Birmingham, AL – Back in 2009, the board of directors of The Emergency Animal Rescue Service (TEARS) began noticing some irregularities with the rescue’s finances–including almost $70,000 in ATM withdrawals and a $20,000 check made out to “Cash.” When asked about the missing funds, TEARS founder and executive director Terra Cotromano claimed the monies went toward payroll. In November, the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations notified the board that audit notices were being ignored and a summer meeting had been missed. Further, apparently there were concerns about the condition of the animals at the TEARS compound, and at the end of 2009, the board removed Cotromano and asked her to vacate the trailer on the TEARS property in which she was residing. When investigators visited TEARS at the end of 2009 and beginning of this year, they found 200 animals living in what were described to be unsanitary, muddy, cold, and overcrowded conditions. Of particular concern were the 50+ cats–many suffering from upper respiratory infections–found in a trailer with no electricity, no running water, and no ventilation that was being heated by only three small portable heaters. Thursday, the 61-year-old Cotromano was arrested and charged with 20 counts of cruelty to animals.

I’ve been involved in animal rescue in various capacities for probably going on 15 years now, and high on my list of “Classes of People Who Generally Are Batshit Crazy” is animal rescue people. I know a few people working and/or volunteering in the field who are not only dedicated, compassionate, bright, thoughtful, and generous but also adept at dealing with other human beings. Overall, though, it has been my experience that if you put the “animal lovers” in a room with other “animal lovers,” within minutes there will be accusations of wrongdoing, condemnations of certain practices and procedures, charges of power maneuvering, and sometimes even some slamming of hands on tabletops and shrieking. Talk about “saving the animals!” and people lose their fucking minds.

It is this rather jaded perspective and personal observations of how unfortunately common it is for the animals to suffer when the pissing matches start that led me to review all the currently available reports on this case. The only document dealing even somewhat comprehensively with the conditions and circumstances leading to Cotromano’s arrest is the press release issued by the TEARS board, but it mainly raised more questions than answers: If the police, federal and state agencies, and the board had been getting complaints about the condition of the animals and possible mismanagement of funds as far back as 2008, what the hell took so long? Why did it take until January to “realize” that 50 sick cats were living in inappropriate conditions and that Cotromano’s repeated December requests for additional food was because 68 dogs were suffering from intestinal parasites? Is Terra Cotromano such a one-person force of nature that she was able to successfully block all attempts to understand what was happening at TEARS in terms of both funds and animal conditions? For what did she use that $90,000 in cash? And aren’t there going to be any charges related to that “missing” money?

As you can imagine, Cotromano says she is innocent and that her dismissal as executive director and the charges stem from power struggles with others. Fortunately for her, TEARS had signed a 99-year lease with her, so even though she was out of a job, she was still living in the trailer on the TEARS property as of her Thursday arrest.

The vast majority of the animals removed from the TEARS compound required medical treatment, but most are reported to have recovered.

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