A Clay County jury Monday afternoon found Annette Betancourt guilty of harboring feral cats.
"I'm very upset," said Betancourt. "I wished they'd understood what I'm doing is a good thing for the community. I'm preventing more homeless cats being born. I'm fixing them with my own money and providing a service to my neighbors too. Apparently the jury didn't see it that way."
Betancourt said she was being compassionate and using a program known as trap, neuter and release. She would trap the cats, take them to a vet to have them fixed and release them into a wooded area near her home.
Betancourt said the cats do not belong to her, and she is just helping out the cats and her community.
A neighbor of Betancourt's told jurors that Betancourt's feeding of the cats brings more cats to the neighborhood, saying up to a dozen feral cats can be seen lurking on the dead-end street daily.
But Betancourt said her home is close to a wooded area where many feral cats live. She feeds them and pays for them to be neutered but says she does not own the cats.
According to Liberty ordinances, residents are not allowed to feed or shelter an animal at the same location for three or more days, and are allowed four dogs or cats.
Many showed up Monday, some of whom have never met Betancourt, to show their support for trap-neuter-release. Supporters said they are worried that this will have a chilling effect on those who use the program.
"I have a backlog of calls of people in my neighborhood wanting this done, and it is not one of the worst neighborhoods at all," supporter Sharon Martin said.
Another supporter of TNR, Carolyn Tate, believes people should not be prosecuted for it.
"It should not be illegal to be proactive and compassionate in your community," Tate said.
Emily Conrad concurred.
"I mean this is a community problem and when a jury doesn't understand our cause, it's absolutely scary because this could happen to all of us," she said.
The jury on Tuesday recommended that Betancourt not receive jail time. Instead, the judge fined her $200.
"I was relieved actually," she said Tuesday. "I thought they were going to go as far as throw me in jail for providing this valuable community service."
She said supporters of trap-neuter-release will now fear their neighbors watching their every move. Volunteers said they are going to take care of the dozen or so wild cats in the neighborhood.
"We are going to trap these cats from the feral colony that Ms. Betancourt has been feeding and help them be transported to barn homes where they can be sheltered," said Kitty Kat Konnection's Sharon Jones.
Liberty city officials said there is no exception to the ordinance. If you care for more than the allowed number of animals, you face legal troubles.
Betancourt's attorney said they will consider an appeal.
"Justice has certainly NOT been handed down. This is a temporary setback for the thousands of caring individuals who provide TNR and TLC to abandoned and neglected cats in Missouri and Kansas," she wrote.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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