CHICAGO — Boots, an 11-year-old cat from Berwyn, Ill., 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 prepared more than 20 years ago, she stipulated that any 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 had no human survivors.
So on Monday, Fifth Third asked a Cook County probate court to set aside that provision of Dvorak’s 1988 will, because 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 told 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, Judge Susan Coleman allowed Fifth Third to find more humane arrangements for Boots.
Fifth Third trust associate Katherine Goggin found a no-kill shelter that would accept Boots. Many shelters do not accept older cats, said senior estate specialist Josephine di Cesare.
Cats are Purrsons Too 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 death row for months.
Dvorak died Dec. 24 of sepsis and pneumonia, according to her death certificate.
Since then, former neighbors Wayne and Sandra Buturusis have been feeding Boots in the home where Dvorak lived before moving into ta 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.