According to Rena Rikard, a North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles officer and Connelly Springs resident, 17 cats were found near a bridge along Roger Hill Road off N.C. Highway 18 on Friday afternoon.
Four of the cats were dead of gunshot wounds and six others wounded. Ten of the cats were suffering from a variety of sickness or were emaciated, she said.
Rikard contacted Burke County Animal Control, which responded and took five of the cats to animal control, three of which later died of their injuries, according to Burke County Sheriff Steve Whisenant.
The sheriff’s office released additional information Tuesday saying that the two surviving cats at animal control had been transferred to Burke County Friends for Animals.
Rikard said this is not the first time people have let out stray animals at the particular bridge, which is near where she lives.
“I thought, ‘Somebody is throwing out more cats,’” she said. "So, I had to go on to Shelby and run my errands, but when I came back at 10:30, these cats are still sitting on the side of the road. They were all alive and it looked like one had a bummed up leg.
“When we got down there, there was some food out near the fence and a couple of the cats were lying near the food dead,” she said. “It looked like they had been shot.”
They both started looking around and found another cat lying near the edge of the woods bleeding from its face, Rikard said.
“It was still alive and it had been shot in the nose,” she said. “We get to looking a little further and there is a little yellow cat that is just emaciated and its fur is all matted and it looks real sickly.”
Lisa Tessener, of Connelly Springs, was scrolling through Facebook on Sunday when she came across Rikard’s post explaining what she found.
“Sunday, I saw a friend of a friend shared (Rikard’s) post where she has talked about how she had just found these cats and that she was going back out there to look for more and she was asking for help,” Tessener said. “I messaged her and said I was coming to help.”
Tessener, with her husband, went back out on Sunday to meet Rikard. They found another dead cat and saw a gate that had bullet holes in it near the bridge that led up to a driveway to a field, Tessener said.
Bullet holes were found high on a fence and led them to believe the cats had been strung up and used for target practice, Tessener said
“There was a pool of blood below the shotgun holes, and as we looked around, I saw another dead one and, as I started moving brush aside, I saw one alive that is now at the vet,” Tessener said.
Rikard said it appeared someone had put out food for other cats and shot them while they were eating. They also found shotgun shell casings as well as what appeared to be 9 mm and .22 caliber shell casings in the road near the cats. They brought food to help lure any remaining cats out.
Rikard and Tessener ended up taking some cats home with them, but one died overnight. Tessener called her veterinarian, Dr. E.J. Kennedy with Animal House of Rutherford College, and he told her to bring them to his office on Monday morning.
“We had a lady bring in nine cats (Monday),” Kennedy said. “Three of them were (dead on arrival). One of them had a 9 mm hollow-point lodged in its skull, which we removed for evidence. … Another one of those cats had been shot in the chest cavity and it was dead. A third cat had no external injuries and I presume it was poisoned.
“Three other cats that she brought in were in apparently good health, so we examined them and did some tests and sent them home. Of the three remaining cats, two were shot. One had a through-and-through injury from the right side to the left side with what looked like a 9 mm bullet that miraculously missed the abdominal cavity, the chest cavity as well as the spine.
"That cat’s doing very well. He got some wound treatment today. He’s on antibiotics and he can go home (Tuesday). The last cat has a 9 mm bullet lodged in his pelvis. It looks like he’s had trauma to the pelvis and the left hip, and we’re probably going to have to do surgery on him.”
Kennedy said his findings so far have shown that some cats have been shot at medium range, while reports relayed to him from the rescuers indicate the cats were tortured or killed in a variety of ways.
“Based on the fact that the 9 mm bullet didn’t penetrate the cat’s skull very deeply, I’d say it was at a pretty fair range, actually,” Kennedy said. “I’ve heard some stories that some of these cats have been poisoned and collected sick and I’ve heard they were hung from a fence and used for target practice, so I don’t know what kind of range that was done at.
“There are reports that some of them were shot with .22s and some of them were shot with shotguns. Some of them were shot with pellet guns. I don’t know what kind of poison might have been administered, but my guess is probably antifreeze.”
Based on behavior he’s seen from the cats brought into his office, Kennedy believes that not a single one of the cats was feral. Tessener plans on retrieving the surviving cats once they are released from the vet’s office. Four of the healthier cats are being fostered by Rikard and one is with Tessener.
Cat’s Cradle in Morganton has created a GoFundMe page to help raise money for the veterinary bills. To donate, go to thecatscradle.org/donations-2.html as well as going to their GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/cats-used-for-target-practice. Approximately $1,400 had been raised as of Tuesday afternoon, said Lynda Garibaldi of Cat’s Cradle.
“While there are despicable, horrible people out there who do horrible things to animals, there are also people who care,” she said. “The fact that we’ve raised this amount of money proves there are people who really care about animals. I hope that they will continue to speak up for the animals.”
The identity of the person or persons responsible for the cruel treatment of the cats is unknown, but a silver Dodge RAM truck, carrying what appeared to be animal carriers, was spotted in the area Thursday, prior to the cats being found, Rikard said. Several animal carriers also were found in the bushes near where the cats were found.
Animal Control is currently investigating the case and assistance from the BCSO detectives will be provided if needed, Whisenant said.
Citizens with information about this case can contact the Burke County Sheriff's Office at 828-438-5500 or Burke County Crime Stoppers at 828-437-3333 anytime day or night. Without providing their name, the caller will be assigned a number.
If the caller’s information leads to an arrest of the suspect, the caller will be paid a reward. A check will be issued to the caller’s number (not their name) and the caller picks up the check at a designated location.
(Morganton.com - Dec 13, 2016)