Giving shelter
Hamilton with one of her charges, Jingles.

SCN/Finnegan

Giving shelter

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
4/4/2019


OAKDALE—For the past six and a half years, Maryann Hamilton, a resident of Birchwood on the Green co-op complex, has been permitted to take care of seven stray and/or feral cats on the grounds of the complex, feeding them and providing shelter. However, recently, Hamilton received a notice from an attorney representing the co-op board that states, while citing “hazardous conditions,” she must remove the shelters and stop feeding the cats by April 25, 2019. That’s something she said she’s neither willing nor by law able to do. And so as the target date nears, Hamilton said she’s very concerned about what will happen to the animals that have become dependent on her help.

This newspaper had the opportunity to accompany Hamilton on her morning routine. Every day she drives her car over to a secluded section of the complex that’s adjacent to a sump and opens the unlocked chain-link fence gate. Behind the fence, on any given day, one or more of the seven cats – Racoony, George, Jingles, Shadow, Gigi, Bold or Cookie – emerge from housing made from scrap wood and tarp, and await the bowls of both dried and wet food that Hamilton puts down for their meal throughout the day. On very cold mornings, she places hand warmers between the bowls “so the food doesn’t freeze,” she said. She funds most of the food, save for occasional donations, and said she doesn’t mind doing it at all. 

Racoony and Jingles stopped by the day we were there. The cats look happy as she bends down to greet them and pat the top of one of their heads. “You hear that?,” Hamilton asks with a smile. “Ferals don’t meow, but these guys do.”

According to Hamilton, a former superintendent of the complex who retired in February first cared for the cats. “These were his cats; he took care of them,” Hamilton said. “I was the rescuer who helped him,” adding that she trapped and brought all of the cats to be inoculated and neutered before returning them to the property.

“I was on the [co-op] board at the time and there were other board members who helped. Maintenance helped and management also helped. But now there’s new management,” she said. “Boards change, rules change, but you can’t change something like this because this is now their shelter. And it’s against the law.”

According to New York State Agriculture and Markets law 353, essentially removing the accustomed means of sustenance from a domestic animal or even those in the wild is considered an act of cruelty and is a misdemeanor. Hamilton points out that some are feral while others are stray, and notes that stray cats are those that had once been domiciled but then were either lost or abandoned. “They’re not here because they want to be here; they’re here because of irresponsible pet owners,” she said.

Hamilton, a retired educator, said that the area is always cleaned up and she takes the responsibility of making certain it is done routinely. She said that the same number of cats has not changed over the years and that “these cats will die off by attrition.” And that’s why she said she’s having a difficult time understanding why there is now a problem.

“We’re willing to do whatever is possible to address any concerns about liability,” said Hamilton’s attorney, Karen Copeland. Although Copeland said the possibility exists for legal action, she hopes it doesn’t come to that. “My hope is that we can negotiate for a resolution,” she said.

Hamilton is hoping for a good outcome as well. “It’s all about the cats,” she said.