The cat rescue world in upstate South Carolina is in a panic this morning after the arrest this week of one of our own. This is the story of a woman known for her compassion toward cats.
Julianne Westberry, 46, of Belton (Anderson County) has been arrested and charged with ill treatment of animals. Belton Police and Fire Department officials went into her home on Wednesday after following up on a tip of a horrible odor coming from the house. Inside they found more than 30 dead cats. One mother cat was mummified, with her kittens still trying to nurse on their mother. Another 30 cats were rescued, and taken to Anderson County P.A.W.S, which is the county shelter for Anderson. Some of the cats died en route to the shelter. The investigation is still ongoing, and more charges may come. I did an article here for Examiner, but wanted to add to it for my family here at PoC.
There’s still a lot of information that hasn’t come out yet, and I’ll update everyone when it does. Let me just say this situation is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I’ve heard there will be people going in to scan for microchips to see where all of the cats came from. Although it will be heartbreaking, I hope someone will scan the dead cats as well. Just so we know who didn’t survive being neglected and starved. The reason I say this situation will get worse is because it’s coming out now that Julianne pulled (rescued) more than 158 cats from various shelters just in the past few months. She even went into North Carolina. My kitten expert friend Ash Truesdale is still building the list.
I’ve never met Julianne, but considered her a friend. When dogs were at risk of freezing to the ground this past winter, Julianne and I stayed online organizing search and rescue for pets out in the cold without shelter. For those of you who don’t realize it, I write an article on every cat and dog that I can who are at risk of death at the high-kill shelter in Greenville. I’ve seen her name a lot, because her name is brought up on any cat who doesn’t have a rescue and is about to die. Julianne would usually step up and save the cat, sometimes on the day of its scheduled euthanasia. I, along with others, always breathed a sigh of relief knowing a cat was safe with Julianne.
There are those in the rescue community more upset than I am, because they’ve either taken Julianne cats, or talked her into rescuing them. Several of my friends have been in her home, some as recently as May, and the home was clean and the cats in excellent condition. Julianne recently suffered a devastating loss when her father passed away a few months ago. But none of us who knew her saw anything out of place with her care of the cats. She was very trusted by what now appears to be shelters in at least two states.
I was telling my daughter about this tragedy as they told it on the news last night. She looked at me and flat out told me the signs were there, in that Julianne was saving a very high number of cats. She has on her Facebook wall that she works for the Humane Society. I haven’t verified that, but I wouldn’t doubt it’s true, since we all thought she loved cats as much as life itself. I feel for her, because I know what it’s like for people to make you feel guilty when you refuse to save a cat. I learned our limit a long time ago, but even at our busiest never had the number of cats Julianne had in her home. I still have an email where I was told two cats would be euthanized if I didn’t take them. I still said no. A person involved in rescue has to set limits and stick to them.
Do you think the pulling of so many cats should have set off warning bells with those of us who called Julianne a friend. I’d still like to consider her a friend, and hope the media doesn’t crucify her over this. She must have serious emotional problems, and I’m thankful she hasn’t killed herself. So many women involved in rescue have turned to suicide over the past few years. But it’s hard to call someone a friend when I picture mummified and dead cats in her home. And to hear even more cats died on their way to the shelter. And then I look at the list with the dozens of cats Julianne was supposed to save, and more than 30 of them have Examiner articles written by me asking for help in saving their little lives.
All the young kittens, possibly dead. The two cats taken after a homeless woman was arrested. They were fat and healthy and everyone was hoping the homeless woman would one day be able to get them back, because they were in excellent health. And sweet Doris, who was a twin to our cat Coral. I had begged every rescue I knew to save Doris. I was so relieved the day I saw Julianne had her. Is Doris dead? Did she suffer?
I’d like to hear any thoughts you have on this. Right now, every woman involved in rescue in upstate South Carolina is overwhelmed. We don’t know what to feel. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how we can ever stop this from happening again.