CONWAY — Seventy-one-year-old Gerri Dempsey fully expects to be jailed by the time Conway City Court adjourns its session Wednesday.
Dempsey said she was told by Conways animal control officer the judge was tired of seeing her in court for creating a nuisance by feeding feral cats and would throw her in a cell.
Dempsey was not happy about the prospect late last week, but she said its the only way shell stop the work she was directed by God to do about 15 years ago.
Conway police Chief Reggie Gosnell said it would be highly unlikely that one of his officers had told a person they were ticketing that they were going to jail, but that if it did happen, it would be highly improper.
Gosnell said if the city were inclined to see Dempsey in jail, officers could have done so when she was cited.
He said that Dempsey has been repeatedly ticketed for creating a public nuisance by maintaining feeding stations for feral cats all over the city. The conglomeration of cats could create health problems from potentially rabid animals and infections from fecal coliform bacteria in cat feces.
I understand her love and trying to take care of the cats, he said, but there has to be another way to resolve the problem.
Additionally, he said that feeding feral cats encourages them to stay in the area and multiply.
Gosnell said the police department gets calls about feral cats from a neighborhood near one of Dempseys feeding stations.
Jon Bonsignor, president of Sav-R-Cats in Surfside Beach, believes theres a better way, too. He is outraged that city officials might threaten Dempsey with jail, but at the same time says he appreciates the dilemma of the police.
Were not there to fight with the police, he said. Were there to cooperate. We know they have a tough job.
He said Sav-R-Cats, a cat rescue and adoption group, has worked with the city of Myrtle Beach on the feral cat problem and hoped a similar solution could be worked out with Conway.
He said the group tried to raise money for Dempseys defense but could only pull together $250. Hes still hoping others will contribute, and said those who want to should call him at 385-3963 or Linda Shay at 333-0404.
Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said the city looks at feral cats as part of natures chain and that they serve a positive purpose by hunting mice, rats and other animals that also could pose problems for humans. He said the city doesnt hassle people who feed feral cats, but added that it is only allowed in commercial areas.
He said there is an understanding that feral cats that are being fed are to be captured and neutered or spayed. Hes not sure that Sav-R-Cats has enough money to pay for all cats that need to be neutered or spayed.
It is probably time to have another conversation, Kruea said.
He said the city has not paid for the spaying or neutering as yet, but indicated it could be part of the conversation.
As for Dempsey, she said she has 38 places around Conway where she feeds feral cats daily. She said shed like to capture those she can and take them to a no-kill shelter in Murrells Inlet where she said she volunteers. But the answering message at the shelter said there is currently no more room for cats.
Dempsey said she began her quest 15 years ago when she saw some starving cats and was directed by God to go to the store and buy food for them. Shes not missed a day since, she said.
She also feeds dogs and ducks, she said, adding that the feedings take all her money and that and the volunteer work takes all her time. She said its a privilege to be able to do what God directed her to do.
I have no idle time, she said. I want no idle time.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.