Animal officer had been on job two-years before incident


300-TAILS-THE-CATWhen Tara Fillare called the St Johns County Animal Control to report that a Bozard Ford employee had discovered an amazing cat hiding in the engine compartment of a vehicle that had been turned in at their dealership. She never thought her feeling of excitement — would turn to tragedy, in less than 24-hours.

Historic City News learned that Trails, Chelsea Santoro’s cat of four years, had gone missing on Monday.

According to Santoro, who lives in St Augustine, Trails, an inside cat, never used to wander off. However, while work was being done inside her home, Tails walked away through an open door and ended up in the engine of her neighbor’s rental car.

Somehow, Trails survived the 12-mile trip to Bozard Ford, inside the engine compartment, when the neighbor returned the vehicle.

Photographs of Trails, a box, and bedding assembled by Bozard employees, portrayed a lucky cat who was the picture of perfect health.

Fillare, believing she was taking Trails to the one place he would be safe, transported the cat to the St Johns County Animal Control and Pet Center at about 4:30 p.m. trusting that the owner and pet could be reunited — the way the system is supposed to work.

Instead, 37-year-old Animal Control Officer, Christopher Ellis, misclassified Trails as a stray, “not-sterilized”, male cat, with no collar or microchip.

Santoro says Trails was no “feral” cat. And further, Trails was well fed, of healthy appearance, and had been both neutered and declawed. Those signs should have alerted Ellis, who has been an employee of the county for the last two years, that someone was taking care of this cat as a pet.

For some unknown reason, that is currently under investigation, Ellis euthanized the cat after housing him at the shelter for only one hour. That action has outraged Santoro, devastated her children, and landed Ellis on administrative leave while the investigation proceeds.

Communications Manager, Michael Ryan, issued the following statement:

“Our initial inquiry into this incident indicates that the county’s policies and procedures were not followed, and there was no justification for the actions that occurred. The issue is currently under investigation and the employee in question has been placed on administrative leave. Appropriate measures will be taken to prevent this from occurring again. The loss of a pet under any circumstances is tragic and our condolences are extended to the family.”

Santoro said she is hoping to raise public awareness to the importance of acting quickly when a pet goes missing and the horrific consequences when you don’t act quickly enough.