The nonprofit Animal Advocates of Carroll County is offering a $100 reward for information leading to the identification of a man who may have injured several domestic cats with an animal trap after partial images of him were captured by cameras hidden on a New Windsor woman's private property.
Debbie Palmisano first noticed something was wrong in March, when one of the barn cats on her farm property at 2636 Marston Road went missing and never returned. He was an old cat, and deaf, she said, so that disappearance alone was not suspicious, but when another one of her barn cats showed up with puncture wounds on its left hind foot, she began to wonder.
"I took care of that pretty much, confined him, soaked his foot. Just after I released him outside after six weeks, another cat [named Oscar] came back, this one with a severe laceration on his foot," Palmisano said. "I took him to the vet, and they did surgery on his foot and put it in a cast. The second time we took the bandage off, it fell apart from an infection, so they had to take his leg off."
Palmisano began to suspect someone was injuring the cats and because they were older felines that did not wander far, she believed it could be taking place on her property. She set up to trail cameras on her property near the stream that she knew the cats favored as a watering hole and on June 30, they captured two images.
"One camera, a hand went over it, but there was an injured finger — like broken maybe — and it had a red line in it. Maybe stitches or a scar on his finger," Palmisano said. "The other picture was over his chest."
A close up of a person's chest, clothed in what appears to be a line patterned dress shirt. Inspecting the area afterward with a friend, Palmisano said there was a square area of depressed underbrush that appeared to be where someone had deliberately placed something in the ground.
"I think when he got in the cameras he was taking stuff away," she said. "He put his hand there to say, 'I see you camera.' "
Palmisano contacted Animal Advocates of Carroll County, a nonprofit that promotes the humane treatment of animals, whose founder and President Laura Shenk helped Palmisano speak with her neighbors, none of whom said they knew anything about anyone trapping animals in the area.
Trapping some animals during the specific trapping season is legal, according to Maryland Natural Resources Police Officer Richard Downey, who is now investigating the case, but if someone was setting traps on Palmisano's property during the time period when the animals were injured, it would have been out of season.
At the same time, Downey said that while the cats' injuries could have been caused by a trap, there was no evidence yet discovered that pointed to someone trapping.
"She is jumping the gun a bit on the illegal trapping," Downey said. "We have some photos from a camera of a gentleman that was over there. We are going to track this guy down and find out his side of the story."
Veterinarian Demetrios Chaconas of the Mount Airy Animal Hospital treated Oscar for the initial leg injury and said that while it certainly could have been caused by a trap, he was not familiar enough with animal traps to know with any certainty what caused the injury.
"It does seem suspicious, but they can get their leg caught in something and fall. ... It could have fallen out of a tree, and it's leg gotten caught up and taken the whole weight of the animal," Chaconas said. "I don't have enough experience to say for sure it was trap. Luckily I don't see many trap injuries. But it is very suspicious."
The vet bill for the three injured cats is just more than $2,000 thus far, according to Palmisano and Animal Advocates is accepting tax deductible donations to help over the costs. Palmisano is also hosting a yard sale on Saturday, Aug. 1, and will use the funds to pay for the cats' care, though she said she would really like the person who is responsible — if a person is responsible — to pay the bills.
The fact that someone was on Palmisano's property without her permission could be also considered trespassing, even if no trapping was taking place, but Downey said that he was not aware of any no trespassing signs posted on the property.
When it comes to legal trapping, Downey said there really are no rules or regulations for what a trapper should do if a domestic animal should get caught.
"It happens every year where a dog or a cat or some domestic animal may get in the trap, it does happen," he said. "Generally, if the trapper is legitimate and he is in area, often times I've had guys go to the neighbors and say, 'Hey, my traps are in this area, just to let you know."
Since the cameras did not capture a clear picture of the person's face, Animal Advocates is offering the $100 reward in hopes someone will know something about the person who walked on to Palmisano's property, and that that person will also know what happened to the cats, according to Shenk.
"It's a long shot, but we figure it's worth a shot if anybody can identify the person that set the traps," she said.
For more information on the yard sale or to donate an item, email Palmisano at email@example.com.
To provide Animal Advocates with information about the identity of the man seen in Palmisano's trail cameras, or to make a donation toward the veterinary bills for the injured felines, call Laura Shenk at 443-536-5533.