A Royalton man is being prosecuted on a charge of aggravated animal cruelty after he reportedly admitted to shooting a caged cat on March 1.

Timothy VanBuren, 73, of Riddle Road, is accused of shooting and killing a caged male cat, which is a Class E felony in New York state. The incident was brought to the attention of the Niagara County SPCA by Sally Merritt-Braciak from Cat-by-Cat Inc, an organization that’s involved with Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Release measures for community cats.

In late February, Cat-by-Cat was conducting trapping work at a property on Riddle Road belonging to Judy Wagner, in an attempt to catch three stray cats. Wagner had signed a consent form, and Merritt-Braciak had trapped a female cat earlier which was taken to be spayed and vaccinated. She left some traps with Wagner in order to catch the remaining cats.

Merritt-Braciak was contacted on March 1 by one of her volunteers, who said they were worried that something might have been done to the remaining cats on the property. Merritt-Braciak said she called Wagner to ask if anything had happened, and said Wagner replied that a tenant of hers had caught a cat in one of the cages, and that she had asked the tenant to shoot the cat. The tenant was later confirmed to be VanBuren.

“I took this personally because this happened on my watch,” Merritt-Braciak said in an interview. “That is something I’m learning to work through. I never dreamed in a million years I’d have to deal with this.”

Merritt-Braciak passed on the information to the Niagara County SPCA, which sent its own investigator to look into it. SPCA humane officer Eric Salisbury questioned Wagner and VanBuren, and stated that VanBuren confessed to shooting the cat in the head, while it was in the cage that was owned by Cat-by-Cat.

“I don’t believe that he believed he did anything wrong,” Salisbury said in an interview with the Union-Sun & Journal. “I think he believed that because they were in the country that they could just take care of nuisance animals on their own, which is totally false. I think that’s why he admitted it from the get-go, and he found out the hard way by getting a felony charge.”

Executive Director Amy Lewis said the SPCA aided in trapping the remaining cat on the property and transferred her to Cat-by-Cat. They posthumously named the deceased cat Joaquin, she added.

Lewis later posted information about the incident on the Niagara SPCA Facebook page.

“I wanted people to be somewhat outraged that this man shot an innocent trapped animal, and I found that appalling, and wanted the public to know that that’s not acceptable, it’s illegal, and if you do it and you’re caught, we will charge you,” she said.

VanBuren was issued an appearance ticket for aggravated animal cruelty and appeared in Royalton town court on March 17. The case was adjourned to April 21.

Merritt-Braciak said she and some of her colleagues attempted to witness the March 17 appearance after being told they were allowed as long as they wore masks, but they were turned away by court security which claimed anyone not involved in the proceedings was forbidden from entering due to Covid restrictions. This reporter also was turned away at town court ahead of VanBuren's first appearance.

Neither VanBuren nor Wagner could be reached to comment on the case.

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