We believe that the pictures on the Internet and the ones that you just showed me are staged," he told WZVN-TV in the article cited supra
Later, in a November 26th e-mail letter entitled "We're Closing Down," he lamely attempted to fob off blame onto the Animal Liberation Front and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, both of whom he accused of unlawful entry, releasing cats from their cages and pens, and of destroying medical records. (See Appendix I infra.)
Nevertheless, the video did lead to the creation of a task force comprised of Julie Levy of Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida in Gainesville (UF), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and LaBelle Animal Control Officer Doug Morgan. (See photo of Levy below on the right.)
On November 16th, the task force made an unannounced inspection of Tenth Life where, according to a contradictory press release from UF on December 22nd, they found either thirteen or seventeen cats suffering from anemia, infections, and organ failure as the result of parasites, malnutrition, and a lack of veterinary care. (See "Tenth Life Sanctuary Closure" available at www.ufsheltermedicine.com.)
As it was to be expected, Swee vociferously disputed that charge in the e-mail letter cited supra
and instead claimed that the task force had found only thirteen out of six-hundred cats that were in need of veterinary care. Furthermore, he maintained that of those six already were receiving treatment at the sanctuary's infirmary.
The task force disagreed and presented him with three options. The first of which was to post an immediate bond of $50,000 and to establish a permanent endowment in order to ensure that the cats received proper veterinary care. He rejected that alternative out of hand because he said that he was broke.
The second option presented to him was to kill all six-hundred cats which he humanely rejected. If it is true that the task force did in fact make such a demand its members are a thousand times worse than Swee.
The third option presented to him was to surrender the cats to LaBelle Animal Control which he did on November 17th. He shortly thereafter walked away from Tenth Life and although he had promised subscribers to his newsletter a fuller explanation, nothing further was ever heard from him. He was investigated for animal cruelty but never charged.
It also is unclear why the task force did not take control of Tenth Life and keep it open for the cats. After all, that not only would have been the logical thing to have done but, just as importantly, it was the cats' home.
It needed to be cleaned up and some new equipment purchased but that was about all. Water and food are cheap and low-cost veterinary care as well as voluntary caretakers could have been procured for the cats.
Even if Swee had objected he was not in any position to dicker considering his own culpability in this case. Nevertheless, the sanctuary was closed and its current status is unknown.
Much more importantly, Swee's quietus did not prevent a mass slaughter. Immediately upon seizing power, Levy and her fellow henchmen killed off the either thirteen or seventeen cats that they claimed were sick.
Still thirsting for additional feline blood, they did away with another ninety-three to ninety-seven cats between November 23rd and November 25th. This brought the total number of cats that the task force exterminated because they allegedly were ailing to one-hundred-ten.
In all probability, most of them could have been saved if they had been given proper veterinary care and rehabilitation. Moreover, since all of the groups involved in this so-called rescue have money out the wazoo a shortage of funds was not a problem.
Before the task force closed up shop in either late November or early December it polished off another seventy-five cats that it freely admits were in perfect health. Just as it was too lazy and too cheap to treat the sick cats, it was every bit as cheap and lazy to secure homes for the healthy ones.
Although UF claims to have secured homes for the remaining four-hundred-ten cats, it is rather short on specifics. For example, it claims to have given five cats to Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, and another forty-six to the Animal Refuge Center (ARC) in North Fort Myers.
On its web site, ARC has posted several contradictory articles that put the number of cats that it received between thirty-six and forty-eight. (See April 12, 2010 and February 21, 2010 posts entitled, respectively, "Tenth Life Sanctuary Cats Starting Over" and "ARC Called Upon to Assist in One of the Largest Cat Rescue Missions in United States History.")
Even if ARC did accept forty-six cats that still leaves three-hundred-sixty-four that have vanished into the ether. Moreover, it is doubly suspicious that the task force has so steadfastly refused to disclose this information to the public. (See photos above and below of Feisty Boy and Misty Morning, respectively, who were sent to ARC.)
In spite of having blood all over their hands, Levy and UF are feeling mighty proud of themselves these days. "This fifteen per cent
euthanasia rate for the savable cats is in stark contrast to the vast majority of large-scale cruelty impoundments in which mass euthanasia is the most common outcome," they declared in the press release cited supra.
First of all, Levy and her fellow high-strutters and big-talkers at UF know as well as everyone else who owns a dictionary that there is a huge difference between mass murder and euthanasia. She therefore is being dishonest when she labels the slaughter of seventy-five cats as a mercy killing.
Second of all, the systematic extermination of at least one-hundred-eighty-five out of six-hundred cats is closer to a mortality rate of thirty per cent
than it is to fifteen per cent
. Only a heartless group of merciless killer ever could be proud of such a record.
It also needs to be recognized that anyone who plays as fast and loose with both language and statistics as Levy does has very little credibility. Much of the same criticism is applicable to all professors who time and time again display an utterly appalling lack of both ethics and morality.
With them, any lie and cold-blooded expediency will do so long as it helps them to get on in the world. In their classrooms they may gas about high ideals but au fond
they are every bit as hollow as a dried-out gourd.
For example, it only was last year that it was revealed that UF traffics in the remains of Burmese pythons who currently are being systematically eliminated from the Everglades and surrounding areas by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. (See Cat Defender post of September 8, 2009 entitled "Four-Year-Old Wilbur Is Ambushed and Eaten Whole by a Thirteen-Foot-Long Pet Burmese Python in Bristol.")
"The vast majority of cats sent to this sanctuary died within a few years of arrival and many of the survivors had substantial medical conditions and carried multiple infectious diseases," Morgan declared in UF's press release. "Some had even arrived as victims of previous cruelty and hoarding investigations."
Those statements constitute the very epitome of hypocrisy in that oversight of Tenth Life was the responsibility of LaBelle Animal Control which year after year gave that feline hellhole a clean bill of health. Moreover, Morgan's inclusion in the task force only can be viewed as a reward for his failure to have done his job.
The full extent of the carnage at Tenth Life likely never will be known. For example, on his 2007 taxes Swee claimed that he was caring for more than twelve-hundred cats.
When asked by WZVN-TV what had happened to the other six-hundred cats, he nonchalantly replied, "Okay, they have usually passed on." Apparently, he did not see anything alarming about a mortality rate of fifty per cent
or better. "It can happen in an environment like ours."
Make no mistake about it, there is good money to be made from the exploitation and abuse of cats. Swee, for example, reportedly collected $550 for every cat that he took in at Tenth Life. He also received donations from the public and held fundraisers.
For whatever it is worth, he claimed in his August of 2008 newsletter that ninety per cent
of the funds that he took in went for the care of the cats. On that point he most likely is lying. Even if he is being truthful he did not have any business taking in more cats than he could legitimately feed, house, and treat once they became sick.
Unfortunately, Swee is far from being the only person who kills and exploits cats for commercial gain. In Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, Virginia Kresge Justiniano and Andy J. Oxenrider of the sanctuary Cats With No Name starved to death at least eighty cats in order to finance their drug addictions. (See Cat Defender post of May 10, 2010 entitled "Lunatic Rulings in Cats With No Name Cruelty Cases Prove Once Again That Pennsylvania Is a Safe Haven for Cat Killers and Junkies.")
In Sweet Valley, Pennsylvania, Holly Crawford, another drug abuser, discovered that she could make a mint by piercing the ears, necks, and tails of tiny kittens. (See Cat Defender post of April 24, 2010 entitled "Holly Crawford Hits the Jackpot by Drawing a Judge Who Simply Adores Kitten Mutilators and Dope Addicts.")
Furthermore, unwanted cats are not the only ones who fall victim to commercial exploitation. Last month, for example, forty-three-year-old Michelle A. Courter of 63 Main Street in Old Mystic, Connecticut, was arrested for trapping domestic cats and then peddling them on petfinder.com. She is believed to have stolen cats from Groton, Quaker Hill, New London, Uncasville, Norwich, and Stonington.
She also has been charged with animal cruelty for confining some of the cats in cages that were too small to even allow them to either stand up or to turn around. The cages also were filled with urine and feces. (See The Day of New London, April 27, 2010 and April 28, 2010, "Police Arrest Alleged Cat Thief" and "Woman Trying to Sell Cats Charged with Cruelty, Theft.")
Included in the roll call of institutions and individuals who nakedly exploit and kill cats are, inter alia
, municipal shelters and Animal Control, breeders of purebreds and designer cats, pet shops, vivisectors, fur traffickers, consumers of feline flesh in China, Australia, Peru, Switzerland, and Costa Rica, and the makers of crush videos.
Despite the horrific abuses that occurred at Tenth Life and Cats With No Name, sanctuaries and private no-kill shelters are a big improvement over the trap and kill policies practiced by public shelters and Animal Control. It also is conceivable that a few of them might be operating on the level although nothing can be taken for granted.
No mater how the situation is analyzed, the status of cats is deplorable. On the one hand there are multitudes of individuals who look upon the species simply as a meal ticket. These individuals accordingly could care less about either how much suffering they inflict or how many cats that they kill.
On the other side of the equation are those individuals and groups who, like PETA, worship at the altar of death. As far as they are concerned, cats only exist to be exterminated.
With there being so many of them, both domestic and homeless, cats are an easy target for both exploitation and cruelty. The fact that neither their births nor deaths are officially recorded presents a golden opportunity for all sorts of mischief.
From womb to tomb all societies treat them as expendable nonentities. They are born, exploited, and then prematurely killed.
Two things must be done in order to change all of that. First of all, the killing of cats under all circumstances must be outlawed. Secondly, individuals and groups who persist in killing and abusing them must be given mandatory, long-term jail sentences.
In the case of Tenth Life, Swee, Levy, and Morgan should be in prison serving lengthy terms. The same holds true for the representatives of Maddie's Fund, HSUS, and the ASPCA who participated in this mass feline liquidation project.
That is the only possible solution. Individuals like Swee are not about to stop exploiting cats and phony-baloney humane groups like Levy and UF, HSUS, the ASPCA, and LaBelle Animal Control are never going to mend their evil ways.Photos: Care2.com (Swee), Tenth Life (cats lounging outside), University of Florida (Levy), and Animal Refuge Center (Feisty Boy and Misty Morning).Appendix I
"We're Closing Down"
Date: Thursday, 26 November 2009
From: 10th Life Sanctuary
You may or may not have heard that we are in the process of shutting the sanctuary down. In about a week I'll be sending out a detailed newsletter telling everyone the full story of what happened.
The purpose of this email is to give you some background and ask you to follow the procedures described later in this email to take back your cat(s) or adopt new ones. These cats should not have to suffer. Please help.
Here's a brief status report:
Simply, animal terrorists, probably from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and/or the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) (Google them), have been attacking us with a terrible untrue YouTube video about the sanctuary and physical acts against us. These people typically let animals out of cages, burn facilities that use or house animals, and go after executives of these facilities. They also destroy/steal files to make it look like the facility was not keeping records. In our case, they stole some written medical records that we are required to keep on-site. Our records were not kept on a computer (which they would have probably stolen, too).
These attacks were a good part of the reason we had to close.
On Monday morning November 16, 2009 we found 45 of our cats outside their pens in a nearby field. They were let out the night before. Later in the week someone broke into our building and let all the cats in the isolation and treatment areas out of their cages to roam freely inside our building. Unfortunately, our building has open windows and a number got outside. Whoever did this also stole the medical records that were on top of the cages. Monday morning, November 23, 2009 (a week later), we found a chicken wire wall had been kicked out of pen 3N and a whole pen of cats were wandering around outside.
Many, not all, of the cats that had gotten out over the 8 day period have been caught and returned to safer pens. We are trying to trap the rest.
The terrible untrue YouTube video and the pressure on the County Commissioners these terrorists caused (because of the YouTube video), forced Animal Control to create a major Task Force to investigate the claims shown in the YouTube video. Animal Control contacted Dr. Julie Levy of the University of Florida (perhaps the most knowledgeable cat veterinarian in Florida) to participate in the Task Force. Animal Control also contacted the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Washington DC and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (ASPCA) in New York City and asked them to participate in the Task Force. Both HSUS and the ASPCA sent a team of investigators and veterinarians.
The Task Force also included various law enforcement people.
The Task Force showed up, unannounced, at 8:30 AM on November 16, 2009 to see if they could find anything that looked like the YouTube video at our sanctuary. If they did, I probably would have been arrested for animal neglect. THEY DID NOT find anything like the YouTube video and I was not arrested.
They spent 4 hours checking out each of our cats. At the end, they had a meeting and then invited me into the meeting to tell me what they had found and what could happen based on their findings.
They found 13 cats (out of 600+) that, in their opinion(!), needed immediate veterinary care. (As you probably know, under the Florida Veterinary Practices Act, 474.203 Exceptions, paragraph 5a, owners of animals can legally provide medical care for their animals without a veterinarian's input - except for prescription drugs, certain vaccinations, and certain surgeries which a vet has to perform or prescribe).
Six of the 13 cats were already in our infirmary and being treated by us. The other 7 were in some of the outside pens that we had not (yet) found to be sick.
The Task Force vets said that if I did nothing, they could have me arrested for Felony Animal Neglect in which case they would immediately shut the sanctuary down and euthanize all the cats. It was not that one or two cats needed the immediate vet care, but that there were more than 10 - and 10 sick cats was enough to qualify for the Task Force to charge me with abuse - even though the remaining 590+ cats were within "normal" ranges. But they didn't charge me.
INSTEAD, they gave me 3 options:
· First, I could post a $50,000 bond to guarantee that the 13 cats and all other cats at the sanctuary would receive any needed medical care AND I'd have to provide financial proof that I could continue providing care in the future such as an endowment or trust fund for our cats. In addition to suffering from the terrorist acts, we were also out of money (virtually no donations in the last month) and could not post the required $50,000 bond that would insure the safety and well-being of our cats. We also had no such endowment or trust fund that could guarantee the future well-being of the cats.
· Second, I could euthanize all the cats. I did NOT want this option.
· Third, if I relinquished ownership of all the cats to LaBelle Animal Control (they oversee our sanctuary), HSUS and ASPCA would fund and mobilize their Disaster Relief
Teams to come to the sanctuary to vet each cat and then try to place them in their networks of sanctuaries, shelters and rescue groups. They said they will try to place even our sick (FIV and Leukemia) cats -- and our ferals. But they made no guarantees on placing ALL of our cats... they would do their best and try to place them all... those that couldn't be placed by December 8, 2009 would be euthanized.
I had no other choices. I have not been able to find a really wealthy person in the almost 8 years of operating the sanctuary that I could turn to for help. I had to take the third option in an effort to save as many of the cats as I could.
On Tuesday November 17, 2009 I signed over ownership of the cats to Animal Control. The cats remain at the sanctuary but I have to continue providing the necessary labor to clean and feed the cats. Animal Control would provide the food and litter. The labor, electric and other operating costs I'd also have to provide (or the deal was off). I've been able to raise enough for payroll, but am still $2,500 short for the other things (a $700 electric bill, a $500 garbage bill, etc.).
Six days later, at 7 AM Monday November 23, 2009, the Disaster Relief Teams showed up at the sanctuary. About 30 vehicles, including mobile vet hospitals and equipment trailers, and about 75-100 volunteers swarmed over the sanctuary grounds. A truckload of food, litter and carriers arrived from PetsMart Charities. The teams commandeered our building and set up exam rooms... each cat was going to be fully vetted and given shots (whether they needed them or not).
I am thankful for all the help. At this writing, almost all of the cats remain at the sanctuary (the 13 that needed immediate veterinary care are at vet in Ft. Myers). I'm sure that Animal Control, HSUS and ASPCA will do their best to relocate our cats - their Disaster Relief Teams are spending $1,000s to vet and place each cat... If they just wanted to euthanize them, they would have just sent a few vets and volunteers and it would be over in a day. But they didn't and I'm impressed with their efforts to save these cats. (I'm also glad that there are no other disasters occurring right now, no Hurricane Katrinas, etc., or these teams would probably not have been able to come to 10th Life to help us.)
Part of their relocation effort for our cats is to contact prior owners of cats that came to our sanctuary and see if the prior owners can take their cats back (if the records are available and were not stolen). Most people who gave us their cats gave us their cats because they had a problem with them and I doubt that many will be able to take the cats back. But the more that can be re-homed, the better.
Animal Control has set up an adoption outreach program... if anyone wants to adopt any of our cats please submit your transfer request -http://www.ufsheltermedicine.com/documents/TransferRequestForm.pdf (if you are a 501c3 organization) or adoption/reclaim application http://www.ufsheltermedicine.com/documents/AdoptionApplication.pdf (for individuals or original owners) applications today.
There are approximately 200 healthy friendly cats and 150 healthy ferals. The remaining cats may be sick with FIV or FeLV or may need minor medical care. There is one totally blind and deaf black cat.
Scan the completed form and email it to: email@example.com
or fax it to 863-675-0037.
With this number of animals, there is great need. I hope you'll find a way to join the effort to re-home our cats. There are many very friendly cats that crave attention; some are declawed.
These cats find themselves looking for something to be thankful for this holiday - please help.
I know that some will not get placed before the Dec 9 deadline when HSUS and ASPCA will finish... The remaining cats will probably be euthanized.
I don't know if anyone has called you about taking back your cat(s), but I do know that a team from Animal Control is calling prior owners to see if they can take their cat(s). You can also call LaBelle Animal Control at 863-675-3381 and leave a message if you want your cat back - but you'll be told to download the above forms, fill them out, and email or fax them back to Animal Control.
Bottom line: we haven't been able to find all the cats that were let out of their pens or cages. Therefore, returning these cats to their prior owners may be impossible.
It would be helpful if you have the microchip number for each cat (if you chipped the cat(s) before I took them from you). It is unlikely that we gave you the microchip number we inserted into the cat upon arrival at our sanctuary because you had no need for that information once they were admitted to the sanctuary. We file by sequential chip number, not by the name of the person who gave us their cat... so to find your cat, we will need a chip number.
Be sure to include the chip number(s) when you contact Animal Control. And ask them how soon you can come get your cat(s).
More next week.