Arrest of former president of Calvin's Paws brings review of animal group

mhankerson@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2014 

— The arrest of former Calvin’s Paws President Carol De Olloqui in November on cruelty to animals charges – and the subsequent euthanization of 60 of the 93 cats at her home – marked a low point for the Raleigh cat rescue agency.

The nonprofit agency has since been dealing with issues – including some raised by the charges against De Olloqui – such as overcommitment by members, excessive reliance on volunteers and potentially questionable adoption requirements. These include a contract provision under which those who adopt animals can be charged $1,000 for failure to follow organization guidelines.

Police found that De Olloqui, an attorney, was keeping 93 animals in her home on the border of Raleigh and Knightdale in November.

According to Wake County Animal Shelter’ s records some of the cats in De Olloqui’s care had oral and ocular ulcers, dental disease, and in one case, a feeding tube. She was later charged with three counts of animal cruelty and is scheduled for a court appearance on the charges in April.

Calvin’s Paws doesn’t have a permanent facility and works with volunteers to adopt out animals in need of shelter.

Member Lynn Barclay said the organization’s board wants to make sure volunteers are able to care for the animals they take on and has put in place a cap that means the organization will not allow a foster owner to take on more than 15 animals, no matter whether personal or taken on as foster animals.

“We are really stepping back and looking at a lot of our operational policies and practices to make sure we are able to accomplish what we want to do,” Barclay said.

At the time of De Olloqui’s arrest, Calvin’s Paws current president, Dan Wagner, issued a statement saying the rescue organization does not support the practice of foster owners taking on an abundance of animals.

“Our only goal is to rescue animals most in need; sometimes we fear our fosters take on more than they should,” Wagner said in the statement. Calvin’s Paws’ board wants it to become a no-kill operation. As part of that process, Barclay said, the agency will have to discuss the best use of volunteers.

“Volunteers are the only way we survive,” Barclay said. “You can’t take in 5,000 animals if you only have 100 foster homes. We’ve got to figure all that out.”

The organization tries to make sure that if adopters need to surrender an animal, they know that they can bring it back to the organization. At that point, the group can try to place the animal again.

Until the animal can be placed in a new home, it goes back to a volunteer.

Regulating volunteer care

In addition to making sure the volunteer-to-animal ratio is manageable, Calvin’s Paws wants to make sure adopted animals receive care that will prevent their return to a rescue or shelter environment.

In the adoption contract, the organization reserves the right to carry out regular checks on the adopted animal. If the organization finds any part of the contract has been broken, it reserves the right to charge the adopter $1,000.

“The point of the contract is to make sure that people are adopting these animals (and) are taking care of these animals as they said they would take care of them,” Barclay said.

The organization looks for items specifically noted in the adoption application, such as the owner’s agreeing to keep the cat indoors or not to declaw the animal. Calvin’s Paws also requires adopters to return cats to the organization if the owner can no longer take care of them.

“You cannot do whatever you want to the animal,” Barclay said.

The SPCA of Wake County requires adopters to sign an adoption contract, although the organization has no provisions that require an owner to return an animal. The SPCA doesn’t charge owners for breaking the contract.

“I suppose in theory, I guess we could take (someone who broke the contract) to court, but I have no idea what the end game would be,” said the SPCA’s head of development, Mondy Lamb. “We don’t worry so much about the contract; we just worry about the animal.”

At Calvin’s Paws, the seemingly harsh potential repercussions are designed to make sure animals don’t end up without an owner.

Renewed focus on animals

As the organization works to figure it all out, there are still some people who adopt animals, such as Kate Gorman, who question whether the organization can hold itself to the same standards it expects new owners and foster volunteers to follow.

Gorman adopted a cat named Oliver from Calvin’s Paws last February. By September, Oliver had died.

Gorman said she noticed her cat hadn’t been properly socialized. When she requested medical records, which Calvin’s Paws requires all adopters to keep, the organization couldn’t provide any. Later, as Oliver got sicker, Gorman found out he had a spinal breakage and didn’t have complete feeling along his spine. He had a severe case of gingivitis that required all his teeth be pulled.

“If somebody surrenders a cat ... we don’t always get the medical records,” Barclay said. She said it was possible that Oliver came to the organization without medical records.

“The unfortunate fact is that these animals don’t come with ... the cleanest records,” Barclay said.

At one point, Oliver had a stroke, and Calvin’s Paws suggested allowing De Olloqui to temporarily take him until he felt better.

“I didn’t feel like I would get him back,” Gorman said. Instead, she kept Oliver, and her vet vouched for her, noting that the cat was sick long before it came under Gorman’s care.

Oliver also tested positive for the feline immunodeficiency virus, which explained why he wasn’t feeling better, after thousands of dollars in medical care.

According to Barclay, cats with the disease are among the populations Calvin’s Paws wants to serve better, as well as one of the topics the group has addressed since De Olloqui’s arrest.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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