Accused cat euthanizer Paul Zhang didn’t appear in court on Wednesday, but the case is not closed.
Paul Zhang, the former Greenacres man accused of wrongly euthanizing so-called “community cats,” was a no-show in court Wednesday morning. He could now face an arrest warrant.
But the dozen people who sat patiently while waiting for a chance to speak out and confront Zhang in Courtroom 1 at the South County Courthouse left disappointed.
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Those like Penny Pshonick had expected the opportunity to face the accused cat euthanizer. But he did not appear and a court official could not reach him by phone.
"[I was] hoping to see him and [have him] pay for what he’s done to these beautiful animals that were loving, caring and trusted us humans. They were the sweetest cats," Pshonick said.
The judge overseeing the case said Zhang’s absence doesn’t mean Pshonick and others lost their chance to confront Zhang.
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The court will instead send another notice to what is likely Zhang’s new address in Virginia. If he still doesn’t appear in court, a bench warrant will be issued for his arrest.
"Then we will get some teeth into the matter," Judge Paul Damico said.
Zhang faces a civil trial for allegedly having 26 cats and one dog euthanized, telling their caretakers that he would be transporting the animals to a sanctuary in Stuart or Orlando. Only there was no sanctuary.
Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control issued Zhang four civil citations for failing to provide proper animal care and one citation for interfering with enforcement.
Some of the cats were what are called "community cats," free-roaming felines that have gone through the trap-neuter-vaccinate-return process and are cared for by a designated volunteer. Palm Beach County has between 140,000 and 200,000 community cats.
The others, including an 8-year-old Chihuahua named Daisy, belonged to a woman who was under the impression that Zhang was taking the animals to a sanctuary. Before he left New York in 2012, Zhang had community cats under his care euthanized when he couldn’t find anyone to take over his colonies.
"I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, your honor," said Animal Care and Control Sgt. Adam Moulton. "It’s sickening and very upsetting."
Witnesses called in this case, however, didn’t testify Wednesday because Zhang wasn’t there.
Moulton said a notice was sent to Zhang’s Greenacres address, and he cited a Palm Beach Post article in which Zhang said he wasn’t certain whether he’d make the court date.
But because county records show Zhang sold his condo in Greenacres, Damico said another hearing date would be sent to Zhang’s apparent Virginia address. Damico gave Zhang the benefit of the doubt that he might not have officially known about the court date.
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Pshonick cared for several colonies of community cats in Boynton Beach. Tears welled in her eyes as she recalled the names of those that went missing. Calvin, Sammy, Sunshine.
"It’s very upsetting that we put all these years of love and kindness into them, and they love us unconditionally. They were hurt by the hands that they thought [they could] trust in," she said.
Animal Care and Control Director Dianne Sauve said she wasn’t surprised by Zhang’s absence, but applauded Damico for indicating "he’s not going to let this go."
In the meantime, Sauve said Moulton would reach out to the animal care department in Virginia to warn them about Zhang.
"The good news is that this isn’t ending. It’s following him to Virginia," Sauve said.