KOCHVILLE TWP, MI — Before law enforcement pulled dozens of sick cats from a Saginaw County animal rescue, the shelter had been targeted by numerous complaints regarding the welfare of its animals.
Common themes run through the complaints leveled against Amazing Grace Animal Rescue, a nonprofit no-kill shelter at 3365 Freeland Road in Kochville Township.
Descriptions of sick cats overcrowded into cages without room. Poor ventilation leading to oppressive odors. Ailing cats not receiving needed veterinary care. Adoptable pets not being spayed or neutered. Cats adopted and taken home, only to immediately come down with illnesses including ringworm, respiratory infections, and FIV. Several cats having to be euthanized shortly after being taken in by new owners.
So pervasive and so longstanding were the health issues that one local veterinarian said they were crestfallen by ordeal.
“My history with Amazing Grace Animal Rescue has been long and, quite frankly, heartbreaking,” the vet wrote in one complaint.
The afternoon of March 6, sheriff’s deputies served a search warrant on the facility after receiving several allegations regarding multiple public health violations, Undersheriff Mike Gomez previously said. Deputies and Saginaw County Animal Care & Control personnel found 237 cats and 16 dogs at the facility. They seized 27 severely sick cats in need of urgent veterinary care and took them to Animal Control, with a 28th cat seized the next day.
Dozens of severely sick cats seized from Saginaw County animal rescue
Gomez said April 4 that investigators’ findings were sent to the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office the prior week for review, though a decision on whether to issue criminal charges has not yet been made.
MLive on March 14 submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (or MDARD) seeking copies of all complaints the agency received regarding Amazing Grace since 2018. In response, MDARD on March 31 provided 10 complaints filed between Aug. 10, 2022, and March 14.
Of the 10 complaints, three are from the Humane Society of Saginaw County. In one, President Liz Quarm attached a complaint she filed in March 2020 against Amazing Grace.
“Since I sent you this,” Quarm wrote to MDARD, “not only has nothing changed, if possible, things have gotten worse at this rescue.”
In one complaint, a man wrote he adopted a cat from Amazing Grace in October 2022, only to learn later it had FIP, a viral disease caused by certain strains of the feline coronavirus. The cat had to be euthanized.
Another complainant penned in October they adopted a cat from Amazing Grace that had infections in its eyes.
“I got a cat and they told me it was ‘the dust in the air’ that made his eyes goopy,” the complainant wrote. “Took him to the vet and found out he had feline herpes.”
The complainant went on to allege many other cats had the ailment and were not quarantined.
“There was easily 150 cats inside there and not enough room in the world for them all,” the complainant wrote. “It was the worst shelter I have ever gone to and all of those kittens and cats are sick.”
Another complainant writing on Feb. 20 stated she and her family stopped by Amazing Grace and were instantly struck by a noxious smell. The family saw cages overstuffed with sickly and thin cats who had no room to move.
“They need to comply with some rules for the safety and well being of these animals, or be shut down,” the complainant wrote. “This is not a rescue; it is more of a death sentence.”
Another complainant wrote in January she adopted a 2-month-old kitten from Amazing Grace and were told it was healthy. Once the kitten arrived home and didn’t appear to be doing well, his new family took him to see a veterinarian.
“The vet check up informed me that the kitten was very unhealthy & the vet was surprised it was from a rescue cause of the bad shape the kitten was in,” the complainant wrote. “He had an upper respiratory infection, roundworms, and an eye infection. … I believe our kitten would have eventually died if we did not adopt it & save it from this terrible rescue.”
Yet another complainant wrote he adopted a 5-month-old kitten from Amazing Grace in October 2022 and never received any contract information on getting her spayed or the rest of her vaccinations. While the man visited the shelter, he brought home an infestation of fleas, he added.
The man’s flea-infested kitten also grew sick on being taken home, though she later recovered, he wrote. Furthermore, the man wrote that while visiting the shelter, another cat sneezed blood on him.
MLive also submitted a FOIA request to Saginaw County Animal Care & Control, likewise seeking complaints against Amazing Grace. Director Bonnie Kanicki provided numerous documents, including eight accounts penned by a veterinarian who had treated cats after they were adopted from Amazing Grace.
In the early months of this year, Kanicki’s office received six complaints of animal care at Amazing Grace, coming from Quarm, a volunteer at Amazing Grace, a veterinarian, a professional pet groomer, and civilians. One of the complaints stated a couple adopted a cat only to have it die the next day.
The veterinarian stated they had filed numerous complaints against Amazing Grace going back 10 years.
“Needless to say, my frustration with MDARD’s lack of concern for the welfare of animals housed in a facility … dubbed a ‘Slow Kill Shelter’ has recently been reignited by the alarming increase in the number of owners seeking treatment for sick, diseased, or dying cats adopted from Amazing Grace Animal Rescue,” wrote the veterinarian, whose name is redacted from the complaints.
The veterinarian wrote they treated a cat adopted from Amazing Grace for ringworm in late 2017 or early 2018. When they called Amazing Grace Director Shawna Guiett to inform her of this, they received a stern denial and were hung up on, the complaint states.
In November 2022, the same veterinarian detailed a case of an orange tabby kitten named Marty that was adopted from Amazing Grace, though its new owners did not have the chance to take him home. The family went to pick up Marty from the shelter on Nov. 13, 2022, only to find him unresponsive.
The family came back the following day on being told Marty was “getting better.” They found Marty face down in his litter box and he died about 10 minutes later in the arms of his new owner, the veterinarian said.
“The imagine of Marty is burned in my brain,” the veterinarian wrote.
Of the 28 cats seized by authorities on March 6 and 7, all were diagnosed with upper respiratory infections, some had ringworm, one had FIV, and one had FeLV, analogous to leukemia. One of the cats died of bacterial pneumonia suspected to have been from an untreated respiratory infection.
MDARD conducted its annual inspection of Amazing Grace on Oct. 17. The facility comprised 18 dog kennels, 70 cat cages, and four community animal rooms.
Inspectors found several issues of concern requiring corrective action. Of those, four were classified as critical and two as priority.
“The majority of the cats in the isolation room exhibited signs consistent with upper respiratory disease,” the report states. “Multiple cats in all community rooms also exhibited upper respiratory signs, including the room in which FeLV-positive cats are housed. There must be a way to keep healthy cats safe from sick cats.”
While respiratory illness was present throughout the facility, the inspectors wrote they did not consider it so overcrowded as to be unsatisfactory.
“However, it would not take many more cats to reach that level,” the report states. “This is something that should be under close scrutiny and alternative options for housing of cats (i.e. increasing foster agreements) should be looked into.”
Another critical issue involved the accumulation of hair, debris, and rust within several dog kennels. A third critical matter related to animal sterilization contracts not being used.
State law requires all dogs, cats, and ferrets six months or older that are adopted from shelters to be sterilized within 30 days. All animal younger than six months must be sterilized within 30 days after they become six months old. Fines and forfeiture of the animal are possible penalties.
“An appropriate spay/neuter contract must be created and utilized for all animals being adopted unaltered,” the report states, adding this is the second time Amazing Grace had received such a write-up. “An example was emailed to Ms. Guiett after (the) 2021 inspection, which was showed to us during this inspection. The director stated that she had not had time to edit or implement the contract.”
Guiett and her attorney C. Michael Gorte on March 8 met with Kanicki, sheriff’s investigators, and two MDARD regulatory agents. The meeting resulted in an agreement wherein the remaining 209 cats at Amazing Grace would be immediately evaluated by a veterinarian, that the site would be decontaminated, and that any ill animals would be quarantined on-site.
Amazing Grace remains in operation as of April 4. A fundraising event for the shelter — announced before deputies served their warrant — is set for 8 p.m. on April 14 at the Court Street Theatre, 1216 Court St. in Saginaw. The event is to feature a performance by local rock band Jedi Mind Trip, with tickets $20 for general admission and $35 for VIP.
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