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2 cats are one too many for home in Shangri-La

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Rules are rules, says the community board president, even for an 80-year-old friend who feels her family has been torn apart.

For nine months, Vera West lived in bliss with her two kittens at a housing community called Shangri-La.

She laughed as Andy and Amie played hide-and-seek and watched them nuzzle on her handmade quilts.

It was just what the 80-year-old widow needed after the death of her cat Baby, she said.

Then the board of directors got a tip: West had two cats romping around her apartment. Shangri-La's Rule No. 18 clearly states no more than one cat per unit is allowed.

"I feel sorry for that woman, I really do, because she's old," said Birt Poff, board president. "But a rule is a rule, and a rule has got to be upheld."

One cat would have to go, the nine-member board told West in May.

"I'm telling you, I was so broken-hearted, I was just shaking," West said. "Think if you have to give up part of your family. They're what makes my life worth living."

There began a saga that has stretched over three months.

West's doctor, Cheryl Quigley, even got involved. Quigley wrote a note to board members saying that removing one cat would be harmful to her patient's health. It did no good.

West and her friend Ruth Mader passed around a petition to have the rule amended. A number of residents signed it, but nothing changed.

At one point, the board threatened to fine West $25 a day until one cat was ousted. Neighbors would pass by to make sure just one cat was perched on West's windowsill, West said.

She finally signed a notarized affidavit, saying that Andy would live across the street with Mader.

Board members thought that was the end of it, but West wants them to reconsider.

West will have to send a letter to the board asking for further consideration, Poff said. But he doubts it will work. The anti-two-cat sentiment in Shangri-La is too strong.

People who want to lift the ban on dogs are using West and her cats as somewhat of a test case. If the board lets her have two cats, others surely will want to have at least one dog, Poff said.

"She can't win," Poff said in an interview from his summer home in Michigan. "She can't win."

Shangri-La, off Rosery Road, resembles a complex of neat mobile homes. Like West, most who live there own their homes and elect a board of directors to enforce rules.

Poff said West knew having two cats was forbidden when she brought them to Shangri-La last year. To top it off, she went around telling neighbors how adorable the cats were, Poff said.

West, however, said the rule didn't enter her mind as she stood inside the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that day last August. She was looking to adopt just one kitten and saw Andy's outstretched paw creeping from the cage. She knew he was the one. But then she saw Amie, Andy's litter mate in that same cage. Who was she to break up a family?

West said she was widowed in 1970 and has a daughter and grandchildren in Ohio. "I stay home; I don't do anything," West said. "That's why I need my cats. I don't have anything else going."

Now that Andy is gone, Amie has no one to play with and has lost weight, West said. West can't sleep, she said. She visits Andy at Mader's house every day and has brought him back twice to play with Amie. West said she would move away from her home of 13 years, but living on Social Security, she can't afford it.

Quigley said West was so stressed over the cats, at one point, she incessantly scratched her skin and caused a rash. West was also having abdominal pain and sleepless nights, Quigley said, calling the board's handling of the matter "cruel."

West's friend Dale Ward said West was so depressed, he feared she might take her own life.

Others have broken rules before with less heat from the board, Ward said. "This is an 80-year-old woman," he said. "She's not hurting anyone."

Both Ward and Poff said the two cats stayed inside West's house. They are afraid of the outdoors, West said.

West said she is surprised at board members, some of whom she has known for years.

Poff said he considers West a good friend. But "you can't let personalities get involved in this thing."

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