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The Facts And The Frenzy
Reporter’s Notebook 6-21-23

As a journalist it is our job/responsibility to be objective.

Early on this was something which did not come easy. As a passionate person I had to learn to manage that when it came to my work. I can still recall hearing Editor Marg Jackson address something with diplomatic questions when being approached by a staffer and thinking, man … she is jaded. Fast forward to today and I know with complete certainty the same has been said about me, and that’s okay.

As a journalist my opinion is reserved for two places: my tribe and my column.

When last week’s piece on Ollie Cabral the missing cat however, first hit my radar, I honestly didn’t feel it was a story. Cats go missing, they don’t get claimed in time, they get “put to sleep.”

As a pet owner my heart hurt for the family … deeply. However, like an onion as the layers were peeled something just felt off.

Before expanding further it’s important to state that I recognize the City of Oakdale is taking the issue of the Oakdale Animal Shelter and the manner in which the Cabral family was treated very seriously. At Monday night’s City Council meeting a number of animal volunteers stepped up to share unsolicited concerns with conditions as well as staff inadequacies. As a professional, I recognize there are systems and processes in place and per City Manager Bryan Whitemyer and Mayor Cher Bairos the issues are being addressed.

The meeting (as a pet owner/animal lover) was hard to sit through at times. So not to be confused while as journalists we are objective we are not heartless. All this being said, last week’s story on Ollie was long, yet there were still things missing. In speaking with Lieutenant Andrew Stever there were several things which concerned me. Obviously I would have preferred to speak to the staff, as Stever was not there and is not a regular staffer of the shelter. He spoke on behalf of the staff, which is protocol but not foolproof.

When speaking with Lieutenant Stever I questioned the inconsistency of the shelter hours on multiple websites. Google lists the Saturday hours at 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. while the City of Oakdale website lists 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“I don’t control Google website, but on our City website the hours are correct,” Stever shared.

Fair and understood. However, if one is looking for a lost pet and was to visit the Oakdale City website they would not find photos of lost animals. They would find a link which took them to a site with adoptable pets only.

When questioned on this, other websites were offered to search for lost pets. So to recap, if you want the hours check the City website, if you’re missing your pet look elsewhere. Objectively speaking this makes no sense.

So now I’ll let my passion kick in for a minute. If one is missing a pet, which for many is also deemed as a family member, making it physically to a shelter is not always possible immediately. Owners may rely on phone calls or web searches, often these web searches are late at night or early in the morning. If photos of all animals are not being taken and posted to the City site how is one to automatically know where to go?

Then we have the issue of altered animals and microchip, both I would encourage all pet owners to do; however this is also not a foolproof system to reunite a pet with its owner. Case in point, the cat which was trapped by the same neighbor the same day as the Cabral cat was microchipped. The Cabral cat was not and as result lost his life even though his family was searching for him via phone calls to the shelter, poster hanging and searching the neighborhood. More than one week after being brought in the chipped cat was still there. Owners had, I was told, been called but not yet contacted, “They may be out of town,” Stever stated.

Lastly the thing which troubled me the most about this is the period of time before euthanization and if it is the same for dogs versus cats. I asked this of Lieutenant Stever who at the time was uncertain and had shared he’d get back to me, I still haven’t heard.

I’m a dog girl, I’ve shared that with every person I’ve spoken to regarding this story. I personally have nothing against cats. I appreciate that there are lots of people who are passionate about their cats, just as I am my dogs.

That being said. when my daughter was four … we got a cat. We were at Petco, she fell in love with a cat and suddenly just like that we had Fluffy Cupcake; an indoor cat as her previous owners had her declawed (another issue for another time).

Fluffy Cupcake was a great cat and enjoyed sunning safely on our patio, other than that she was always inside, until she wasn’t. One summer evening around feeding time we realized Fluffy was not in our house. Frantically looking we did not find her anywhere in our home or the immediate vicinity. Immediately I posted her photo to Facebook and hoped someone had seen her. The next day we continued our search. Long story short she was missing a total of 36 hours and by the grace of God I found her in a bush beneath my daughter’s window.

During the 36 hours I did not think to go to the shelter and look for her. Why? Well because cats are different than dogs. Cats roam, they live, generally speaking indoors and outdoors. Not to mention they’re not as easy to catch.

Here’s the example I offered Lieutenant Stever and I think it’s both fair and makes sense.

If you’re driving down the road and you see a cat cross you think, hmmmm there’s a cat. If you drive down the same road and see a dog crossing the street, you’ll likely stop, try and check it for a tag, maybe take it with you to try and find its owner or take it to the shelter.

These pets navigate the world differently and their guidelines should reflect this as well.

As a dog owner if my pet goes missing, I’m immediately on the phone with my vet and all the shelters. When it was my cat, yeah no, not so much. I gave it a day or two not because I don’t care for cats but because I know cats roam.

All this being said, I’m both saddened and grateful for the Cabral family. They have nothing to gain from all of this; their cat Ollie is gone. However, their willingness to speak up, be judged and simply share their experience has opened a Pandora’s box.

As a community member, I appreciate our City Manager, Mayor Bairos and our police department. They are each in challenging positions which also require objectivity.

The truth is, we don’t all always get it right and sometimes things, as well as staff, need to be reviewed and reassessed. The loss of Ollie has reminded us of that. To some he may have simply been “just a cat.” To the Cabrals, he was family and now to the animal community, he has become a movement.

Here’s to change, reflection, compassion and camaraderie. Together we can do big things.