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Aug. 23, 1989  Mississauga News  -   Editorial

Her only crime is compassion

 by Albert Atkins

"I do not welcome the publicity I've been getting.  I've always lived quietly and prefer it that way.  Why do I have to be at the centre of, so much controversy?  I have no bone to pick, with anybody.  I'd just like to be left alone.  Most of all, I'd like to see continued the quality of care of homeless and unwanted animals that only private shelters can provide.   No institution can do for these poor creatures what private shelters can do."

So says Mrs. Lois Stevens, whose concern for vagrant cats has landed her in a bucket of trouble with Mississauga's city hall.

Our city council has decided that, come what may, the Stevens non-profit cat shelter must go.  Mrs. Stevens has been ordered to vacate, no later than October 31, the house she has occupied peacefully for 10 years.

Why the hurry?  Does Mississauga have an urgent need of this property for a better use?   No.  Is a plan for an alternative use in the works?   No.   Does the Stevens cat shelter, performing a praiseworthy and much-needed public service -at no cost to the taxpayers of this community - constitute a public nuisance? Again, no.

The City-owned house stands on City-owned parkland, far removed from the crowded residential environment most of us share.   It's the ideal location for such a shelter and an attractive adjunct to the park.

During my first visit there, recently, I had difficulty grasping that it is indeed a cat sanctuary.   No messes, no odors, no rowdy mobs of yowling de-micers gathering round for tea and crumpets.  The only disturbing thing I saw was a real live deer who gazed at me with unabashed trust and affection.

So what's the problem, eh?

 If Lois Stevens were as innocent of the qualities of mercy and compassion as our city council shown itself to be lately, she  would not have been plunged, against her  will, into conflict with local politicians.  She stands accused of sheltering stray, unwanted and feral cats in violation of a municipal by-law which, like others of its kind, remains unenforced in the absence of complaint.

Ironically, Mrs. Stevens fell out of step with city hall because of praise, not complaint.  Applause for her cat shelter (costs of which are paid out of her own pocket) came to the attention of a high official of the Mississauga branch of the Ontario Humane Society.  He inspected the shelter.  Impressed by what he found, he innocently shared with others his enthusiasm for it.

Somewhere along the line the good news fell upon stony ground.  The laudatory breeze fanning Lois Stevens and her shelter brought a typical by-the-book response from our city's governing body.  She was ordered to shuffle off by October 31.

The shelter is in Ward 6, Councillor David Culham's turf.   Mr. Culham went to bat for Mrs. Stevens and ran afoul of Mayor Hazel McCallion, who at one point angrily accused him of going over her head to the press with the issue.  Since then, any hope of persuading a majority on the city council to be flexible toward the Stevens operation has been dashed on the immovable rock of mind-set.

Whether or not Councillor Culham is guilty of ruffling the feathers of our chief magistrate, it is obvious to me that the real issue - private shelters for homeless and unwanted animals - is being fogged from view by a smoke screen of legal and procedural technicalities thrown up to justify the action against Mrs. Stevens.

I for one see a connection between miffed mayoral feelings and our city council's denial of ordinary mercy and compassion to a citizen whose only crime is that she selflessly relieves our overburdened animal control facilities of the harsh, cruel and expensive necessity of pursuing, capturing and slaughtering healthy but unwanted cats.

It will make a difference!
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