Over 170 cats seized in January were freed from the ownership of Wydell Dixon yesterday, as an appeals jury made the unanimous decision to allow the county to find them homes.
The 170-plus cats were seized from the Whiskerville Animal Sanctuary, in Texas City, TX, part of Galveston County. They have been in County custody while their ownership has been tied up in the courts, placing a strain on the county’s largest shelter, and inadvertently causing other cats to die.
Wydell Dixon and her lawyer Scott Shearer appealed an earlier justice of the peace court decision and challenged a required bond amount and the new law behind it, dragging out the matter of ownership of the nearly 200 cats removed from horrific conditions at Dixon’s Whiskerville Animal Sanctuary on January 3.
The Galveston County Daily News reported that Shearer told the jury the case was about revenge and tax money, while prosecutor Elizabeth Cuchins told them the cats were unreasonably abandoned and deprived of food and water, and Dixon made no reasonable arrangements to care for the cats.
Jurors were shown photographs of the filthy environment and told about the overpowering stench that met rescuers when they removed the cats. We do not know if jurors were told of the dead bodies of starved cats still among the living, or that 2,000 pounds of donated Science Diet cat food sat in a shed while the cats slowly starved.
For details on the raid, conditions at Whiskerville, Galveston County Animal Resource Center’s efforts to care for the Whiskerville cats, etc., see our Index of Whiskerville stories. In brief, Whiskerville Animal sanctuary owner Wydell Dixon left the facility in the care of her employee Kimberly Jane Paskert, who supposedly then arranged to have an unidentified person care for the cats. The cats roamed freely within the facility, an old commercial building in disrepair. A neighbor called authorities when she looked into a window and saw that the situation had deteriorated severely for the helpless cats trapped within. Dixon and Paskert admitted that the cats may have been left unattended for a couple of weeks, but veterinarians and shelter personnel who attended to them determined that they had been neglected for at least two months.
The Daily News report on yesterday’s civil case hearing indicates that the prosecution showed a measure of sympathy for the operators that may not be shared by animal lovers. It was noted that Paskert was paid $210 per week to care for the cats, as though that amount of payment weighed against the magnitude of the work mitigated her role in the neglect.
There is a criminal case for animal abuse against Dixon and Paskert, centered on the autopsies of four of the cats found dead at the facility. The date for that trial still has not been set.
Yesterdays decision means that the Whiskerville cats can finally be made available for adoption. Most have been in the care of Galveston County Animal Resources, with a small number dispersed to other shelters in the county. Volunteers and staff at GCARC has spent countless hours rehabilitating the Whiskerville cats, who arrived four months ago, starved, traumatized, filthy, matted, sick in some cases, and in need of social and emotional rehabilitation.
This is Mandy. She is not one of the Whiskerville cats; she is one of the other cats from Galveston County who have ended up at GCARS during the time that the Whiskerville cats have been in residence.
Due to personnel changes at the shelter and chronic overcrowding as the Whiskerville cats’ legal status remained in limbo, some cats who did not find homes fast enough have been PTS, killed for space.
Mandy is looking for a home, along with others, and now they will be joined by the Whiskerville cats.
Adopters and rescues will need to step up and take cats from GCARS, especially now. Joan Addison, who lives in the area was enormously helpful in raising money to help with the Whiskerville cats’ care, and in getting their story out. Once the overcrowding at GCARS reached a crisis point and cats began to lose their lives, Joan started the Facebook page Galveston County (GCARC) Furry Kids Need Homes.
Joan has been listing available cats at the page as the Whiskerville matter has drawn on. The page is as important as ever now, as a large number of animals will need homes ASAP. We encourage anyone interested in helping in some small way to “like” the page and to please share cats looking for homes. It would be helpful if rescue networks and other shelters were to help move the cats to safety.
All in all, yesterday’s decision was a huge victory for the Whiskerville cats, for the shelter caring for them, and for the area’s other homeless cats, once the Whiskerville cats have moved on. GCARC staff and volunteers have done a marvelous job caring for the cats and dealing with the strain imposed by the legal wrangling that slowed progress for so long. Thank you to all who have helped, both locally and from afar.