Saturday, 7 April 2012

Though there was a will, Fifth Third found a way to save Boots


By Becky Yerak
Tribune reporter

April 4 2012, 3:28 PM CDT

Boots, an 11-year-old cat from Berwyn, has narrowly avoided using up
the last of her nine lives, thanks to trust officers at Fifth Third
Bank who resisted carrying out a death sentence stipulated in the will
of the cat's owner.

Georgia Lee Dvorak died recently at age 76. In a will she drew up more
than 20 years ago, she stated that any cat or cats that she owned at
the time of her death be euthanized “in a painless, peaceful manner”
by a veterinarian’s lethal injection.

But trust officers at Fifth Third Bank, which was appointed to manage
Dvorak’s estate, were squeamish about carrying out those terms on
Boots. Dvorak was not survived by any relatives.

So on Monday, Fifth Third asked a Cook County probate court to set
aside that provision of Dvorak’s 1988 will as it had found a shelter
to take Boots.

“It would violate public policy to euthanize a healthy housecat where
an appropriate shelter has been identified,” lawyers from Spain Spain
& Varnet plead to the court on behalf of Fifth Third.

Fifth Third’s lawyers pointed out that Dvorak asked that most of her
estate -– estimated at nearly $1.4 million -- go to animal-related
causes. That was evidence of her commitment to the humane treatment of
animals, they said.

The 12 charities mentioned in her 1988 will include the Animal Legal
Defense Fund, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Defenders of Wild Life, Nature
Conservancy, Animal Protective Institute, Chicago’s Anti-Cruelty
Society, Chicago’s Animal Welfare League, the Humane Society of the
United States and the World Wildlife Fund.

The lawyers for Fifth Third also cited precedents from court cases
elsewhere, as they said no Illinois court had ruled on the issue
before.

A Pennsylvania court invalidated the provisions of a will directing
that any dog that a person might have at the time of their death be
destroyed. The person in that case left behind two Irish setters, but,
after hearing evidence of the deceased’s affinity for his dogs, that
provision of the will was void, partly because it was “against the
public policy” of Pennsylvania.

A Vermont court ruled similarly over a deceased resident’s horses, and
a Canadian court did likewise when a deceased individual asked that
his horses be "shot by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and then
burned."

On Monday in a Cook County probate court, Judge Susan Coleman allowed
Fifth Third to find more humane arrangements for Boots.

Fifth Third trust associate Katherine Goggin did the legwork in
finding a no-kill shelter that would accept Boots. Many shelters said
they’re not accepting senior cats at this time, said senior estate
specialist Josephine di Cesare.

Cats are Purrsons Too has agreed to care for Boots for the remainder
of her life but asked for a $2,000 endowment.

Judge Coleman agreed to allow $1,000 from Dvorak’s estate go toward
the endowment, and Fifth Third agreed to forego fees of $1,000 to
bring the endowment to $2,000. Attending the court proceeding to
ensure everything went smoothly was Jeffrey Schmidt, Fifth Third
director of personal trust, who has written about how people can care
for their pets after they die.

Boots had been on kitty death row for months.

Dvorak died Dec. 24 of sepsis and pneumonia, according to her death
certificate. For the last month of her life, she lived at a Burbank
nursing home and died in an Oak Lawn hospital, the death certificate
showed.

Since then, former neighbors Wayne and Sandra Buturusis have been
feeding Boots in the Berwyn home where Dvorak lived before moving into
the Burbank nursing home. Probate court records included an affidavit
from Wayne Buturusis, who was her neighbor for 10 years. He stated
that he believed that Dvorak would have preferred trying to find Boots
a suitable home rather than euthanize her.

In his affidavit, Buturusis described Boots as spayed and in good
health. “She is an indoor cat who is very playful and loves
attention,” he said in his affidavit.

He said Boots had been a stray that Dvorak rescued 18 months before she 
died.

“Boots’ prior owners reportedly threw her down stairs and kept her in
a locked closet for days at a time with no food, water or litter box,”
Buturusis told the court. He recalled that Dvorak earlier had two
cats: one lived to be 19, but a second, named Sarah, died at age 3 of
kidney failure despite Dvorak spending “significant sums of money
caring” for the cat.

After Sarah died, Dvorak became “very depressed” and “often spoke of
suicide,” Buturusis said in his affidavit. But after she took in
Boots, Dvorak’s mood improved and she stopped mentioning suicide.

Boots followed Dvorak everywhere and slept in her bed, he said.

Buturusis surmised that Dvorak would have rather seen Boots euthanized
than become adopted by another abusive owner. But Dvorak also would
likely prefer that Fifth Third find Boots a suitable home rather than
euthanize her, he wrote. He said he and his wife have “severe”
allergies and therefore can’t adopt Boots themselves. He said Boots
would do best with an older owner, not a family with children.

Fifth Third said it learned of Boots’ plight in late February from
Nick Grapsas, public administrator for Cook County. His office’s
duties include administering estates for people who die with no next
of kin.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-cat-survives-death-sentence-in-owners-will-after-fifth-third-bank-intervenes-20120404,0,3578581.story

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