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Old January 8th, 2006, 10:31 AM
poodletalk poodletalk is offline
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Monica Campo Cat Rescuer Montreal

Pepsi climbs her saviour's shoulders and rubs a semi-dismantled ear against that of the woman who rescued her from abandonment, just a tiny fraction of an unbelievable scene that sees 100 cats prowl, prance, snooze and snack inside the small East End apartment.

"It's my favourite of the cats, I think. She went through hell and she's still got such a bubbly personality," says Monica Campo, who runs the Chatocat shelter. A deaf albino perched on a milk crate tilts her head at a lean grey cat named Monkey, who earns her name by climbing a screen in another room, while others slink and slide back and forth over the white tiled hallway.

Since Monica Campo bought the tiny duplex last year for $70,000, she's seen its cat population grow from a dozen to its current number, all assembled with a common bond of human cruelty, abuse and abandonment. Campo has used her meagre savings, volunteers, small donations and the good-hearted service of cheap vets to sterilize, test and debug the cats and return them to health. Separate closed rooms segregate newly dewormed cats and those with viral feline leukemia from the general cat population, while the basement is reserved for those with VIF, a sort of kitty-HIV. Amazingly, Campo can recite the name, medical condition and history of each cat, along with 20 other "more difficult cases" that she keeps in the basement of her West Island home.

"I'd like to give them away," she says. "They should be in good homes where people can take care of them and let them wander around outside."

Death row to laying low

The house of 100 cats is at a secret location, a semi-stealth measure not required out of any legal fears - as long as the home remains clean, there's no limit to the number of cats one can keep in the boroughs that form the old City of Montreal - but by prejudices that come with the turf. The silver-haired Argentine immigrant fears that once neighbours know of her secret refuge for discarded calicos, tabbies, Russian Blues and tortoiseshells, she might be forced to abandon the home that's barren of human amenities but filled with cat-friendly boxes, ladders and desks turned outward. She doesn't want to have yet another battle on her hands.

"This one here we saved from an alley. She had pneumonia and was about to give birth. The vet said they'd all die. She managed to give birth and the kittens were alive but after two weeks the kittens died too. After that the mom pulled all her fur out. She was very depressed," she says.

On it goes, as Campo randomly enumerates the silent rehabilitation of each four-legged beast. One of her favourites ambles around like a frat kid on initiation night. "The owners were ready to kill this one," she says. "They figured it had a broken leg, but she's got a neurological illness and is working on walking without tipping over. She's making great progress. I look at her determination and realize that to fall is not to fail. It shows that there's always hope."

Many of the cats - who would surely have been euthanized by animal authorities had they not crossed paths with Campo - doze carelessly, others tilt their heads, hop and stroll around while one sits, angry, in a corner. There's even cat-haters among them. "Some of these cats don't like cats," she notes.

Next to a two-year-old that weighs a mere two pounds is a beaver-like creature a few feet away who weighs in at 23 pounds. "It's a survivor. She remembers what it was like to be starving so now she eats all the time," says Campo.

Although Campo, a former employee of Correctional Services Canada, devotes a large chunk of her time to cats, it's a political, not a sentimental cause, and she speaks in the camera-friendly sound bytes of a candidate - indeed, she dreams of seeking election somewhere on an animal rights platform. "I'm not the Brigitte Bardot of cats," she says. "I'm just trying to deal with the coldness and inhumanity that leads to the victimization of these animals in this city."

Wrecking ball reprieve

The late night ends with Campo cleaning and disinfecting her cat palace, a ritual that concludes with walking the sole dog on the premises. Early the next morning, Ca`mpo finds herself on a bench at the municipal court awaiting her turn before the judge. She's facing charges of obstruction of justice.

"Should I plead guilty or not guilty?" she mutters in a rare moment of indecision. She's here because, on July 7 at 2042 St-Antoine W. (just behind the Georges-Vanier metro), Campo chained herself to a house that was about to demolished.

Here, according to Campo, is what happened: Cats developed a taste for the home of a man who, shall we say, put more effort into welcoming cats into the home than he did in cleaning the place up. "The guy who lived there was mentally ill. He was released from hospital and returned to the community. I have pictures of his apartment, he lived like an animal. He slept on the floor no blankets. He kept his back door and windows open and any cat who was hungry could come in and out," Campo explains.

One day the house went up in flames, but the cats kept returning to the burned-out building, slated for demolition. Campo was told it was unsafe to enter. The cats were doomed, but Campo and friends lured them into cages and resettled them into new homes. "We went every day rain or shine, and eventually got 16 of the cats out. We knew there was a black one and a striped one that were still in there though."

Campo begged the authorities to delay the demolition so she could get the last two of the 18 cats that stayed in the home. They refused. Campo chained herself to the building. Cops cut her chains and the demolition went on, undoubtedly to the doom of the two unsuspecting kitties.

Now she's ready to tell it to the judge, and when she finally gets called to the stand, Campo speaks like a pro. "I plead not guilty, your honour, because there is a story behind what I did and it needs to be told. It falls under a special section of animal law and I'd like more time to prepare my case."

The judge, who had spent the morning watching over a succession of wife beaters, shoplifters, drunk drivers and stalkers, raises an eyebrow at the speech. He orders her to stand trial December 11.

Direct action meets the law

Outside the courthouse Campo is back to full-speed, discussing the law that tries animal lovers and allows animal killers a wide berth. "Why is it me standing trial when people who are seen tossing their pets from moving cars don't even get punished at all? We report it to the police but they always say that there's nothing we can do."

She whips out a photographed copy of the federal animal law. "It is a criminal act to inflict unnecessary pain on an animal," she says. "Why is it that this law goes unenforced?"

But even before she is judged, Campo's chained protest has already reaped dividends. "We've made a deal with the inspector," says city rep Normand Proulx. "The next time we have a vacant building we'll have him call Campo to see if there are any cats to get out of the building before we demolish it."

But Pierre Barnoti, the executive director of the SPCA, isn't in favour of Campo's decision to break the law for the cause. "I'm a firm believer that doing something illegal creates a situation by which we take a few steps back and we lose credibility," he says. "Now, I understand her emotion, her attitude, what motivates her - she's an animal lover and so am I."

He also frowns upon the idea of keeping 100 cats in a home. "At the SPCA, we have a ventilation system that changes the air 60 times an hour to avoid the spread of disease and contamination," he says. "When an animal comes into a shelter, its immune system can drop 75 per cent from stress, and even if you keep them in separate rooms, the virus can still spread. So these cats are vulnerable."

Legal challenges

Campo's crusade is clear: the attitudes and laws that govern the world of animals make Quebec one of the most inhospitable of any state or province. Andrew Plumbly of animal-rights group Global Action Network sees Quebec as "10 to 20 years behind places like Europe on animal issues."

"Quebec is seen as one of the worst places in North America for animals," he says. "We euthanize about 350,000 cats a year in Quebec [according to SPCA stats], which is significantly higher on a per capita basis than anywhere else in North America. We're also the only province with no legislation protecting animals. Bill P-42 was accepted by the Quebec National Assembly in the early '90s in principle, but every government since then has refused to put it into practice because they don't want to allocate any money into administering the law. We need education and inspectors. We don't consider animal welfare as significant enough to allocate resources. It's not considered a high enough priority."

Plumbly, like other animal lovers, is waiting on federal events to see if a reform to the Criminal Code known as Bill C-10b will go through after being rejected once by the Senate. "If it gets passed it'll be the first update to legislation concerning animals since 1892, so everybody's waiting to see if it can get passed."

The evil that man does to cats

What might be more difficult to reform, however, is the callous way people abandon their pets, and Campo has a long list of sad tales.

"In Châteauguay, there was a cat that got in under a panel in the floor," she says. "We went and got a company that was willing to remove part of the wood but the owner refused. The cat died and a few years later a three-year-old boy living there had to go to the hospital because he was being bitten by the corpse flies that were devouring the cat under the floor. They had gotten into the ventilation system. They ended up having to open up the floor to remove the dead cat anyway."

Campo says the problem often lies with cat owners, who one minute love their domesticated pussycats and the next find lame excuses to be rid of them. "They'll move in with a girlfriend and get rid of it because she doesn't like cats, or the big excuse is that they've suddenly developed an allergy to cats. Quebec must have the world's highest rate of spontaneous cat allergies," she says.

The evil that man does to cats ranges from passive, such as those who run over a cat and leave it suffering in the road to crimes of a more active type. "There was a guy in the East End who decided he didn't want his cat anymore so he wrung its neck and tossed it in the garbage. You can see it, witness it, report it and the police will say the same thing, ‘There's nothing we can do.' They say it's not a criminal act."

Earlier this year a resident moved out of an apartment in Verdun, taking only one of his two cats. The other took stubborn refuge behind a bathroom wall. "The landlord was going to pour a type of gas in that would kill it and make it dry up, but we sublet the apartment for one week and tried 24 hours a day to lure it out. Nothing worked, so we begged the former tenant to lend us his other cat. And the sound of it purring got the other one to finally come out. But we broke our promise and didn't return the cat to its owner because he was abusing it."
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Old January 8th, 2006, 06:40 PM
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badger badger is offline
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I was just thinking about Monica the other day. She helped me with a rescue several years ago. But isn't this an old article from the Mirror?
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