Harassment of a public official or genuine concern for animals? McHenry County cats at center of flap
McHenry County Board of Health member Cindy Gaffney says she and her home-based nonprofit cat shelter are being harassed by a former employee filing what have been unfounded complaints against the facility.
But Karina Andersen, fired in January from her job at Gaffney's Animal Services and Assistance Programs Inc. in Marengo, contends the motivation for her complaints to McHenry County and the Illinois Department of Agriculture is genuine.
"I feel sad to part with my five years of service there and will continue to try and better any animals' lives, always and all ways," said Andersen, a Woodstock resident.
Gaffney is contending with the accusations as a public official on a panel overseeing the McHenry County Department of Health -- the local agency that has investigated her shelter this year. The veterinary public health division is part of the agency and operates under a policy requiring a response to all animal abuse complaints.
Public Health Administrator Melissa Adamson said Gaffney's county connection has not mattered in the cat shelter complaints because investigators have been "following all the processes that we would for anybody."
Andersen brought her allegations about the shelter to the health board during public comment time at a meeting this week. The facility generally handles feral, stray and abandoned cats from McHenry and surrounding counties.
Gaffney was among the board members who listened to Andersen claim the shelter's unsanitary conditions have shown "a disregard for public health." Andersen also displayed about 100 photographs that she said she took while working there, including what she contended were neglected cats.
Although neither Gaffney nor other board members responded to the accusations, she later said in an interview the complaints started only after Andersen's departure.
"As far as Animal Services and Assistance Programs Inc. is concerned, this is a disgruntled employee who was fired on Jan. 7, 2019, for not performing her duties, which was cleaning," Gaffney said. "Subsequently, she has made every effort to malign our organization to the detriment of the animals."
Gaffney said McHenry County would not direct feral cats to her shelter, with some going up for adoption, if she were doing anything wrong.
Andersen acknowledged filing the complaint against the appointment-only, no-kill cat shelter that led to the latest inspection July 1. Animal Control Administrator Maryellen Howell said no formal violation notices have been issued to Gaffney's shelter as a result of the complaints.
Documents obtained through a Daily Herald open-records request show McHenry County inspectors said they found a harboring of mosquitoes in a tire and accumulated waste at the shelter, but no animal abuse.
"Other than a few cats that were sneezing with large green boogers coming out of their noses, most of the cats appeared to be in relative good health," according to the report.
Gaffney said the shelter has about 70 cats and 30 kittens, with six personal felines and five dogs in her house on the same Kishwaukee Valley Road property. She said the shelter's animals are not in her house.
Another McHenry County inspection of the shelter didn't result in animal abuse findings in response to an anonymous complaint April 30.
"The basement was cleaned and all of the cats I viewed looked healthy," the report says in part. "I did not find any unsanitary conditions. Cindy did state that she would call Maryellen (Howell from animal control) to see if she knows who the caller is because she wants to press charges on her because she feels harassed."
State agriculture department officials denied a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of any complaints filed against Gaffney's shelter this year. The department said such information "is part of an ongoing investigation which includes potential administrative enforcement proceedings."
In promotional materials for the 11th annual Pedals for Paws car show fundraiser scheduled Sept. 21 at Deicke Park in Huntley, Animal Services and Assistance Programs says it has trapped, neutered and returned at least 10,000 feral cats since November 2008. The shelter reports about 1,200 cat and kitten adoptions, along with saving horses from slaughter.