A standing-room-only crowd packed into the Millcreek Township Municipal Building on Tuesday demanding "Justice for Berkeley," the neighborhood stray cat that residents say was wrongfully shot and euthanized by an animal control officer.
The raucous crowd of nearly 100 people who attended the board of supervisors meeting called on leaders to fire animal control officer Rich Lyall, who they claim displayed animal cruelty by snatching Berkeley by his neck with a catchpole and shooting him in the head.
In a news release Friday, the township stated Lyall euthanized the cat "out of an abundance of caution" and in accordance with Pennsylvania’s Animal Destruction Method Authorization Law, insisting Berkeley was host to several parasites and reacted aggressively when caught, posing a safety risk.
The crowd, which included residents who interacted with Berkeley, didn't buy it.
"A diagnosis was determined within seconds and a life was taken within minutes," said MaryGrace Lacoste, executive director of Orphan Angels Cat Sanctuary & Adoption Center in Erie, on Tuesday.
"The empathy, humanity and compassion simply did not exist anywhere during this interaction."
Did Rich Lyall mishandle the situation?
Lacoste was one of a number of professional animal caretakers who spoke during the meeting's public comment period, arguing that Lyall — who's only been on the job for a year — mishandled the situation.
Nicole Leone, executive director of the Erie Humane Society, referenced a doorbell video taken during the July 29 incident that shows Lyall carrying Berkeley by the neck with a catchpole.
"(Lyall) is captured in a video inappropriately using equipment that likely strangled or could have snapped the neck of the cat," Leone said. "This video is devastating from an animal welfare organization's perspective as it makes us suspicious and fearful that practices like this have been occurring more often than just with Berkeley."
Leone said the Erie Humane Society has a long-standing relationship with the township, one that gives the animal control officer 24-hour access to the Humane Society facility, as well as 24-hour emergency numbers.
"The officer responsible was careless in his handling of this poor pet," she said. "It is my belief that when the township is hiring someone to work with animals, that the officer chosen should have the aptitude to provide care."
Eric Duckett, animal cruelty officer at the A.N.N.A. shelter in Erie, also said Lyall showed "no compassion."
"The approach that he took when he went to that house was wrong, his attitude from the very beginning was wrong," Duckett said. "If I was in his position, I wouldn't have even pulled my catchpole or my rabies pole or my come-along pole out of the car. In the five years that I've been doing this job, I might have used mine three or four times, and that's always in extreme, feral conditions."
Tyler Nowosielski, a volunteer with the Erie Animal Network, also posed questions about Lyall's quick diagnosis, insisting photos of Berkeley taken shortly before his death showed him happy and healthy.
"There were no visual signs of parasitic infestation, no fleas, no ticks, and most certainly no visual evidence of a rabies infection," he said.
The township has not been able to confirm where Berkeley's body was disposed. However, allegations online and from one of the cat's caretakers, Candy Weigel, claim Lyall disposed of the body in a dumpster.
Lyall, who did not attend Tuesday's meeting, could not be reached for comment.
Residents demand accountability, more training for Animal Control
The euthanasia took place on the afternoon of July 29, when Haley Briggs, who lives in the 3200 block of Berkeley Road, contacted the Millcreek Police Department about a stray male cat that had entered her home and refused to leave.
Since the Erie Humane Society had been closed that day for cleaning, Briggs contacted the police, hoping an animal control officer could transport the cat there. Animal Control has 24-hour access to the Humane Society facility.
Briggs, who spoke to the board Tuesday, said she asked police if the cat would be taken to the Humane Society, to which an officer said "yes, we have keys."
Briggs also claimed she volunteered to carry and place Berkeley in Lyall's carrier but Lyall refused. "That cat did not deserve to be hung and carried out of my door," she said, fighting back tears.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 3,000 people had signed an online petition on Change.org demanding Lyall be fired, which is a decision for the township supervisors.
Kim Clear, one of the supervisors, told the Erie Times-News an investigation has been opened based on "new information, statements and videos obtained this weekend."
Leone, Duckett, as well as A.N.N.A. Shelter Director Ruth Thompson, told the board Tuesday they'd be willing to educate and assist the township's animal control services.
Board Chairman Daniel Ouellet said, "we're going to take you up on that offer."
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: "Justice for Berkeley": Millcreek residents rally for euthanized cat