A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Of Cults, Crimes and Kittens

kitten-chatwin-colorado-city-071212Just down the road (about 50 miles) from where I live at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is Colorado City, a small Arizona/Utah town nestled up against the enormous cliffs that enclose Zion National Park. Most people had never heard of Colorado City until, a few years ago, Warren Jeffs was arrested for rape.

Jeffs was the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which practices polygamy and a host of related crimes against women and children.

Unfathomably, however, Colorado City keeps going, and if you go to one of the Wal-Mart stores in St George, about 30 miles away, you’ll see lots of the “sister wives” in their long dresses and plaited hair, each with an entire clan of children in tow.

Jeffs is in prison, but it’s said that he still rules the tribe. His followers are xenophobic. They believe Jeffs is a prophet, and the town authorities are more concerned with keeping their way of life intact than in stopping crimes against their children. When, for example, the national media showed up in the wake of Jeff’s arrest, they were greeted with stony silence. Most people simply walked away from reporters, either because they believe the outside world will be swallowed up by a biblical apocalypse or because they were afraid of the consequences of being seen talking to anyone.

Occasionally, people do dissent. Young people have been known to escape during the night and run to a pick-up spot a few miles away where a car will be waiting to take them to a new home.

There are also some adults who leave the church but still live in Colorado City. One of those is Andrew Chatwin.

Chatwin and his friend Isaac Wyler are outspoken critics of Jeffs and the FLDS, and this week he spoke to the press about what he believes was a reprisal against him by some of the townspeople two months ago. The story was picked up yesterday by the national media.

In May, Chatwin was constructing cement posts at Wyler’s home when he found a kitten buried up to his neck in concrete in one of the metal tubes. He cut the post, took as much of the concrete from the kitten as possible, and drove him to Best Friends. The veterinarians removed more concrete from the cat they now called Thomas. But Thomas died a few days later. The Salt Lake Tribune tells some of the details:

Chatwin was at Isaac’s house building a shelter for his horses. On May 31, he placed some metal pipe-like supports into wet concrete bases and left for the day about 3 p.m.

When he came back the next morning, Chatwin said he heard frantic mewing. After some investigation, he said he realized it was coming from one of the pipes. Someone had apparently walked up to the approximately 7-foot-high support and dropped a live kitten inside, where it had sunk/struggled into the wet concrete until it was buried up to the middle of its head.

Since concrete hardens quickly in the summer heat, “someone had to have been watching us work on this project the whole time. Someone had to have done it quickly right after I left,” Chatwin said.

Chatwin calls it a “hate message.” He told AZfamily:

“It is a pattern for the FLDS to treat apostates (people who have left the church) and non-members in this fashion. People are running over horses and breaking their backs, running horses off cliffs. It’s a pattern of hate towards people who are standing up.”

He told the Huffington Post that when he reported the crime to Colorado City sheriffs, they didn’t seem too concerned.

“[The officer] kind of chuckled and laughed a little bit and then he said that if it was up to him, he’d just throw dirt on [the cat],” Chatwin said. “And this is coming from a city marshal who’s a member of the FLDS Church.”

Town Marshal Curtis Cook wrote in his report that he interviewed several neighbors who did not witness the incident and didn’t know who would have inflicted the abuse. An attorney for the FLDS said the location does not indicate the abuse was connected to the church.

Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan, whose office recently began patrolling Colorado City, told the Associated Press that his deputies would pursue the case if they can develop leads. “We’re looking to see if there’s anything we can do about it because it’s absolutely cruel,” he said.

But it’s unlikely any leads will develop. And one can only assume more animals (and of course more children) will suffer as a result.

Here’s the video that was shot by Chatwin when he and Wyler were rescuing the kitten. It is graphic and distressing, and you may well prefer not to watch. It’s all that will be in my head from now on whenever I have to drive by Colorado City.