A hundred cats died in a fire at the San Jose home of Carole Miller, president and co-founder of the network, on July 16. She narrowly escaped with her life. Firefighters found her huddled with her dog in a screened, outdoor patio she had created for the many cats she said she was trying to save. Only seven survived the blaze, according to animal-control officials.
The presence of so many animals in one home shocked members of the local cat-rescue community. Some former network members accused Miller of animal cruelty and of being a hoarder, and they have pushed for charges to be filed against her. Miller has denied the accusations, saying that animal-control officers routinely inspected her residence.
The former members approached Stanford's provost to force a change in the nonprofit's leadership or to terminate the group and bring in another organization, they said.
An ouster would end a 24-year relationship between the university and the cat network, which was founded in 1989 by campus employees to save an estimated 1,500 feral cats roaming the campus. At the time, university officials planned to trap and euthanize the sick and starving cats, but the Stanford Cat Network had the animals spayed and neutered and took up their feeding and care. The cat population has since dwindled to between 35 and 50 animals through adoption and attrition, and the network became a nationwide model for no-kill programs for homeless cats.
Last Friday university officials hinted they were about to sever the contract with the nonprofit and bring in a replacement. But network board members, under new leadership, have asked for a chance to be heard, said Lisa Lapin, associate vice president for university communications.
"We were poised to take action, but we do feel obligated to have a conversation with them," she said. A resolution won't be made until sometime after Labor Day due to vacations by key decision makers, she added.
Miller was apparently replaced last week, though during an Aug. 9 phone interview she denied she had stepped down.
"No one has resigned," she said.
Kirk Gilmore, the new president, said he talked with Miller and they agreed that her resignation would be best for all concerned, he said.
"She has submitted her formal resignation, and it was agreed by the board to accept her resignation. In the future, Carole will not be associated with the SCN board in any capacity. Her SCN duties will be primarily field work where feeding will be her main responsibility," Gilmore wrote in a letter to the Stanford Cat Network community on Aug. 12.
A second long-term board member, Marjorie Weesner, will be formally resigning once her replacement has been identified and agreed upon by the current board, Gilmore said. She did not return a request for comment.
Gilmore, an engineering physicist at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, said he hopes the changes will encourage the university to retain the nonprofit. The university "has to protect their high-level image. We want to do whatever we can to protect that as well," he said. The board also seeks to develop a good relationship with the community, he added.
He acknowledged the resignation would be difficult for Miller.
"It's a pretty major change. The cats are her life. She's been there since day one. So much has happened to Carole. My heart goes out to her. But to heal properly emotionally and psychologically from the fire and her cats and the political upheaval, this is the right thing for her to do; to distance herself from the board and let us do what we do — to do what's best for the cats," he said.
He added that her "heart is in the right place."
San Jose Animal Care and Services has been investigating Miller and was planning to submit the case this week to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office for review, said Capt. Jay Terrado of field-services operations.
"It will be up to the DA what charges to file if they decide to take the case," he said in an email on Monday.
San Jose Animal Care has come under fire by the cat-rescue community for allowing Miller to keep the cats at her home. The agency was working with Miller to reduce the population, a spokeswoman said in July. The home was last inspected in 2012 and was deemed to be clean at that time.