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Thursday, September 12, 2013
A lot of strange calls come in to column central. But I’d never heard of a situation like Laurie Whitesell’s until last week.
Whitesell is 77. Gene Whitesell, her husband of just under a year, is 80. Both are previously widowed, and they live in a second-story apartment at the independent living section of Pheasant Ridge, a retirement community off Franklin Road in Roanoke. He gets around mostly in a power chair.
The problem? They were being held hostage in their apartment by their pet cat — a large, ornery, long-clawed female named Skeeter.
It sounds humorous in an oddball sort of way, right? It wasn’t at all, listening to Laurie Whitesell tell the story. She quavered over the phone. She was in mortal fear.
Skeeter is black, white and gray. She is old. Gene Whitesell has had her for about eight years. Twice in the past three weeks, Skeeter’s bitten Gene badly. Once he had to be treated in a hospital’s emergency room. He’s still taking “heavy-duty” antibiotics, Laurie said.
The cat is nocturnal and prowls around the apartment at night. “She stalks us,” Laurie said. Last week, the Whitesells went to bed wrapped in double blankets, because they were afraid she would attack them in their sleep.
“This is the most terrifying experience I’ve had in my life. I’ve seen her bite Gene and claw me,” Laurie said. “I didn’t sleep for three nights.”
Laurie was also frustrated. She told me couldn’t get anyone to help them do something about it.
For two weeks, Laurie looked for help. She said she called Angels of Assisi, the SPCA, a housecalls veterinarian, animal control and some other veterinarians, too. Nobody was willing to help, Laurie said. The vets declined because Skeeter wasn’t their patient.
The Whitesells called animal control the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. The animal control officers were off duty. Instead, Roanoke city police responded that night.
“The officer was very nice,” Laurie said. “He told us he would have someone [from animal control] come out, but probably not until after the weekend. Then he left.
“A little while later, he came back. He told us he’d given us bad information. He said animal control doesn’t handle domestic animals, only wild animals.”
Laurie was at wit’s end. So last week she called me and told me the story. It was hard to believe. It almost seemed funny. But the fear in her voice was no joke.
“This is hard for senior citizens,” she said. “We have not been able to get help from anybody at all.”
Friday I phoned the Regional Center for Animal Control and Protection and told Whitesell’s story to Libby Carden, its volunteer coordinator. I told her it was hard to believe that an elderly couple couldn’t be rescued from a mean pet that left them quaking in their own apartment.
There is animal rescue — what about a human rescue?
Carden sounded horrified. She promised to put animal control on the case. They called the Whitesells that night and said an officer would be out early Saturday morning.
Animal control will take domestic pets, if the owners sign a release, said Scott Leamon, a city police spokeman. The Whitesells said they were never asked to sign one.
The animal control officer showed up Saturday about noon with a cage. She couldn’t get the cat in it; the cage was too small.
The officer left the cage there. At her direction the Whitesells put food in it and left the door open. But Skeeter didn’t fall for that trick.
Heather Byrd, the weekend concierge at Pheasant Ridge, offered to help the Whitesells after she got off work Saturday evening. But she couldn’t trap Skeeter either. So Byrd called the animal control officer back.
“She was hiding under a reclining chair and she wouldn’t come out,” Whitesell said.
This time, the officer brought heavy leather gloves and a lasso. She and Byrd chased Skeeter around the small apartment for two and a half hours. Finally, they managed to get her into the cage. Nobody was injured.
Byrd took Skeeter to a farm in Boones Mill.
To say Laurie and Gene are relieved is an understatement. Maybe they can get some sleep now, without wrapping themselves up like mummies for fear of a predator in their midst.
But should an elderly couple in their position have to call a newspaper to get a problem like theirs solved? Laurie says absolutely not.
“Something’s got to be done,” she said. The city “needs a protocol to handle animals for the elderly and infirm . They didn’t take us seriously.”
Perhaps it was that; perhaps it was a miscommunication.
“We got no action until you called,” Laurie told me yesterday.
If that’s the case, something ought to change.
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