“Community cats aren’t homeless. They’re your neighbors.” The moment Danielle Bays, The Humane Society of the United States’ Director of Cat Protection and Policy, uttered those words, I knew they had to find a place of honor in our Gata Unbound series. (You’ll find them in our end pages of Volume One.)
We’re hoping more and more folks will discover the wisdom of these compassionate words so that what happened to Korean War era veteran, Bill Richardson, doesn’t happen to one more person. Ever.
Within a two-and-a-half month span, his hometown of Berlin Township, New Jersey hauled him into court four times. It’s tough for this veteran who suffers from severe hearing loss to get around. His knees are bad after getting hit by a car. He’s on a fixed income. He doesn’t drive any longer. And he has no family. (Mr. Richardson says he’s outlived everyone except maybe a couple of nephews somewhere in the Midwest.)
The low income senior living complex he called home for almost two decades was kicking him to the curb.
An 87-year old U.S. Marine Corps veteran evicted and prosecuted for the crime of . . . wait for it . . .
. . . feeding cats.
It's something he had done for 17-years at the very same apartment. The community cats came to know him, trust him and rely on him. Mr. Richardson says he did all he could for them, "That includes feeding and if they needed to see a veterinarian, something like that, and I could arrange it, I’d take them out and have that done."
If it was a choice between food for his kitties or himself, the cats won out every time. As Theresa Grabowski, a New Jersey attorney who volunteered her services to help him, says, "Bill, puts kindness over his personal comfort."
By the time I found out about Bill’s plight (he told me to stop calling him Mr. Richardson because, “That’s my dad...”), he was already getting evicted, pleading "guilty" to the charge of "having an unlicensed cat" (wish I was joking here) and reading his beloved murder mysteries with a flashlight in his lightless bedroom.
He didn't even have a pair of pants to wear to court. (You know, to answer to the charges of having that unlicensed cat. And, for good measure, the Township of Berlin spent even more tax payer dollars by also charging him with "maintaining a nuisance." Its way of prosecuting him for his outrageous “crime” of kitty feeding.)
I posted about the whole sordid tale on Facebook. And you? You overwhelmed with an avalanche of support. J & Co Dog Rescue set up a YouCaring fund, Rescue Dogs Rock Animal Rescue set up an Amazon.com Wish List.
The Preston & Steve Show on 93.3 WMMR Philadelphia's Steve Morrison put out the “all call” for people who needed barn cats. The Mac Fund's Clare Morrison helped big time with the enormous project. You see, Berlin Township refused to allow the outside cats to remain—even as a maintained TNR'd (trap, neuter, return) colony. So when we moved him, we had to move the outdoor kitties who were in danger.
Not the optimum thing to do for the cats or the community. (You can read all the reasons why, as chronicled by The Humane Society of the United States, here).
But with the help of Mount Laurel Animal Hospital, South Jersey Animal Hospital, New Jersey Aid for Animals, Barrington TNR, Saved Whiskers Rescue Organization and a small army of my friends (you know who you are), we were able to help as many of the community cats as possible, along with Bill and his two indoor kitties, of course.