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Larry Ottoviani officially lost his job after seven years with the 7Up Bottling Company for doing the one thing that helped him counteract the anxiety in his personal life.
That one thing was feeding hungry cats.
“I love cats and don’t like to see them go hungry,” Ottoviania said. “When I’m feeding cats I can forget everything else for awhile.”
Ottoviani had been warned several times by his supervisor not to feed the cats. The official termination notice dated Jan. 4, 2012, stated that Ottoviani violated his “last chance agreement not to feed the cats on company time and/or company property.”
While Ottoviani does not deny feeding cats, he denied doing so during company time and on company property.
What was it that Ottoviani felt a need to momentarily forget about, even if it meant risking his job?
He is the father of a dependent adult child with severe physical disabilities and has also been coping with the effects of a debilitating illness afflicting his wife.
During the past year, his wife’s condition required several hospital visits as well as some extended stays. And after a tumor had been found on Ottoviani’s right kidney it required the surgical removal of that kidney.
Fortunately, job-related medical insurance covered most of the costs. Since the loss of his job, Ottoviani says he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. Even with COBRA, a health benefit provision that provides temporary continuation of health coverage at group rates, Ottoviania admits “I don’t know how I’m going to afford to pay the $400 monthly premiums.”
The 7 Up Bottling Company, a subdivision of the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group with headquarters in Plano, Texas is a beverage production facility governed by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.
According to company spokesperson Jason Genthner, “The FDA states that we must ensure that the grounds around the food plant under the control of the operator shall be kept in a condition that will protect against the contamination of food. Over the years we have seen an increased presence of feral cats on our property.”
Ottoviani believes that if it weren’t for him, at least in part, there would be far more cats on and around company premises.
In 2008, two local animal advocates, Linda Silva and Nicole Hutchinson, discovered Ottoviani feeding cats. When they saw how many cats there were, they immediately began working with Ottoviani on what is commonly referred to as TNR --Trap/Neuter/Return.
Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats maintains a website that identifies TNR as the humane, effective approach for feral cats. Feral cats are humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and ear tipped (the universal symbol of a neutered and vaccinated cat), and then returned to their outdoor home.
The organization states that another aspect of TNR is that kittens and other cats that can be socialized are not returned but instead adopted into homes. These procedures stabilize colonies of cats since altered cats no longer produce kittens.
Hutchinson enlisted volunteers from the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) to sweep and clean up shards of broken glass in an unused area adjacent to the 7Up Bottling Company before launching an aggressive trapping program.
Hutchinson said that between August 2008 and December 2009, 71 cats were trapped and brought to the Sacramento SPCA which runs low-cost feral cat clinics on the first and third Sundays of every month.
The costs for altering the cats were paid by donations from the volunteers and from and grant funds. Ottoviani took home some of the tame cats and kittens, later finding homes for them. He kept the ones he couldn’t find homes for.
In 2006, there was a similar cat feeding incident involving a farmhand employed at the Cornell University Animal Science Teaching and Research Center in
John Beck was fired for feeding cats on the premises according to a story posted on the Best Friend Animal Sanctuary Network webpage. Beck filed a 20 million dollar lawsuit against Cornell University, which then filed a motion to have the lawsuit thrown out.
Beck admitted that his lawsuit was a long shot and that it was filed “for the principle of the thing.”
“How do you fire somebody for feeding cats?” Beck asked.
Ottoviani still believes he did the right thing. “I acted according to my conscience”, he said.
Linda Silva agrees. “Larry didn’t just feed the cats”, she said, “He went beyond the call of duty and took responsible action. It’s unfortunate that this would lead to the loss of his job.”
Editor's note: Corrections have been made to this article after publishing.