December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Crowd demands North Ridgeville Council act after kitten killings

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Angry residents and animal lovers filled City Council chambers Monday night to protest the shooting death of five kittens by a city humane officer June 10.

Word of the animals’ deaths, which has been circulated worldwide via the news media and social media, has prompted calls for the firing of Humane Officer Barry Accorti and a change of policy by the city in handling animal calls.

The Council meeting — the first since word of the shooting broke — gave the standing-room-only crowd a place to vent, and they did for more than 90 minutes.

“This isn’t the city I grew up in,” Hallie Cunningham, a 60-year resident said. “I’m ashamed of the local and national publicity we’re getting over this.”

Another resident, Rachel Vanek, who said she cares for her cat as if it were her child, broke down during her address.

“I can’t wait to get out of here. I don’t want to live here anymore,” she said.

Accorti shot the kittens in response to a homeowner’s request for help in getting rid of the cats that lived in a backyard wood pile of her Vista Lake Way home and were causing problems with fleas and odors.

Paul Berry, executive director of Alley Cat Allies, attended the meeting and presented a petition with more than 33,000 signatures calling for the city to cease allowing cats to be killed by animal control officers. The nationwide group advocates for the humane treatment of cats.

A second petition presented Monday contained more than 37,000 signatures of people opposed to the city’s actions. That petition was circulated by Teresa Landon, head of the Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and her members. The group also filed a formal complaint with the city seeking to have Accorti fired for his actions.

“Why is this monster not required to be here to hear the horror in people’s voices,” Laura Smith, a Mills Creek Lane resident, asked. “He should be fired.”

Don Keister, a Brunswick man, asked a young girl at the back of the room to hold up a sign that pictured a kitten eating. “Where did deadly force need to be used here?” Keister asked.

Police Chief Mike Freeman, who last week said Accorti acted appropriately and wouldn’t face discipline, said his department will review its policies and procedures governing humane officers, including alternative means for dealing with similar situations in the future.

Freeman also said police will use the incident “as a reminder to be more sensitive.”

“Sometimes we are quick to do our duty,” he said.

In his statement last week absolving Accorti, Freeman said “research” and (unnamed) animal organizations accept shooting as an acceptable means of euthanasia.” That statement was called into question during the meeting Monday.

“No humane organization would recommend shooting animals,” North Ridgeville resident Christina McKay said.
Not everyone railed against Accorti and the city, although JoAnn Demchak stirred the ire of the crowd when she expressed support for the kitten shooting.

“I don’t care how they get rid of them,” Demchak said. “They are not house pets.”

A number of people used their time on the Council floor to promote the effectiveness of trap-neuter-and-release programs to reduce the feral cat population.

Mayor David Gillock, the only city official aside from Freeman to speak during the contentious meeting, said he is talking with groups including the state SPCA and Animal Protective League over offers of additional training and education, but he again expressed his opposition to trap-neuter-and-release programs.

“They are not the answer,” Gillock said. “They do not address the danger to young children (posed by feral animals).”

As a result of the uproar, he said the city may end euthanasia of animals and also may no longer get involved in disposing of wildlife in the city.

Prior to the meeting, and while it was ongoing, 60 to 80 people protested outside of City Hall, carrying signs reading “Justice for the Woodpile Five” and calling for Accorti’s firing. The group shrunk when the meeting began, but protesters were still there when the meeting wrapped up after 9 p.m.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.