COLUMBIA — Every Monday for the past 10 weeks, Susan Kohler has given the Columbia/Boone County Animal Control a check for $1,995.
Kohler, 52, has been dropping off weekly checks for the care of her 33 felines — 29 cats and four newborn kittens — since June 28, about a week after she was charged with animal cruelty and keeping too many animals within city limits.
Animal Control discovered Kohler with 33 cats, four of them dead, in a room at the Motel 6 on I-70 Drive Southeast. Kohler wasn't living with the cats at the time of her arrest.
Animal Control initially reported that Kohler had 32 cats, four of them dead, in the room. But as Animal Control workers cataloged and named the animals, Animal Control supervisor Molly Aust said, they found there were actually 29 live cats in addition to the four dead animals.
She pleaded not guilty to the municipal charges against her. Her trial is scheduled for Nov. 17.
The sum Kohler has been paying each week covers cage fees. Aust confirmed the cats are housed at the Central Missouri Humane Society in 19 cages, and each cage is rented at $15 per night.
"Some of them are doubled up and get along real well," Aust said.
All but two are spayed or neutered, she said.
So far, Kohler has paid $19,995 for the upkeep of her cats, Aust said. With her trial more than six weeks away, Kohler’s cost to house the animals — and maintain some hope of getting them back — could reach almost $42,000.
Kohler is also paying for the cats' veterinary care as needed, Aust said.
Many of the cats, almost all Oriental shorthairs, were in poor health when Animal Control took them into custody.
"There was lots of illness there, but they’re all healthy now," Aust said.
The incident drew media attention over the summer, and some of it upset Kohler, her attorney, Steve Wilson, said.
"The implication was that she wasn't paying for her pets’ veterinary care and that her cats were taking up cages that could be used for other animals," Wilson said. "We offered to acquire as many cages as would be needed, and they have received full medical treatment. This is not being put on the city."
Kohler was unavailable for comment.
In the weeks leading up to her trial, Kohler has the option to request a hearing with Stephanie Browning, director of the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, to regain custody of her animals. It's up to Browning to make a decision after meeting with Kohler and her attorney and inspecting the animals' intended home.
"It would be up to Ms. Kohler to prove to me that the threat against her animals is gone," Browning said. "How? I don’t know. What would be different?"
Browning hasn't received the request, but Wilson said he plans to submit it in the next few weeks.
"Of course, we will have to meet about what led to these circumstances. Someone who is functioning normally," Wilson said, with a pause, "it wouldn’t get this far."