Didier in 2006. Once a stray on his own, Didier found a loving home with Melissa Kenady Photo: Vanda Krefft
Melissa Kenady's job requires her to travel, a fact that didn't bother her beloved senior cat Didier. "Didier came over the back wall of my garden fifteen years ago. He wasn't feral, but young and very shy. I started feeding him, coaxing him closer to the house every few days. Finally, he was eating in the kitchen regularly with the back door open, so one day I waited until he finished his food, then picked him up and cuddled him. He started purring loudly and relaxed onto my lap. He never failed to purr whenever I petted or held him from that day on."
"Later, when I adopted a feral pair of cats, a brother and sister, they thought Didier was their dad -- and they loved to groom him. When the male, Noa, died of a blood clot Didier howled so loudly and insistently I rushed him to the vet even though I was pretty sure what ailed him was grief, which turned out to be the case."
Even after fifteen years the now-geriatric Didier remained an affectionate companion. "Although he'd grown older and thinner, when he sat on my lap every evening he purred just as loudly as the day I first held him."
Whenever her job as a sales rep took her out of town, Kenady made sure Didier had everything he needed, including doting pet sitters who knew his special health needs, and who took the extra time to cuddle with him. Kenady even made sure that, as a former stray cat who loved basking the sunshine, he had access to her small garden.
Like many seniors, Didier had age-related health issues that Kenady was careful to monitor. Diagnosed years earlier with irritable bowel disease, though he ate with gusto he had trouble keeping weight on. When Kenady was out of town she had several experienced pet sitters who looked in on him, including longtime friend Vanda Krefft, who came by to spend time with Didier last June when Kenady was in Chicago.
Krefft says, "I knew Didier well. On Saturday, June 13, I stopped by Melissa’s house to spend time with him. For a couple of hours he sat on my lap purring as I read a book; I fed him several helpings of wet food, which he ate heartily. He was energetic, bright-eyed, alert, and clearly enjoying his life -- for instance, he had no difficulty jumping up onto the chair to sit in my lap and he responded contentedly to being petted."
The one thing Melissa Kenady couldn't safeguard Didier from was the agency whose job it was to protect him.
On June 15th, 2009, while Kenady was on a business trip to Chicago, Didier uncharacteristically wandered out of his garden and into the yard of a neighbor who'd never met him. The neighbor mistook his frail appearance, often typical of a cat of Didier's advanced age, for sickness. She called L.A. Animal Services (LAAS) to come pick him up. The worker who answered the phone told her that since the cat was old it would be better to leave him on the streets as he "would not get a chance to be adopted.” But the neighbor was concerned for his safety, so she took him in to the West L.A. City shelter on Pico Blvd. They assured her that despite his age the cat would be safe in their care, at least through June 19th (although the law in fact requires that lost animals be held for four business days in addition to the day of impound). Shelter staff even posed Didier for an intake picture with a backdrop of American flags and a "Blue's Clues" doll. Kenady's neighbor left feeling reassured, especially since she says, "the lady at the shelter agreed with me that he was someone’s pet."
Eighty-six minutes later, according to L.A. Animal Services records, Didier was dead.
Photo of Didier by L.A. Animal Services less than ninety minutes before he was killed
A law designed to protect lost pets
On June 16th Melissa Kenady got a call from a friend that her neighbor had taken a cat matching Didier's description to the shelter. Kenady immediately called Krefft, asking her to go to the shelter and investigate.
Says Krefft, "I arrived around 1:30 and gave the ID number to the man behind the desk. He pulled up the file on his computer and said they had euthanized that cat already. He showed me the picture and I felt as if someone had punched me hard in the heart. It was Didier."
Krefft, who knew the law requires that lost pets be held for four days, says, "I asked him how this could possibly happen?"
She says although the worker behind the counter was sympathetic, when he called a veterinary technician to explain what had happened, the vet tech became hostile, yelling at her that the cat was thin and "it was cruel" to keep him alive. Krefft, who had seen Didier just three days earlier, content and eating heartily, was dumbstruck.
"While he was shouting at me, I got Melissa on the phone, handed the phone to him, and asked him to please explain to her what had happened. He spoke for a moment or two, then in mid-conversation handed the phone back to me with a look of disgust on his face, saying he couldn’t talk to Melissa because she was so upset."
Says Krefft, "I asked the man behind the desk to please give me a photo that I could show Melissa. He looked stricken with remorse that someone had lost their beloved pet and printed out Didier’s photo and information.
"I went outside to the parking lot, and while Melissa and I were talking, a young Hispanic woman came out and snatched the paper out of my hand. She said, 'You’re not supposed to have that.'"
Krefft says, "I went back to ask for a copy because I felt that the least Melissa deserved during this ordeal was certainty. The man behind the desk said he couldn’t give me the whole form, but he kindly printed out the photo of Didier. I kept asking him why Didier hadn’t simply been held for the few days the law provides. He said he didn’t know and again called out someone else from the back.
"The second man who came out — another vet tech, I assume — had a gentler, more sympathetic manner. However, his explanation also made no sense. He said 'the cat' had been thin, and 'nobody would adopt him.' That last comment struck me as very odd, because I thought adoptability wasn’t supposed to be a concern at that point in the process. I thought the law required the shelter to maintain a lost pet for four days to give the owner a reasonable chance of finding him. But Didier hadn't even been given twenty-four hours. He hadn’t gotten what he deserved."
Since 1998 California's shelter animal protection law, known as the Hayden Act, has mandated that lost and stray animals brought into shelters be held for a minimum of four days plus the day of impound, giving owners an opportunity to recover lost pets. The law explicitly states that the only exception to this rule is in cases where an animal is "irremediably suffering," a condition defined by the Superior Court in January, 2009 as: "An animal with a medical condition who has a poor or grave prognosis for being able to live without severe, unremitting pain despite necessary veterinary care."
Dr. Annie Hernandez, a Santa Monica-based veterinarian, says issues that would constitute irremediable suffering include, "trauma or severe wounds, severe infection, respiratory compromise, severe neurologic compromise such as spine or brain lesions. In addition, an animal who was completely non-responsive or in fulminant cardio-pulmonary arrest would constitute a very poor to grave prognosis."
The L.A. Animal services picture taken of Didier at the time of impound shows a cat who, while thin and obviously a senior, is alert and does not appear to be in any visible pain or distress. He shows no evidence of injury or respiratory issues, which could be indicated by nasal discharge or open-mouthed breathing.
The Hayden Act clearly states that "shelters should be required by law to take in lost animals and properly care for them with prompt veterinary care, adequate nutrition, shelter, exercise, and water." It goes on to reiterate that "no treatable animal should be euthanized."
But when Kenady tried to find answers as to why her beloved pet was killed, seemingly without regard for the law, she found herself the target of threats from the very people who should have protected him.
Part 2: Accountability proves elusive in the wake of the L.A. Animal Services killing of pet cat Didier
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