Cats are fabled to have nine lives. But if it weren't for a twist of fate and a caring Payson family, five cats a mother and four kittens wouldn't have had a single chance.
The felines were crammed into a Payson Humane Society carrier cage with no food or water, and the whole cruel package was thrown into Blair Meggitt's two-acre, heavily wooded yard, hundreds of feet from his house.
Meggitt happened to spot the cage while he was walking his dogs.
If he hadn't, the felines would have been dead within 12 hours, a local veterinarian said later. When the cats were discovered, they were nearly comatose from heat stress. They had ear mite infections and upper-respiratory infections. One had sores on a leg and paw. All were severely dehydrated.
Meggitt's wife, Jeanne, said she promptly phoned the Payson Humane Society but was told that if she took the cats to the shelter they would be put to sleep because the shelter didn't have room for any more cats.
"That's when we decided we'd try to get them well ourselves," Jeanne said.
According to shelter policy, the humane society doesn't accept sick animals, manager Jim Larkin said, because they can transfer their illnesses to healthy animals.
At first, Jeanne and her 13-year-old daughter, Anita, couldn't get the cats to drink, but eventually they were able to use a syringe to squirt water into the cats' mouths.
And with the help of Star Valley veterinarian Alan Hallman, who donated his services, the outcast patients began to bounce back.
The brood consisted of a mother cat, her very young kitten, and three other older kittens a total of three females and two males.
"Three days after we found them, the mother could take care of her baby again, and the other three started showing off their personalities," Jeanne said. "The mama was so afraid of us at first, but now she's a lot more calm. Look at that face. How could someone do that to her?
"It's such a cold-hearted thing for someone to do," she said. "If they find whoever did this, I'll prosecute."
A tough crime to track
Prosecution, however, is nearly impossible, Payson Animal Control Officer Bonnie Davis said, "unless you actually see the person in the act. But if we did somehow manage to catch them, the charge would be a felony under the (state's) new cruelty law."
Per capita, Payson's animal abandonment problem is no worse than anywhere else in the state, Davis said.
"(But) we are a dump-off place for the Valley," she said. "In the summertime, we have nothing but abandoned animals dropped off by people who must think they're doing the cats a favor, because they think it's cooler up here. But it's not that much cooler. And domesticated cats are not hunters. They will die if left in the wild."
As Davis sees it, people who abandon their pets deserve a dose of animal karma.
"I think they should be put in a cage and be thrown in somebody's yard without food and water," she said. "See how they like it. It's like the old saying, 'The more I know people, the more I love my dog.'
Because the humane society charges $10 for each owner-donated cat or dog it accepts, some people who can't afford the fee simply dump the pets, Davis said. However, that fee is waived if the animals are first turned over to Animal Control or if they are brought to the Humane Society in town or county cat traps, which Davis said are available free from her office.
Davis said that while her office would do all it could to see that such pets are adopted, there are no guarantees.
"If the cats are ill, they are immediately put down," she said. "We can't risk spreading a disease that would kill off all the healthy animals. We don't know what they have or where they've been. We've got a high rate of rabies in this area. I think anyone would understand that we can't take that kind of a risk."
Local adoption rate high
If the cats found by Blair Meggitt hadn't been ill, Larkin said, they might have had a greater chance of survival in his shelter than at most others across the country.
Nationally, humane societies average a 25-percent success rate in adopting out pets.
The Payson center's average, Larkin said, often exceeds that figure by 5 percent, which he terms "quite high."
Quite low, he said, is the Payson Humane Society's euthanasia rate, which has been 15 percent for the past four months compared to the national rate of about 25 percent.
But those numbers would be even better, he said, if people accepted responsibility for their pets instead of putting it on the town, the county or the humane society.
"A big part of the reason for initiating our owner-donator fee in January was that we were getting an awful lot of animals dumped on us," Larkin said. "We were having some financial difficulties, and this was one of the ways we could make up for it and also try to get the owners to take responsibility. So far, for us, it works most of the time."
But not always.
"Sometimes, this job is pretty brutal," he said.
Following the trail
Payson Police Officer Dennis Armistead, the investigator assigned to the Meggitt's abandoned-cat case, thinks he has a suspect, and that he can piece together the events which caused the act to occur.
"The suspected person, who is still unidentified, was apparently moving out of the state and wanted to get rid of the kittens," Armistead said. "He took the cats to the humane society, but left after being told they were totally booked up.
"Later on, of course, I got the call concerning the abandoned kittens. I returned the cage to the humane society, and that's when I learned about the person who'd possibly done it. But since the top of the cage had been cut and I suspect that's where the (humane society's identification) number was we weren't able to trace it. So the investigation is at a standstill until further information is received."
Cats in the cradle
"I've named them all," Anita said while overseeing the increasingly healthy and active furballs now taking up residence in her family's patio. "This one's Baby Doll. That's Streak. And that's Mama Cat, Tiger and Trouble."
"Mama Cat is still a little sick," Jeanne said, "and her kitten is still too young for adoption. But two of the other three kittens are ready for new homes; they're all done with their medication. We already had two cats, two dogs and an iguana. Now we have seven cats, two dogs and an iguana. So we've got to find some good homes for them."
The Meggitts can be contacted at 474-5375.
Payson Humane Society statistics
Shelter capacity 110-120 animals
Number of lost and abandoned animals left at the shelter in the past 12 months 2,000
Total number of animals housed at the shelter in the past 12 months, including lost pets that were recovered by owners 3,000
Number of animals adopted in the past 12 months 737
Number of animals euthanized in the past 12 months 711