Whenever Nicki Millgate pulled into her driveway at the Brookside Mobile Home Park, her two cats raced to the car to welcome her home.
"They were always there waiting for me," she said, haltingly.When she got home on Thursday, Dec. 6, she found only their collars.
Millgate's cats and a number of strays in a West Jordan mobile home community have apparently fallen prey to juvenile bounty hunters and a fast-track euthanasia policy, according to the Humane Society of Utah.
Millgate said she learned of the bounty as she was searching for her missing pets. "I had heard rumors about the (mobile home park) manager paying kids 50 cents for strays, but I thought my cats would be OK because they weren't strays. They had collars on and they were always in my yard."
Nevertheless, she inquired at the mobile home park office and was informed by a youngster that they had indeed been turned over to the animal shelter. She promptly called the city's shelter only to learn that her pets had been killed on Dec. 7, less than a day after they disappeared.
The circumstances surrounding the capture and killing of Millgate's cats have prompted protests and threats from the Humane Society, a change in the city's animal-control ordinance and an end to the so-called bounty.
"It wasn't really a bounty," said Robert Shupe, the manager of the mobile home community. "If kids got one (a stray), I would give them a quarter for helping out. It wasn't advertised or offered like a bounty."
Shupe said he rewarded the youngsters and took other measures - including the use of animal-control traps- because the neighborhood is plagued by strays, many of which seek shelter inside the mobile home skirts.
Residents are warned to keep their pets within their own yards and to have identifying collars on them, Shupe said.
In a letter informing West Jordan Mayor Kenneth A. Miller of the Millgate case, Humane Society Executive Director Gene S. Baierschmidt expressed "strong concern" about bounties. Such rewards provide an incentive to acquire animals by whatever method possible, "including luring animals off property, theft, and removal of identification."
"I feel bad if that's what happened to her cats," Shupe said, adding that everyone might have been spared the problem if the animal control department had done more.
"They won't even come out after a stray unless you've already caught it," he said. "Now, all of a sudden I've got the Humane Society stomping all over my ears."
The Humane Society also took exception to West Jordan's policy of allowing the immediate destruction of impounded cats unless the animal has a a tag, a collar, ear markings or exhibits "demonstrable affection."
Baierschmidt said, "Mrs. Millgate had no reasonable opportunity to locate her cats at the shelter, to pay outstanding impound and board fees and reclaim the animals, nor to receive her constitutional right of due process before destruction of her property."
The City Council agreed and voted this week to extend the holding period to three days to guard against similar occurrences in the future. And Shupe said he has discontinued the practice of rewarding kids for catching strays.
Millgate said she was glad that something positive came out of her experience, but, "I miss my cats."