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Animal rescue to move amid concerns over cats' well being

The director of a local non-profit animal shelter says she plans to move her facility because of concerns over the wellbeing of the cats and the shelter's security.

Charlene Rodriguez opened the St. Francis Animal Rescue Center in 2003 after she noticed a lot of stray cats in her apartment complex. When people moved, they would leave their animals behind.

"People throw animals away," she said. "They're a disposable commodity. People leave cats because they just don't care."

Rodriguez's mother had left food out for one cat, but more and more were attracted to the food and kept coming.

"So many started coming that I said, if we're going to do this, why don't we get them off the streets and get some help for them?"

Four years ago, she started the shelter in a one-story brick house at 1167 E. Main St.

A room extends in the front of the house with large windows and areas for cats to play. At the back of the house, a screen in the wall separates the older cats from the younger cats in a long room.

But concerns over the health of the cats and security have caused Rodriguez to plan to leave the house by mid-March.

In the past two years, the shelter has seen multiple break-ins, two of which allowed more than 20 cats to escape.

Some cats were recovered, but those that weren't remain on Rodriguez's mind, specifically a kitten she had been caring for.

"I'm so sick about this poor little one," she said. "He was a shy kitty."

She believes the kitten, which she called Caleb, was so scared from the break-in that he kept running and didn't know how to get back to the shelter.

"I spent weeks looking," she said. "I kept thinking, 'If I just look a little longer...'"

Recently, the shelter housed more than 150 cats. That number and the conditions of the shelter drew the attention of York County Animal Control.

Animal Control's Steve Stuber said the agency did not shut down the shelter or seize any animals but did send Rodriguez orders about conditions at the shelter last year. The agency's order included better ventilation in the building and a screen between the young cats and the older cats, both of which Rodriguez completed.

In the new facility, she said the cats will be in cages for the first time.

In preparation for the move, she has given 20 cats to the Humane Society of York County. Another 30 have been placed in foster homes or have been adopted, she said.

In a hearing Monday, county attorney Michael Kendree said an order lists requirements for the facility to meet, including reducing the cat population at the shelter through adoption over time and making sure all of the cats are vetted, spayed and neutered. The hearing was called to check on the progress of those requirements.

Rodriguez recognized the need for a new space, which is why she said she is excited to move to a new facility on at least 10 acres.

She wouldn't disclose the new location, citing the "negative feedback" she's received from people.

Kendree said it's the hope of the county and animal control that the new facility will meet the needs of the cats.

Stuber had said the conditions of the former shelter weren't favorable, noting the cleanliness and maintenance of the building.

"I think the health of the animals is the most important thing," he said. "What we're doing now is ensuring that that is taken care of, and they do have an opportunity to live a healthy life. We're not going to take animals without giving someone the chance to correct the problems."

When the new shelter is open, Stuber said Animal Control will inspect the former building to make sure the cats are all moved, evaluating any that remain.

Rodriguez said she is hurt that people assume she doesn't care about the condition of the cats.

"People believe what they hear, and what they hear is not always correct," she said.