.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

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, May 29, 2014

The Odds Were All Against Him and His Enemies Were Well-Financed and Unscrupulous but Rocky Nonetheless Prevails in a Stafford Courtroom

Ginny Fine and Judge Damian G. Murray Square Off in Court

"I'm shocked. I don't even know what to say. I was not expecting that."
-- Ginny Fine

Rocky, the bobcat-hybrid from Stafford Township in New Jersey, has escaped by the skin of his teeth a cruel fate that would have been almost as bad as death itself. That surprising turn of events occurred on May 16th when Municipal Court Judge Damian G. Murray ruled that the three-year-old, thirty-eight pound cat had to be returned to his owner after a much ballyhooed DNA test was unable to definitively pinpoint his genetic makeup. "The bottom line is Rocky goes home," Murray ruled according to the May 16th edition of the Asbury Park Press of Neptune. (See "Bobcat DNA Test Inconclusive, So Rocky Can Go Home.")

The ruling came as a coup d'ciel to Rocky's beleaguered owner who had arrived at the hearing with her gallows' face on and expecting the absolute worst. "I'm shocked," Ginny Fine of Beach Haven West later exclaimed to the Asbury Park Press. "I don't even know what to say. I was not expecting that."

If the DNA test had conclusively demonstrated that Rocky was a purebred bobcat instead of a hybrid, she surely would have lost permanent custody of him. Even more abhorrent, Rocky would have been condemned to spend the remainder of his days on this earth unjustly incarcerated at some hellhole zoo.

The latest and most dramatic installment in this cause célèbre began to unfold on March 25th when Rocky escaped from Fine's residence. With the able-bodied assistance of one of her domestic felines, Elsie, she subsequently was able to locate and corral him on April 6th but by that time the damage already had been done.

Since meddlesome neighbors earlier had ratted out both her and Rocky to the Stafford Police she was left with no alternative other than to notify them that she had regained custody of her cat. To her surprise, however, Animal Control officers showed up at her residence a day later and confiscated Rocky as a prelude to imprisoning him at the Popcorn Park Zoo in nearby Lacey Township.

The legal rationale for the seizure was supplied by an October 18th stipulation that Fine had been strong-armed into signing after Rocky had escaped for the first time earlier that month. The gist of the matter boiled down to her signing away her rights to Rocky if he should escape again in exchange for having him immediately returned to her.

This time around the legal scrum took on ominous overtones when the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) elected to intercede on behalf of Rocky's sworn enemies. It did so by going directly to Murray with its suspicions that Rocky was a purebred bobcat and not a hybrid as Fine has claimed from the outset.

Always willing to blindly do the bidding of his fellow political elites, Murray on April 11th granted the DFW's demand that Rocky's DNA be tested. In doing so, he cast aside all appearances of being an impartial trier of facts.

"If you've got one-hundred per cent bobcat, that should not be in your backyard," he laid into Fine with a vengeance. "I sure wouldn't want my grandkids walking up and petting your cat." (See Cat Defender post of April 26, 2014 entitled "The Opportunistic Old Hacks Who Run the Show in New Jersey Are All Set to Unjustly Condemn Rocky to a Lifetime Behind Bars for, Basically, Daring to So Much as Breathe.")

Pursuant to that order, Rocky was anesthetized on April 16th and a blood sample was taken and delivered to the Northeast Wildlife DNA Lab at East Stroudsburg University in the Keystone State for analysis. Although the results originally were expected to have been available in about a week, the fact that the analysis took four weeks is a pretty strong indication that the wildlife biologists pulled out all the stops in their attempt to hang both Rocky and Fine.

Meanwhile, as Murray, his buddies at the DFW, and the clinicians at East Stroudsburg dillydallied and played their petty little scientific and legal games, Rocky was left to languish in jail at Popcorn Park. "And now he is locked up in solitary confinement in two ten by twelve (feet) cement rooms with no fresh air, friends, exercise, love or enrichment, which I gave him almost every day because I took owning an animal like Rocky seriously," is how Fine described the deplorable conditions of his confinement in an April 30th letter to the editors of The Sandpaper of Surf City. (See "Rocky Road.")

She also was kept totally in the dark as to the results of the test. That was in spite of numerous telephone inquiries that she lodged with the DFW.

A Victorious Ginny Fine Addresses the Media 

On May 15th, however, an unidentified spokesman for the DFW's parent body, the Department of Environmental Protection, telephoned a reporter with The Sandpaper in order to inform him that the DNA test results would be announced in court the following day. That clearly was just one more underhanded maneuver in the DFW's diabolical game plan to inflict as much hurt, suffering, and uncertainty upon Fine as possible. (See The Sandpaper, May 16, 2014, "Rocky the Bobcat Is Free, Free at Last.")

It furthermore showcases the country club chumminess that exists between judges, bureaucrats, and the capitalist media to the exclusion and, often, detriment of both defendants and cats alike. By behaving in such a cavalier fashion, Rocky's adversaries took on the characteristics of a bloodthirsty lynch mob running amuck with the approval and sanction of a kangaroo court.

Although the eggheads at East Stroudsburg University did their level best to string up both Rocky and Fine from the nearest tree, all that they were able to determine at the end of the day was that Rocky's mother was ninety-eight per cent bobcat. Even though he had been the very bloke who had ordered the test, the results left Murray so stupefied that he was forced to contact his cohorts at the DFW for an explanation.

What he was told really should not have come as any surprise to either him or anyone else for that matter in that only mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is capable of establishing a direct link between parents and offspring and even it is limited solely to the maternal line. Nuclear DNA (nDNA) on the other hand, which is derived from both parents, does not establish a direct link between them and their offspring.

In order to surmount this difficulty, the DFW also contacted Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in an effort to determine the identity of Rocky's father and, presumably, to order that he too be subjected to a DNA test. Since bobcat ownership is entirely legal in Montana, Bitterroot Bobcat and Lynx of Stevensville, from whom Fine had acquired Rocky, is not required to maintain and divulge its breeding records.

For the time being, the inquiry into Rocky's paternity is an abeyance but Murray stated on May 16th that Fine still could lose custody of him at some later date if his father should be identified and subsequently determined to be a bobcat. It is difficult to gauge how serious a threat that is without first knowing what additional tricks the DFW has up its dirty sleeve.

Deborah and Gerald Roe, the proprietors of Bitterroot, sans doute know who Rocky's father is but they are unlikely to blab to either the DFW or anyone else for that matter. Besides, it is far from clear just how significant it would be even if Rocky's father were determined to be a full-blooded bobcat.

First of all, the scientific and legal definitions of a purebred and a hybrid likely are at odds with their corresponding legal definitions. For example, since Rocky's mother was ninety-eight per cent Lynx rufus, that very well might be close enough for geneticists to classify her as a purebred.

As best as it could be determined, however, New Jersey does not specify how much foreign DNA a cat must have in its genes in order to be considered a hybrid. In that case, Rocky might conceivably qualify under the law as a hybrid based solely upon his mother's DNA makeup. If so, identifying and testing his father would be superfluous from a legal point of view.

More to the point, the mtDNA test performed on Rocky was destined from the outset to be inconclusive even if it had shown his mother to have been a purebred bobcat. All animals, except those that are conceived parthogenetically, are comprised of both female and male DNA and accordingly an analysis of both would be required in order to determine with absolute certainty the true genetic makeup of a cat. Even breeding two supposedly purebred bobcats would not necessarily result in purebred kittens if their DNA previously had been compromised.

Although Fine did regain custody of Rocky, Murray availed himself of the golden opportunity presented to him to stick it to her good in the pocketbook. Specifically, he fined the already cash-strapped defendant a whooping $1,000 for allowing Rocky to get out plus another $216 for the tranquilizer darts that the bunglers with the Stafford Police, Animal Control, and Popcorn Park fired at him in their futile attempt to capture him.

Rocky Bides His Time in His Cell at Popcorn Park

Murray in turn earmarked that latter sack of shekels to the Stafford Veterinary Hospital in Manahawkin which had supplied the darts. The grubby practitioners doubtlessly have been salivating all over themselves ever since at their unexpected windfall.

All of that was onerous enough in its own right but Old Murray Bird is never seemingly quite capable of letting well enough alone. Instead, he is constantly opening his big, fat trap and in the process making a complete fool of himself.

This time around he was crying a river for the Stafford Police who, according to him, were "all over this town, hunting through the woods" for Rocky. First of all, that seems highly improbable because if they had mounted an even halfway serious search they surely would have located him long before Fine and Elsie.

Much more to the point, their unwarranted and amateurish intervention served only to exacerbate an already delicate situation. "Yes, he did get out my back door, but he only disappeared after being chased by ten Stafford policemen, two Animal Control officers and people from Popcorn Park Zoo for four hours which included being hit with at least one dart," Fine disclosed in her letter to The Sandpaper cited supra.

Secondly, police departments in New Jersey are not only ubiquitous (seemingly every zip code has one) but knee-high in dough as well and therefore scarcely need Murray to rob from the indigent, such as Fine, in order to assist them in paying their bills. Officers likewise are paid handsomely. For example, in Galloway Township they knock down on the average $112,000 per annum.

Thirdly, it is easy work in that they can be observed lounging around restaurants, getting their wool trimmed at barber shops, doing their laundry, reading newspapers, and schmoozing on their mobile phones far more often than they can be found actually enforcing the laws. For instance, they are almost never seen nowadays either walking a beat in urban centers or enforcing the laws of the road on the state's busy and chaotic thoroughfares.

That is because wearing a badge and carrying a gun has become a big business. C'est-à-dire, cops get promoted for arresting and incarcerating individuals as opposed to being proactive.

Contrary to what most Americans fervently believe, there is a huge difference between maintaining law and order and cops' lining their pockets. There additionally is considerably more to creating and maintaining a halfway decent society than simply constructing prisons and providing lawyers and judges with unlimited employment opportunities.

Murray's abiding love for the police is reminiscent of the sentiments expressed by Judge Steven Helvin of Rockingham County General District Court on March 8, 2012 when he reluctantly convicted Harrisonburg police officer Jonathan N. Snoddy for killing an injured cat. "It's difficult for a judge to second guess law enforcement," he admitted on that memorable occasion. (See Cat Defender post of March 22, 2012 entitled "In Another Outrageous Miscarriage of Justice, Rogue Cop Jonathan N. Snoddy Is Let Off with a $50 Fine for Savagely Bludgeoning to Death an Injured Cat.")

Even in allowing Fine to regain custody of Rocky, Murray ordered that he be confined to a recently constructed pen that cost her $1,600. The enclosure also is subject to random, unannounced inspections by both Animal Control and the DFW.

In issuing that latest directive, Murray once again could not resist the overwhelming temptation to give Fine yet still another severe tongue-lashing. "We wouldn't be going through this had you built a secure enclosure," he lectured her from the bench according to the Asbury Park Press article cited supra.

Contrary to earlier press reports, she apparently did comply with the October 18th stipulation by constructing a new enclosure for Rocky. Her error was in neglecting to install double doors and that omission in turn led to his getting free on March 25th.

At least for now, Fine is not bellyaching about being subjected to the oversight of both Animal Control and the DFW. "It is something I don't have a problem doing, if I can have the cat back," she declared to the Asbury Park Press.

Rocky Is Given a New Lease on Life

Nevertheless, she and Rocky are far from being out of the woods and it is difficult to get around the nagging feeling that their enemies simply have set another trap for them like they did last year when they foisted upon them the October 18th stipulation. Much more to the point, cats occasionally are going to get out no matter either how secure their enclosures or the level of vigilance demonstrated by their caretakers.

In that regard it would have been a positive stop forward  if Murray had at the very least expressed some sympathy for the difficulties that lie ahead for both Rocky and Fine. In particular, he could have instructed both Animal Control and the DFW to work with, not against, her in a constructive manner so as to make a success of this latest arrangement.

His ruling also left unanswered several vitally important questions. Most important of all, what will happen should Rocky somehow manage to escape from Fine's residence for a third time? In particular, is the October 18th stipulation that mandates his immediate seizure by Animal Control still in effect?

Secondly, who is picking up the tab for his room, board, and veterinary care at Popcorn Park? On that subject it goes almost without saying that individuals who so nakedly exploit and abuse defenseless animals for profit and gain are not about to perform any pro bono work under any circumstances.

It also seems clear that Fine has ample justification for legal action against all of hers and Rocky's attackers. First of all, he was illegally stolen from her solely upon the unfounded suspicions of the DFW.

Secondly, he was unjustly incarcerated for six weeks and his confinement could have had a detrimental impact upon him. In particular, his experiences with both his pursuers as well as the zookeepers possibly could make it more difficult for Fine to keep him contented at home.

The still unidentified organization responsible for darting Rocky and then letting him escape easily could be charged with animal cruelty. Everyone of his pursuers is extremely fortunate that he did not collapse in the street and in turn was not run over and killed by a motorist.

Rocky additionally very easily could have contracted either some disease or been injured in some unspecified manner while he was incarcerated at the zoo. Apparently none of that occurred, but psychological scars are not nearly as easy to recognize.

Fine also has reason to complain about the simply abhorrent manner in which she has been dealt with by the authorities. "...how dare people suggest I'm a liar when I have been lied to since the first ten minutes after Rocky got out by everyone from every department involved," she wrote in the letter to The Sandpaper. "I followed the rules, gave proof of paperwork, built his new pen and even called to tell Stafford he was home! What a huge mistake on my part."

To sum up, Rocky and Fine were not the only big winners when this legal brouhaha finally reached its crescendo in that both Stafford Township and the Stafford Veterinary Hospital also made out like bandits. The big losers on the other hand were the cat-haters at the DFW who were thwarted in their evil designs and Popcorn Park and Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, both of whom dearly wanted to add Rocky to their collections.

As soon as Murray had handed down his much anticipated ruling the capitalist media immediately forgot all about Rocky so it is not known how he and Fine are progressing. All that has been revealed is that Animal Control officer Kelly Karch was scheduled to have inspected Rocky's new digs on May 19th and that if all was found to be in order he was supposed to have been released from jail later in the day.

"The first thing I'm going to do (is) to roll around on the floor with him," Fine told The Press of Pleasantville on May 16th. (See "Bobcat Can Return Home to Stafford, Judge Rules.") "I've missed him so much. I've gone to visit him, but I've only been able to see him through a cage."

Embattled Ginny Fine Finally Has a Reason to Smile

Elsie and Checkers sans doute also will be happy to see their fellow lodger once again. "They miss him terribly," Fine confided to the Asbury Park Press. "Elsie has been walking around the house, looking in all the rooms for him."

Since the specifics of Rocky's new living arrangement have not been spelled out in detail it is difficult to speculate on either the quality of life that he will enjoy or the dangers involved. For instance, if he is segregated in the pen he is not going to be a contented cat.

On the other hand, if he is given free rein of the house there is always the possibility that he once again could escape and thus wind up in legal limbo. While it is conceivable that Murray issued specific guidelines, the more likely scenario is that he left those details to the discretion of Animal Control and the DFW.

Visitors are another huge concern. "He has never shown aggression to visitors in my home and I have a steady stream of kids of all ages in my home," Fine revealed in her letter to The Sandpaper.

The danger in that regard is not that Rocky might inadvertently either injure or scare one of them, but rather that they might carelessly allow him to escape. Another concern is that one of Fine's detractors might gain entry into her home under false pretenses in order deliberately provoke an incident.

The road ahead for both Rocky and Fine is fraught with many perils and difficulties. The important thing for her to remember, however, is that she has been given a second chance not only to care for Rocky but to prolong and safeguard his fragile life.

His enemies are both numerous and totally unscrupulous. Above all, they will stop at absolutely nothing in order to do in both him and her.

She might want to consider relocating to Montana where she at long last would be able to escape the long arms of New Jersey's grasping and opportunistic public officials. It is regrettable that they have absolutely no regard whatsoever for either Rocky's inalienable right to exist or his welfare but they are not about to mend their evil ways and so long as Fine elects to live in the Garden State both she and Rocky are going to be subject to their whims, prejudices, and ambitions.

Generally speaking, the breeding and domestication of both purebred bobcats and their hybrids is not a desirable development. Nevertheless, they already exist in the thousands and Fine doubtlessly saved Rocky's life when she purchased him. Saving a life always should trump both ideology and ambition but no public official in New Jersey wants to hear that.

Fine also is to be commended for standing steadfast beside Rocky throughout his latest bout with the authorities. Bereft of funds, legal counsel, and the assistance of any of this society's so-called animal rights groups, she had little hope of prevailing.

All that she had going for herself was her undying love of Rocky. While her cause was just, even justice seldom prevails in this wicked old world unless it is backed up by money and guns.

In spite of all of those daunting obstacles, whenever the stars are in the correct alignment even a sophist and an epicurean have been known to conspire to kill a caesar. Likewise, a lucky cat will prevail in court once in a blue moon if the stars deem it appropriate.

Photos: Thomas P. Costello of the Asbury Park Press (Fine and Murray and a happy Fine), Edward Lea of The Press (Fine meets with the media), and Jack Reynolds of The Sandpaper (Rocky).

Monday, May 19, 2014

Even after Fourteen Years of Faithful Companionship and Exemplary Service, Teachers, Students, and Administrators at Westbrook High Remain Clueless at to Simba's Intrinsic Value

Simba the Rapt Student

"We didn't want him to just go away someday and never be recognized for what he's brought to the school. The climate and culture here, he just elevates it."
-- art teacher Carol Connor

When seniors at Westbrook High School (WHS), eleven kilometers outside of Portland, Maine, don their caps and gowns and stream into Merrill Auditorium on June 8th in order to receive their diplomas one of their most illustrious classmates will not be amongst them. Not surprisingly, his rather conspicuous exclusion from the ceremonies has engendered considerable speculation, not to mention idle gossip.

Of all the plausible explanations advanced so far, a lack of intellectual acumen has not been one of them because he is widely regarded as being one of the brightest bulbs on campus. Also, since he is well-liked by most of the teachers it does not seem likely that one of them has given him the shaft. His gentlemanly manners and unimpeachable personal conduct also make it doubtful that disciplinary problems could be the reason that he is being held back for another year.

Although there has been some speculation that he fails to apply himself to his studies, that seems spurious in that he shows up bright and early each school day at 7 a.m. While it is true that he occasionally has been caught nodding off in class, that is hardly conclusive in that he very well could be, like Dame Agatha's Colonel Ephraim Pikeaway, most alert when he appears to be sound asleep.

Other critics have cited a total lack of ambition on his part but, even if true, that would hardly be a crime in that successful scholars have seldom amounted to anything in this world other than propagandists for the capitalists and militarists. It therefore is entirely conceivable that ethical considerations have precluded him from taking a diploma and subsequently venturing out on his own in order to make his way in a thoroughly corrupt world.

A far more plausible explanation is that he simply enjoys attending high school. After all, he has been doing so for the past fourteen years.

It therefore should not come as any great surprise that his name is Simba and he is a ginger-colored tom who is estimated to be somewhere between sixteen and nineteen years of age. He arrived unannounced and unheralded at WHS in 2000 and has been gracing its hallways, classrooms, and various other venues ever since then.

Over the course of the past fourteen years thousands of students as well as dozens of teachers and staffers have come and gone but he has been the one constant in Westbrook's ever-changing kaleidoscope. The old brick and mortar facade that WHS presents to the world as its public face will doubtlessly outlast him, but it is precisely Simba who is the school's heart and soul.

Simba and Tina Soucy 

Like just about all of the most enduring and truly valuable experiences that life has to offer, it began innocently enough for both Simba and WHS all those years ago. "I was just moving into my classroom downstairs, and he was sitting outside, and I let him in," newly hired math teacher Tina Soucy recalled for the benefit of WMTV of Auburn on March 29, 2013. (See "Cat Greets High School Students for More Than a Decade.")

Although she has not publicly explained what exactly it was that prompted her to befriend Simba, it is conceivable that in being new to the job she was feeling a bit insecure and therefore needed the special type of nonjudgmental moral support that only a cat can provide. Regardless of her motivation, that act of kindness on her part allowed Simba to get his paws inside the schoolhouse door and he then did the rest all by himself.

"He knew what he was doing, because he made friends with the superintendent (Marc Edward Gousse)," Soucy disclosed to The Bangor Daily News on April 4, 2013. (See "Westbrook High School Cat Becomes a Star in National Media.")

Even since then Simba has been a fixture not only in Soucy's math classes but Gousse's office as well. He also is known to pay regular visits to the guidance office as well as to attend sporting events and band practices held on campus.

The pièce de résistance, however, remains Soucy's classroom where he is not only fed and watered but allowed to sometimes stay overnight. She also provides him with rides home during inclement weather.

"He's here very early in the mornings, and oftentimes stays through the night," she affirmed to The Bangor Daily News. "I'll sometimes find him curled up on my chair when I arrive in the morning."

Whenever Soucy takes to the lectern Simba proves himself to be a rapt pupil even though there is some evidence to suggest that geometry is not his favorite academic discipline. "He just walks on (students') desks, lays on their backpacks and listens to the lessons," she related to The Bangor Daily News. "Although one time, when I was teaching quadratic equations about four years ago, he covered his face in his (paws)."

Simba with Marc Edward Gousse

As is the case with cats wherever they choose to venture, not everyone is enamored with his presence. "He'll show up in class and sit on people's textbooks and just intrude," Kim Larley, who was scheduled to have graduated last year, groused to WMTV in the article cited supra. "He's cuter when he sleeps."

Generally speaking, however, the calming effect that he has on most individuals is appreciated all across campus. "(For) most people, it's human nature. Animals are very warm," Gousse testified to WMTV. "They're calming. They bring a sense of peace."

Art teacher Carol Connor wholeheartedly concurs in that assessment. "I just see such an emotional connection and real care about this creature," she told WMTV. "He has such a calming effect on all of us."

Victoria Simoneau, who graduated last year, learned firsthand from Simba how to be both productive and relaxed. "He kind of sets the tone and reminds us that we don't have to be stressed," she told WCSH-TV of Portland on April 5, 2013. (See "Westbrook High's Unofficial Mascot Is the Cat's Meow.") "We can be as relaxed as Simba and still get stuff done."

Of course, poet Rod McKuen understood all of that years ago. In particular, he once penned the following lines:

"There has never been a cat
Who couldn't calm me down
By walking slowly
Past my chair."

Attending classes at Westbrook is not all fun and games for Simba, however, and with ailurophobia being as virulent and widespread as it is, the school has deemed it necessary to place certain restrictions on his movements. For example, he is not allowed near students who are allergic to cats.

"Simba the Scholar" by Carol Connor

Even though that policy must make life difficult for him at times, it is still far less draconian than the expulsion order that the United States Postal Service in Notasulga, Alabama, issued to an elderly orange-colored cat named Sammy in January of 2009 after a female patron complained that she was allergic to him.

Sammy's eviction was all the more unjust in that he had been a much-beloved fixture at the facility for more than a decade. (See Cat Defender post of February 11, 2009 entitled "U.S. Postal Service Knuckles Under to the Threats and Lies of a Cat-Hater and Gives Sammy the Boot.")

The school cafeteria also is off limits to Simba but that is not quite as bad as Smallcat being banned from the premises of Comma Coffee in Carson City and Ember being kicked out of the Blunsdon Arms in Swindon. (See Cat Defender posts of February 17, 2009 and October 23, 2008 entitled, respectively, "Health Department Banishes Smallcat from Popular Carson City Restaurant but Her Feisty Owner Is Putting Up Quite a Fight" and "Pecksniffian Management at Swindon Pub Plies Ember with Food and Then Gives Her the Bum's Rush.")

Even on those rare occasions when politicians and bureaucrats are thwarted in their attempts to impose outright bans on cats at establishments that serve food they nevertheless almost always succeed in placing onerous restrictions on them. That is precisely what the health department in New York City has done to the Algonquin Hotel's resident feline, Matilda III. (See Cat Defender post of December 5, 2011 entitled "The Algonquin Cruelly Responds to Threats Made by New York City by Trussing Up Matilda III and Bombarding Her with Shock Therapy.")

Unlike so many cats who seek sanctuary at public institutions and establishments, Simba is by no means homeless. Rather, he lives with Eileen Shutts at 42 Monroe Avenue, which is only slightly more than two-tenths of a mile removed from the WHS campus at 125 Stroudwater Street.

Even that arrangement is somewhat troubling in that cats who are loved and wanted at home usually choose to spend a lion's share of their time with their guardians as opposed to engaging in endless roaming. In Simba's case, he quite obviously is getting something at school that he is being denied at home.

Perhaps Shutts is either away from home during the day or is not sufficiently attentive to his emotional needs. The particulars of Simba's living arrangement are difficult to assess owing to the fact that press reports have not broached the subject of where he bides his time when WHS is closed, such as on weekends, during the Christmas holidays, and throughout the long summer months. The one exception to all of that would be Gousse who likely is at his post twelve months a year.

"Sweet Soft Kitten" by Victoria Simoneau

All that has been disclosed is that Shutts gained custody of him in 2006 after a family named Foye gave him up and moved out of the neighborhood. It accordingly would seem logical that certain unknown deficiencies in the care that he received from the Foyes were at the root of his decision to adopt WHS as his alternative home. Therefore, by the time that Shutts had acquired custody of him it already may have been too late for her to have curtailed his roaming.

As long as WHS elects to leave out the welcome mat for him there is not anything per se wrong with Simba continuing to spend his days on campus. The only known potential threat to his health and well-being comes from motorists in the small town of eighteen-thousand residents and even that depends upon the density of traffic, the vigilance of law enforcement personnel and, most important of all, the number of busy intersections that he is forced to cross during his daily commute.

Since it is only a six-minute walk from his home to the school, he should be relatively safe so long as he stays on the sidewalk. Nevertheless, he is getting on and pretty soon both his hearing and agility are going to begin to desert him and once that happens the odds of him winding up underneath the wheels of a cat-hater increase exponentially.

"I think he probably knows he's liked and loved, and it's mutual," Gousse declared to WMTV in the article cited supra. If he truly means that, he will take immediate concrete steps in order to better safeguard Simba's valuable, yet fragile, life.

At the very least, Shutts should take it upon herself to see to it that he arrives safely at school each morning while it should be the responsibility of either Gousse or Soucy to make certain that he gets home unscathed at night. It is, after all, highly unlikely that any caring parent would send off a small child to school each morning by its lonesome and a cat is in far greater need of a chaperon than any child. Much more to the point, to knowingly allow a cat to venture out into vehicular traffic is an admission that its life is not considered to be worth very much.

The enormity of the danger confronting Simba is compounded by the fact that whereas it is a crime to deliberately run down and kill a child, the entire world laughs right along with motorists who do likewise to defenseless cats. (See Cat Defender post of November 21, 2012 entitled "Officials at Plymouth College of Art Should Be Charged with Gross Negligence and Animal Cruelty in the Tragic Death of the School's Longtime Resident Feline, PCAT.")

If neither Soucy, Gousse, nor anyone else connected with WHS can be prevailed upon to act out of either emotional or moral considerations, they at least should have enough bon sens to realize that Simba is an extremely valuable financial asset. For instance, both students and faculty members alike were able to sell to the public last April a collection of paintings, drawings, and photographs of him.

Room 8 All Those Years Ago

That sale also garnered the school not only local but national and international media attention and none of that would have been even remotely possible without Simba. The media circus that ensued did, however, leave the star of the show a bit knackered.

Also, since it is well established that no self-respecting cat has any interest whatsoever in posing for either artists or photographers, that trying ordeal surely must have contributed mightily to his exhaustion. In spite of that, the effort likely was worth it in that the finished objets d'art not only raised money for the purchase of direly needed art supplies but, much more importantly, immortalized Simba on both canvas and in glossy prints.

"It's been a rough week for him," Soucy acknowledged to The Bangor Daily News in the article cited supra. "He's famous now."

So, too, is WHS. "It's just a little art show, but it's become a big story," Connor summed up to The Bangor Daily News.

She additionally was grateful that Simba at long last finally had been recognized for all that he has done for Westbrook High over the years. "We didn't want him to just go away someday and never be recognized for what he's brought to the school," she added. "The climate and culture, he just elevates it."

Much the same thing has been said over the course of the past seven decades concerning a wonderful, long suffering gray and white cat named Room 8 who from 1952 up until 1968 graced the classrooms and hallways at Elysian Heights Elementary School in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles. In addition to spreading cheer and good will wherever he went, he also shared students' lunches and was famous for inadvertently erasing blackboards with his tail as he pussyfooted through chalk trays.

Room 8's Final Resting Place

Unlike Simba, life was a hardscrabble affair for him. Born in 1947, he soon was forced to take to the streets after, apparently, having been abused at home.

Shockingly enough, even during his long sojourn at Elysian Heights he was not permitted to live on the premises. He thus was forced to rough it most of the time although he did live for a while with a family known as Nakano and later at the residence of student John Hernandez.

Despite his many hardships, he persevered and his notoriety soon spread far beyond the confines of Elysian Heights. For instance, in November of 1962 he was featured in Look Magazine and that was followed by an article in the Weekly Reader five years later. He also made an appearance on Art Linkletter's television show, "House Party," and was featured in a 1968 television documentary entitled "Big Cats, Little Cats."

He is perhaps best remembered today thanks to a 1966 tome coauthored by Elysian Heights alumnae, principal Beverly Mason and teacher Virginia Finley, entitled A Cat Called Room 8. Amazingly, a few copes of this rare treasure are still available on Amazon for a pretty expensive penny.

Following his death at the age of twenty-one on August 13, 1968 he was interred at Los Angeles Memorial Park in Calabasas where a three-foot-high granite tombstone featuring a likeness of him adorns his grave. It is, however, in the memories of the students, faculty, and staffers at Elysian Heights who were fortunate enough to have known him during his all-too-brief existence that his presence is still felt the strongest.

"Room 8 was a good cat," former student Vivian DeLeon recalled back in 1968 on the fortieth anniversary of his death. "He was the greatest cat in the whole world." (See Cat Defender post of April 14, 2008 entitled "Room 8 Lives On in the Hearts of the Pupils and Teachers That He So Profoundly Touched at Elysian Heights Elementary School.")

Cat-Killer Wade Pilloud's Career Has Gone Nowhere but Up

It nonetheless is not only sad but disturbing that apparently no one connected with Elysian Heights during the course of his long tenure there was willing to have taken personal responsibility for Room 8's well-being and care by providing him with a permanent and loving home. As a consequence, he was forced to spend countless nights roaming the forbidding streets of Echo Park cold, hungry, and lonely.

The glaring omissions inherent in both Westbrook's care of Simba and Elysian Heights' abject neglect of Room 8 pale in comparison, however, with the criminal conduct of professional educator Wade Pilloud. For example, back in September of 2006 when he was principal at Indus High School in Koochiching County, Minnesota, he shotgunned to death a pair of five-week-old motherless kittens that were living on campus. Moreover, the reason that the waifs were without their mother is that earlier he had dispatched her to the devil via a kill trap.

For that trio of cold-blooded, premeditated murders he was convicted in December of that year of only count of animal cruelty and one count of damaging school property. Local judge Chad Leduc only added to that travesty of justice by sentencing him to perform a measly twenty-four hours of community service as well as to attend anger management classes.

Although Indus eventually did get around to firing him, it simultaneously rewarded him with $31,000 in severance pay. He was not out of work long, however, before Marsing High School in Idaho hired him as its principal in 2007. (See Cat Defender post of May 3, 2007 entitled "Principal Who Shotgunned to Death Two Kittens at a Minnesota School Is Rewarded with a Similar Post in Idaho.")

After collecting an award from the Idaho Department of Education for improving math scores at Marsing, Pilloud then moved on in the fall of 2012 to head up Halmstad Elementary School in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. (See WQOW-TV of Eau Claire, May 29, 2012, "New Chippewa Falls Principal Opens Up about Past.")

No one should find any of that surprising because in America it is almost always the flotsam of the human race that not only endures but rises to the top of the dunghill known as society. Meanwhile, those individuals with so much as a scintilla of decency in their souls make it only about as far as a boomerang tossed into a whirlwind.

Simba

Perhaps the most difficult task of all in life is to learn the true value of things. Joe Conrad summed up this dilemma as follows in his novel, Heart of Darkness:

"Droll thing life is -- that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself -- that comes too late -- (and) a crop of unextinguishable (sic) regrets."

It is the latter part of that equation that causes all the difficulties and for that reason the quest for the eternal verities must, by necessity, be an ongoing process. Some of those individuals currently affiliated with WHS have taken a few, tentative baby steps on the long road toward acquiring an abiding appreciation for Simba. Like their colleagues before them at Elysian Heights, however, they still have an awful lot to learn.

First of all, cats are in no way inferior beings; au contraire, the exact opposite is closer to the truth. "If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man but it would deteriorate the cat," Mark Twain observed in his 1894 Notebook.

Secondly, this world is a place of action, not mindlessly running off at the mouth. It accordingly is not nearly sufficient for personnel at Westbrook to claim that they care about Simba's well-being; rather, it is incumbent upon them to take concrete measures in order to vividly demonstrate that concern.

As was the case with Room 8 and Elysian Heights, the fundamental inequities that characterizes Simba's relationship with WHS are impossible to ignore. Specifically, just about all of the benefits to be derived from their lengthy association have accrued to the school whereas Simba has been paid off in crumbs.

Although he is said to be in good health, Simba soon will pass from the scene and once he is gone it will be much too late for Westbrook to make amends for its colossal omissions in its treatment of him. Furthermore, to rely upon artistic depictions, memorials, and memories as acceptable substitutes for failing to treasure the flesh and blood genuine article while it was still alive is, in the final analysis, just one more poignant example of man's selfishness, runaway egotism, and callousness.

Photos: Tony R. Bennett of The Bangor Daily News (Simba by himself, Simba with Soucy, "Simba the Scholar," and "Sweet Soft Kitten"), AOL (Simba and Gousse), Find a Grave (Room 8 and his grave), The Chippewa Herald (Pilloud), and KSNW-TV of Wichita (Simba up close).