Mildred Frank-Kares says that when she left four pet cats at the Defenders of Animal Rights shelter last April, it was with the understanding the cats would remain there, together, for the rest of their lives.
"When the girl asked me, 'Do you want them adopted?' I said, 'No,' " said Mrs. Frank-Kares, who also gave the Phoenix shelter $200 per cat to pay for the lifetime care of the animals.
Now, four months later, one of the cats has been adopted and another is missing.
The shelter says a third died after contracting an illness for which Mrs. Frank-Kares claims it received no veterinary treatment. The shelter has no record of the animal's disposal, she says, adding that in April she left a signed letter with Defenders promising to pay for any medical treatment the cats needed during their lifetimes. She said she was never notified of the animal's illness or death.
On Friday, Mrs. Frank-Kares filed a civil suit against the shelter and its vice president and manager, James Kovic, in Baltimore County District Court. She alleges that Mr. Kovic took $800 from her under false pretenses.
The suit also demands a detailed explanation of the whereabouts of three of the four cats.
Only one cat was at the shelter last week when, after learning that Defenders' former employees and volunteers were picketing the company and protesting its actions, Mrs. Frank-Kares decided to get her cats back. "I want back every cat he can't account for," said Mrs. Frank-Kares.
The protesters and Mrs. Frank-Kares plan to voice their complaints about the shelter today before the Animal Hearing Board in Towson.
Mary Jo Kovic, president of Defenders of Animal Rights, said the shelter's policy of accepting pet cats, along with a $200 contribution, has always given it the right to find a new home for the animal if at all possible.
Ms. Kovic also said she and her ex-husband filed a police report Saturday, after discovering that more than 100 adoption records were missing from their office. Though Ms. Kovic said she has adoption papers for one of Mrs. Frank-Kares' cats, she refused to show it to a reporter, saying she would not discuss individual cases. Additional files on Mrs. Frank-Kares' animals may be among those stolen, she said.
Mrs. Frank-Kares had owned three cats and married a man who also owned three cats. Then her mother died, leaving her with another two cats. Realizing she wouldn't be able to keep eight cats in the same house, she turned to Defenders.
"I left them there thinking everything was going to be fine," she said.
Mrs. Frank-Kares said she did sign the shelter's animal-release forms, which clearly state that the animals may be put up for adoption. But she said she was assured by Mr. Kovic that the animals would remain at the shelter and would be humanely killed only if they were sick and dying. Mrs. Frank-Kares and the former employees and volunteers who picketed the shelter last week said it's no surprise the Kovics don't have complete records. They said the shelter didn't have an organized filing system.
Mr. Kovic "has no idea where anything is," said Stephanie Miller, who worked at the shelter for almost a year.
Adoption and animal surrender forms are rarely filed, and often end up in piles or baskets on the floor, said Ms. Miller. Former workers also say Mr. Kovic routinely accepted donations under false pretenses and killed animals he had said would spend their lives at the shelter.
The Kovics have denied any wrong-doing, calling the protesters a group of disgruntled ex-employees.