WEST RIDGE — Tree House Humane Society euthanized one of its shelter cats Friday, triggering an outpouring of anger and disappointment from long-time supporters.
Protesters, including former volunteers, adopters, animal welfare advocates and community members gathered outside the shelter's new multi-million dollar location at 7225 N. Western Ave. Friday afternoon to decry the organization's decision to put down Little Miss Solid Gold, a 7-year-old black and white female cat.
Kerri Burns, the shelter's interim executive director for about the last year, stood by the decision Monday and said Little Miss Solid Gold had aggressively attacked seven people in the last five years in a way that was "not common."
It wasn't only biting, she said, it was repeated scratching and biting without backing off, Burns said.
"This type of aggression, it's not common, so it was very difficult for us to come to this decision," she said. "This is severe behavior, this is not normal."
Before coming to Tree House, Little Miss Solid Gold had been found in a carrier "frightened and self-protective," according to a 2015 adoption post where she was featured as the "Rescue of the Month."
"She's not used to the shelter environment, but Little Miss Solid Gold tries to be tough and brave," the post said.
She spent two years trying to adjust to life in the shelter, shying away from humans and other animals and needing ample space.
After being featured in multiple adoption websites, including making NBC5's "Clear the Shelters," the cat was eventually adopted and re-named Shatze.
In a follow-up story, "Cat Nobody Wanted Finds Forever Home," the cat's new owner described how she'd taken in Little Miss Solid Gold and discovered a soft side not often shown at the shelter.
Steve Dale, a former board member at Tree House and animal advocate, said in an online post he understood that shelters do sometimes euthanize for behavioral issues, however, he met Little Miss Solid Gold and recalled the meeting as "uneventful."
"She was usually sweet, but sometimes scared and then reactive," he said.
However, the cat's feel-good story soon came to a halt after Burns said she attacked her new owner while in bed.
Little Miss Solid Gold. [Tree House Humane Society]
Kill or No-Kill?
A year after her celebrated adoption, Little Miss Solid Gold was returned to the shelter where she again had to re-adjust. Burns said she had a room to herself.
But after a recent attack sent a Tree House worker to the emergency room, Burns said her executive team had come to the "difficult" conclusion the cat had to be put down.
A veterinarian and behavioral specialist were also consulted, she added, but Jackson Galaxy, star of Animal Planet's "My Cat From Hell" who earlier had signed on to work with the shelter's transition into its new building, was not among them and is no longer associated with the shelter, she said.
Little Miss Solid Gold's euthanization for behavioral problems was not the shelter's first in its 40-year-history, Burn said, but it doesn't happen often.
The shelter hasn't euthanized any "healthy, adoptable," cats, she said.
Though the cat had no medical issues that would affect her quality of life, it was the safety of those around her that Burns said needed to be addressed. Being unfriendly with other animals, the cat would have potentially lived an isolating life, even if adopted, Burns suggested.
Still, rescue organizations and several individuals stepped up to adopt the cat before she was put down Friday, but were denied because the shelter said it could not "in good conscience, safely place her in any human environment."
Her staff's reaction was "emotional" and the decision to put the cat down "did not come lightly," she said.
"It's a very emotional thing when you're doing so few," Burns said. "We love these animals and we try to do our best. ...I hope it doesn't have to happen again for a very long time."
Tree House posted an explanation of the shelter's "no-kill" policy Friday, but shortly thereafter removed it because "that's not our focus."
Screenshots show that the shelter's mission statement and vision have changed in recent months, in particular the removal of instances of "no-kill" and a section touting the organization's behavioral specialist program as a means to decrease euthanization.
Burns refuted anything had changed and said the shelter was still committed to a "no-kill" stance, with some exceptions, such as extreme behavior issues or the cat suffering from a medical condition.
The old mission statement from Tree House above, with its new one below, which does not mention being "no-kill." [Screenshot/Tree House Humane Society]
Tree House's Facebook page has also been scrubbed of dozens of angry reviews, comments and posts made by disappointed supporters.
"Shame on Tree House," said Adam Hart, a Tree House adopter who works in public relations. "Until Tree House cleans up this mess and addresses the concerns in a mature manner (not scrubbing their social media clean of any protest or outrage), my family will no longer be supporting Tree House and will find another no kill shelter in Chicago to support.”
When word that the shelter was going to euthanize the cat leaked on social media, a small group of protesters quickly organized a peaceful confrontation on the sidewalk outside the shelter's new facility.
Chicago Police were called to the shelter around 12:25 p.m. for a "peaceful protest" taking place, but no arrests or action by officers took place.
Burns said law enforcement was called because some of the protesters had entered the facility's parking lot.
Tree House was also listed among vendors set to have a table at this year's Midsommarfest festival in Andersonville, though no one representing the shelter was there. Burns said the organization's cancelation was not related to the controversy.
Burns said she understands that "people feel angry" wants to move on from the situation and hopes the other work being done by the shelter doesn't become overshadowed.
"What we do on a day-to-day basis is still in sync with our no-kill mission and saving thousands of animals lives," she said. "Sometimes it's just not the best quality of life for [cats like] Little Miss Solid Gold and we had to make a decision."