Lawyers Accused of Lapping Up Money Meant to Feed Stray Cats

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Brenda Jarvis and one of her cats. She’s been looking after abandoned felines like this one since 1974. (Screengrab: Sun Journal/Andree Kehn)

Cat lover Barbara Thorpe of Dixfield, Maine wanted stray cats to inherit her estate after she died in 2002. But so far lawyers have been eating up more in fees than the stray cats have in chat chow. That’s one of the accusations contained in a lawsuit that’s making national news. Cat lovers in Dixfield have joined forces with  the town to take the estate’s trustees to court, according to a news story reported by the Sun Journal newspaper.

Over the past 13 years, no more than a few thousand dollars have been disbursed for the cats’ care, while lawyers have collected over $16,000 and trustees have benefitted to the tune of $22,679, according to a report in the Sun Journal. The report is based on accusations in the lawsuit, court records and interviews with the cats’ caretakers, a group of five elderly women.

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The cats of Dixfield, Maine are cared for by a network of elderly women who feed and shelter them. (Screengrab: River Valley Sun Journal/Andree Kehn)

No one disputes that Barbara Thorpe wanted to leave the lion’s share of her $200,000 estate to pay for food, shelter and veterinary care for the stray cats of Dixfield, Maine. But the town and cat lovers who are the plaintiffs say that just hasn’t happened.

Meanwhile, five elderly women say they have been picking up the tab for cat care, but have not been fully reimbursed. “‘I spend darn close to my entire Social Security check,” one of the women, Brenda Jarvis, told  the Sun Journal. She says the cost of caring for the felines is about $9,000 a year, much higher than the $300 she gets from the trustees. Looking after the cats is almost a full-time job, she said, since she spends most of her day at outdoor shelters and a trailer she bought to house the cats.

 

The Sun Journal reported that in 2004, Oxford County Probate Court Judge Dana Hanley ruled that the trustees’ fees were excessive and capped them. He also ordered them to return $2,931.

The group of local cat ladies include Jarvis, Noreen Clarke, Caroline Smith, Valerie Warriner and Donna Weston. They said they have “struggled” to get the money they need to carry out Thorpe’s wishes. Thorpe’s $200,000 estate included $5,000 set aside for a Shriners Hospital for children. That donation plus fees left $147,978.63 to be used to create a memorial trust to care for local strays, according to the Sun Journal newspaper.

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Caroline Smith plays with one of the cats cared for by her and her sister in a trailer where they live. (Screengrab: Sun Journal/Andree Kehn)

Jarvis said that she and her sister, Caroline Smith, converted their deceased parents’ mobile home into a cat shelter and have been looking after feral and abandoned cats for the past 30 years. “People get cats,” Jarvis said, “and don’t get them fixed. They move away and leave the cats and kittens. They’re thrown away,” she said.

 

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