Elvis’ tale: How lost cat wound up being euthanized

Photo submitted Ryan’s sons, Evan and Jace Lohman with their kitten Elvis.

NEW ULM — Controversy continues to swirl around the euthanization of a cat by the Brown County Humane Society last week.

On Thursday, April 5, a cat named Elvis was brought to the Brown County Humane Society (BCHS) where it allegedly became aggressive and bit a volunteer. The BCHS had the cat euthanized to get it tested for rabies.

Elvis, owned by local resident Ryan Lohman, had been an early Christmas present for his two sons, Evan, 10, and Jace, 8. The family adopted Elvis in late October or early November from the BCHS.

Despite the tragic circumstances, Lohman hopes the conversations around his pet’s demise can prevent future misfortunes.

“I just want people to know that this more about changing procedure when they get pets in so that this does not happen when somebody else comes in,” Lohman said. “It’s tough.”

On Wednesday, April 4, Lohman and his sons returned from spending about a week at Walt Disney World in Florida while Elvis stayed home with a cat-sitter.

As they came home Elvis slipped outside. While the six-month-old cat stayed mostly indoors, Lohman had no problem with the cat going outside occasionally to play in the yard.

He said the cat would come when called, but this time was different. Elvis did not return and Lohman did not find him during a search of his block.

Thinking he would see the cat in the morning or hear it meowing when he returned, Lohman went to bed.

Enter Timothy Dubois. He found Elvis in the alley behind his house, a few blocks away from Lohman’s home.

At first Dubois was unsure of what to do, but the cat seemed friendly so he took it in for the night.

He took photos of Elvis and posted them on the New Ulm lost pet Facebook page. On Thursday, April 5, he called the BCHS around noon.

Dubois said he was told that the animal should go to New Ulm Animal Control, but to bring it in anyway.

A former volunteer at BCHS who wished to remain anonymous said it was common practice during their tenure for the shelter to hold animals until animal control could pick them up.

Meanwhile, Lohman contacted animal control. He was told they had not seen the animal and he sent them photos in case Elvis turned up.

Around 2 p.m. that afternoon, Dubois brought Elvis to BCHS. There he met with President Teresa Grams, he said.

While he removed Elvis from a cat carrier, Dubois claims Grams commented that the cat was well behaved and must be a pet.

He set the cat down in the kennel, filled out the necessary paperwork and volunteered to work at BCHS the following Tuesday.

Sometime after Dubois left, BCHS claims the cat became erratic and agressive. Elvis bit a volunteer, breaking skin, BCHS said in a Facebook post.

Lohman said he believes Elvis’ erratic behavior was due to him being scared. Dubois said the cat had been very friendly and talkative.

The cat had no identification tags or microchips, so they did not know if it had a rabies vaccination.

The shelter decided that due to the potential for rabies, the cat had to be euthanized to test for the disease.

Rabies, which can be transferred by saliva, is fatal in humans. Once clinical symptoms begin, it is almost always fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Rabies actually has variable clinical signs,” Wheeler said. “Typically what we tell people is anything that looks unusual, any change in behavior could be consistent in rabies.”

Lohman had planned to microchipping Elvis when he brought the cat in to get neutered.

He had planned on doing so after getting back from vacation so Elvis could recover while they were home.

While Elvis had been adopted from BCHS, the former volunteer said that enough cats come through the shelter it would not be surprising if no one recognized him.

According to the BCHS website, 321 cats were adopted out in 2016, the most recent available numbers. In comparison 144 dogs were adopted out that year.

Elvis should have received the basic shots, including rabies, when adopted out. The shelter also should have had a paper file on Elvis that included a photo, the volunteer said. That had been common practice during the volunteer’s time there.

By Friday Elvis was euthanized. On Sunday, Lohman contacted BCHS to see if they had seen the animal.

He was given the number for the cat lead who is also Grams. Lohman said Grams claimed the shelter had not taken in a cat of Elvis’ description.

“We had found out on Facebook that a good samaritan had turned him in,” Lohman said. “(…) so I went down there and knocked on the door.”

Lohman went to the shelter and was shown around. Elvis was nowhere to be found.

By Monday, Jean Geistfeld connected with Dubois and received photos of Elvis, proof he had Elvis and not another cat.

That day, Geistfeld learned from BCHS that Elvis was gone and told Lohman. Shocked, Lohman went to work in disbelief.

“Finally it hit me and I had to go home,” Lohman said. “I finished up what I was doing and I left.”

New Ulm Animal Control investigated the incident, wrapping up around Thursday, April 12.

No criminal acts occurred, according to Crpl. Keith Anderson who investigated the incident.

As a private organization the BCHS can do as they see fit to protect their staff and volunteers, he said.

“If they have an animal that they feel is a danger to their staff they have the right to have it tested,” Anderson said.

Connie Kieper, an investigator with the Minnesota Federated Humane Societies (MNFHS) contested that in a phone conversation. MNFHS is a state-wide organization that investigates animal cruelty and abuse.

Just like Animal Control, the BCHS has to hold the animal for five to 10 days, Kieper said.

The state statute for the Minnesota Board of Animal Health specifies an animal is to be kept for five days at minimum or 10 days if it bites someone, with two notable exceptions.

An impounded animal can be immediately euthanized if a licensed veterinarian determines the animal is physically suffering and beyond cure through reasonable care and treatment.

Impounded animals that have bitten humans may be euthanized and tested for rabies before the five-day period elapses if requested by the Department of Health.

“Rabies is a fatal disease,” Wheeler said. “Certainly I would not encourage anyone to put human health or human life at risk in a situation where they felt confident that there was a chance that the animal could be spreading rabies virus.”

The last recorded case of a rabies-positive animal in Brown County was a bat in 2013. No cats have been recorded as rabid in the county at least since 1999. Though in 2018 one cat tested rabies-positive in Pope County.

Despite the low number of positive cases Senior Veterinarian Courtney Wheeler said rabies should not be taken lightly.

The BCHS did not respond to a request for an interview. The New Ulm Regional Veterinary Center cannot comment on specific animals due to patient confidentiality.