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Lawsuit filed over San Diego Humane Society's handling of stray cats

Lawsuit filed over SD Humane Society's handling of stray cats
Posted at 3:16 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 08:38:05-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A newly filed lawsuit alleges the San Diego Humane Society has a practice of releasing friendly, adoptable cats back into the streets.

When the San Diego Humane Society took over animal control services for San Diego and several other local cities in 2018, it was working with rescue groups to "shelter neuter return."

A feral cat found outdoors was spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and released.

In late 2019, Humane Society CEO Gary Weitzman told reporting partner KPBS this policy did not apply to domesticated cats.

“If they come in and they're actually friendly and adoptable cats, we will put them up for adoption rather than re-releasing them to the outdoors,” said Weitzman.

That assertion was false, alleges a just-filed lawsuit. Among the plaintiffs are several animal welfare nonprofits.

Pam Harris is one of the attorneys who filed the suit. She says records obtained by them show almost half of the stray cats taken in during the last half of 2019, more than 700, were later released.

Harris says many of them should not have been released.

“… 25 to 30% were single, friendly cats brought in by an individual hoping to find that cat a better life than in the street, but they were just returned to the street," said Harris.

Harris says the plaintiffs requested a sample of 75 records of the released cats. Based on the notes in the records, she says about 25 of them were friendly and able to be handled.

The lawsuit cites the case of Pablo, brought in by a Clairemont resident, only to be released later.

“He was able to be handled, pet, and picked up,” said Harris.

“It's cruel because these cats are often starving, lacking access to water, being exposed to predators," said Harris' co-counsel Bryan Pease.

The lawsuit also points to the case of Mango, released and later found dead from an apparent animal bite.

The lawsuit claims the Humane Society is "abandoning" cats, along with its duties, asking for an immediate end to the practice.

Gary Weitzman, San Diego Humane Society President and CEO, issued the following statement:

"San Diego Humane Society has not been served with any lawsuits, and even if it was, cannot comment on specifics of pending litigation. However, we want to help the community understand our evolving community cat program and what we hope to achieve. We encourage anyone who is interested in this issue to visit our website at, which outlines why the implementation of a comprehensive community cat program is in the best interest of cats.

The field of animal welfare is dynamic, and as our understanding of the issues related to cats has evolved, so too have our solutions to best meet the needs of community cats. Caring for community cats, while working to stabilize and reduce their numbers, is one of the most complex issues facing animal shelters today. It is also a top priority for San Diego Humane Society. San Diego County alone is home to an estimated 300,000-500,000 free-roaming, unowned community cats. These are outdoor cats with no identifiable signs of ownership, and they can be friendly or feral, young or old.

San Diego Humane Society and other leading animal welfare organizations are creating comprehensive community cat programs to best meet the needs of individual cats while helping to reduce population over time. The community cat program that San Diego Humane Society will launch is based on years of scientific research, as well as discussion and debate among those in the animal welfare community who have dedicated their lives to doing what’s best for animals.

Community cats entering the program will be spayed/neutered, vaccinated and quickly returned to their outdoor homes. This program will only apply to healthy community cats, and those with easily treatable conditions, who demonstrate they are doing well living outside. It will not apply to cats who are unhealthy, show signs of having been recently abandoned, were relinquished by their owners, or were found in a location that presented an immediate danger. In most cases, it will also not apply to kittens under 6 months of age.

Community cat programs were developed to address the unique challenges cats face in animal shelters. Supporters of these programs include a wide range of veterinarians, shelter experts and leading animal welfare organizations — including Alley Cat Allies, American Pets Alive, the ASPCA, Best Friends, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis, and Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida. It is the best solution for individual cats, spaying/neutering and the only approach proven to reduce their population numbers over time. All community cat programs are focused on the same thing: ensuring the best outcomes for healthy, unowned, outdoor cats.

By developing a community cat program, we are taking the next step in our commitment to doing what’s best for the cats who need us. And that requires solutions that are innovative and push us to evolve how we think about our role in caring for animals in need."