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‘It makes you wonder what’s really going on’

Tensions rise over number of cats woman possesses

 

HARTLAND — The number of cats at a Hartland home has sparked contention in the community, legal action and accusations of inappropriate requests by local officials.

Resident Kim Jameson is accusing the city of improperly limiting the number of cats she can have in her home.

Jameson, who said she had 20 cats at her residence in early 2017, said she got rid of half her cats in the spring of that year.

She said her cats are spayed and neutered and pose no threat to the community.

“For the last seven months, my cats have been inside,” she said.

City officials claim an excess number of cats caused by Jameson’s leading them to the community by feeding them has caused an extraordinary amount of cat feces to be spread across a local park that children frequent, an accusation Jameson denies.

“My cats don’t go to the park,” she said.

Mama is one of 10 cats registered as an emotional support animal at the Hartland residence, according to Jameson. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Hartland City Councilor Linda Pederson said Friday that Jameson puts raw food on private property.

“I have to wear latex gloves to weed or anything, because of those cats,” she said.

Pederson expressed concern about skunks and other animals she said have come to the community because of Jameson feeding cats.

“Our kids walk down those streets,” Pederson said. “We’re sick of it. We’ve got animals that they have caught less than 10 feet from Main Street.”

Jameson said she was informed by Humane Society of Freeborn County volunteer Dee Amberg that feces Amberg found at the park was from a dog.

Jameson said the city is using her to remove cats from the community and accused Mayor Deb Flatness — an Albert Lea police detective — of targeting her.

One of Kim Jameson’s cats is seen through a pet door. Jameson has a number of pet doors around her house and garage in Hartland. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“It is almost (1 1/2 years) now … that she has harassed me, targeted me,” she said. “It is continual.”

She said she was informed in February 2017 that the Humane Society of Freeborn County was coming to her house to remove all but two cats from her house.

“My heart drops,” she said. “I’ve done this half my life, rescued cats.”

Jameson said she then hired a lawyer and filed a civil lawsuit against the city.

She said she signed an agreement in June 2017 that the 10 cats she had could be grandfathered into a maximum two-cat requirement as long as she erected a fence and her cats were spayed and neutered. Jameson said she did not want to sign the agreement, but was informed by her lawyer that he would remove himself from the case if she did not reach the agreement.

Jameson said she has six or seven litter boxes throughout her home. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“I was completely coerced,” she said.

The city of Hartland has since filed a lawsuit against Jameson for not following the agreement.  A June 18 hearing date is scheduled for summary judgment against Jameson for violating the agreement.

Jameson said she did not follow the agreement because fence requirements were established after the agreement and the city refused her fence request and did not follow through on allowing her to have 10 cats.

“They’re breaking the settlement, because I was more than willing to do all of this,” she said.

Licky, one of Jameson’s 10 cats registered as emotional support animals, sits in a bathroom sink — one of her favorite spots, according to Jameson. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Flatness said the city refused her request for a 4-foot chain link fence because it would not have kept feral cats in her yard.

Pederson said Jameson violated the agreement by continuing to feed cats throughout the community.

She said Jameson “never abided by any of it, so automatically down to two cats.”

“She has a problem,” Pederson said. “She does. And we know that. But we still gotta deal with her.”

According to Pederson, 144 cat dishes were removed in a 1 1/2-week stretch throughout the community, and she rejected Jameson’s claim that the city’s ordinance regarding cats was not real.

A feral cat hides behind ductwork in Jameson’s basement. She said there are feral cats she will feed at her home and who will hang around or in her house if the weather is bad, but none of them will let her touch them. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“We’ve had this ordinance forever,” Pederson said.

Jameson disputed accusations that her actions have caused people to leave the community.

“People are not moving out of this town because of me,” she said. “My cats stay in my yard. I have a huge yard.”

Jameson and Amberg said the city was inappropriately trapping cats. Amberg called for Flatness and the Hartland City Council to be investigated because of cat trapping.

“This mayor and this city council in this town really need to be investigated,” Amberg said.

She said law enforcement, the Department of Natural Resources and animal control entities are the only groups that are legally allowed to trap cats.

Lucy is one of 10 cats Jameson said live at her Hartland home. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Amberg said cats in Hartland began disappearing last July, and though the city’s ordinance states the animals are being taken to the American Humane Society in Golden Valley, the organization does not have records of cats arriving.

“People need to be asking these people just what are you doing down there, especially when clearly state statutes have been broken,” Amberg said. 

“I’m just wondering where are all these cats then, because it seems like every time that somebody tells me something, I go to check it out and I find out that it’s not true, and it’s against the law to trap people’s pets. The law has been broken.”

Flatness denied the city or its employees trapped cats but admitted suggesting residents live trap animals that were causing damage after complaints were made of cats damaging private property and destroying gardens, as well as there being fecal matter in flower beds, gravel driveways and other places.

Jameson said she has six or seven litter boxes throughout her home. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“We suggested people live trap the animals that were causing the problem on his or her own property,” she said. “No traps were placed on city property. The city purchased a few traps and lent them out to some of the citizens who requested them for a brief period of time.”

Flatness said the traps have since been returned and anyone still trapping purchased the trap.

“The citizens were and are tasked with subsequently dealing with whatever animal was caught in the trap, be it opossums, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, rats, cats or whatever,” she said. “We have no animal control facility to house or care for animals.”

Sneakers is one of 10 cats Jameson said live at her Hartland home. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Sheriff’s Office declines enforcement

Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag said though Hartland is in the Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction, it does not have the time or personnel to address the issue, though such situations could allow for a charge of permitting a public nuisance.

Flatness said following multiple complaints by citizens referencing Jameson’s cats and her placing food throughout the community to attract cats, a Freeborn County deputy documented the complaints and requested charges of misdemeanor public nuisance.

“She was found guilty,” Flatness said. “However, complaints of continued same activity by Jameson were not followed up.”

Flatness reportedly informed Freitag that if the city received the cats, the Humane Society of Freeborn County would lend them pet transporters. Freitag said his wife, Cheryl Freitag, a Humane Society volunteer, later told him that was not true.

The top floor of Jameson’s home is mainly for her cats to “hangout” in, she said. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Freitag said Flatness told him if the city did not receive pet porters, it could get cardboard boxes, load the cats and take them outside the community. She reportedly said her son, who works for an excavation company, could dig a trench, line the boxes with cats and have them shot by people shooting at the boxes. If the guns were not available, Flatness reportedly said the bucket of the excavator could be used to kill the cats.

“We want nothing to do with this,” Freitag said. “But I said, ‘If you do that, I will charge you.’”

Freitag said he told Flatness that if the cats were killed, it would likely make international headlines.

“She wasn’t concerned,” Freitag said. “Wasn’t fazed — she thought I was talking about something that could never happen. That is the No. 1 reason, that as long as she’s mayor, if she has anything to do with city government up there, we will have nothing to do with helping beyond what we’ve already done.

Rolo, one of Jameson’s 10 cats registered as emotional support animals, lays in a cat bed in Jameson’s basement. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“I don’t want to be involved in anything with Deb Flatness.”

Flatness said the city has addressed the “very long, ongoing problem of animal hoarding in the most legal and ethical manner available to us.”

“It’s interesting to me that the sheriff continually repeats selected portions, for the most negative impact, referring only to that one conversation from nearly two years ago and ignores everything discussed — proactive and positive — that has taken place since then.”

Flatness said “during the course of a single day, after learning that there was no facility in southern Minnesota willing to accept cats seized via search warrant, numerous options for the cats, including the most humane euthanization of the many feral cats, were discussed amongst law enforcement personnel during a single conversation at the law enforcement center.”

Jameson holds Dusty, one of 10 cats she said are registered as emotional support animals. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“During that conversation, I was seeking advice and direction from other law enforcement who had knowledge and experience with this type of matter,” she said. “Shortly thereafter, on the same day — August 2016, I believe — I learned of the statewide humane society and got Agent (Keith Streff’s) telephone number from one of the sheriff’s deputies.

“I contacted Agent Streff that same afternoon, requesting their assistance, as that was clearly the most humane option available to us. The sheriff was made aware of that directly thereafter.”

Freitag said he has told Albert Lea officials about Flatness’ comments.

“If you guys are going to be doing this, I think there is a possibility that Deb would execute these cats in an inhumane way,” he said. “Statute allows a municipality to put cats down the right way, according to law.

Jameson said she has 10 cats registered as emotional support animals. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“Deb doesn’t want to do that. She wants everything done right now.”

Freitag expressed concern that though Albert Lea would only execute search warrants, it still could face repercussions from any inappropriate action taken by the city of Hartland.

“People like to bash cops left and right … and no matter what, if Deb were to do something like this, with the pets that the PD seized lawfully with a search warrant, the public is going to hook the PD in with this,” he said.

Some of the food Jameson leaves out for her cats as well as feral cats and her neighbor’s cat sits in her garage, where the cats can access it through pet doors between the garage and the house and between the back and front yards and the garage. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Tension continues

Pederson said Albert Lea would likely only need to enforce ordinances one or two times a year.

“We just don’t know what to do anymore,” Pederson said. “We have tried everything, everywhere. We just can’t get any help.”

Amberg said the city of Hartland refused to trap, neuter and release cats or use her to remove cats for free.

“It makes you wonder what’s really going on,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you take a free offer of a free service from somebody who’s trained?”

A Change.org petition asking about the disappearance of Hartland cats has reportedly garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.

Amberg said though the city of Hartland has issues with Jameson, they cannot take her cats away.

Jameson holds Spooky, one of 10 cats she said are registered as emotional support animals. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

“Kim has a very big heart,” she said. “I think that Kim does overstep the boundaries, but I also believe that you can work with people, and that’s what you have to do.”

Amberg said the city needs to have a professional organization come in, assess how many cats are at Jameson’s residence, spay, neuter and vaccinate them and keep them there because they will have assurance they will not have kittens.

Amberg said getting rid of Jameson’s cats could be a slippery slope.

“I hope that this really gets people’s attention, and that people are really alarmed by this and find this to be not a good way to handle our cat issues, or dog issues, or whatever you might have,” she said.

The top floor of Jameson’s home is mainly for her cats to “hangout” in, she said. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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