Hanahan’s cat lady defends her role in caring for felines

Joyce Pozniko sees it as her duty to care for cats in need. Some of her Hanahan neighbors see it differently, saying that the felines have overrun the area and can cause damage and sanitary issues. Buy this photo

HANAHAN — Joyce Pozniko considers herself a friend to all felines, a self-appointed protector of cats in need, however they find their way to her door.

Pozniko, 60, gives them shelter, nurses them to health and ventures to secret spots around her neighborhood to feed strays and feral felines.

A deeply religious woman, Pozniko sees herself as doing God’s work. But for some of her neighbors on Fort Drive, the experience has been less than heavenly, according to city officials. The neighbors have complained about being overrun by cats that cause damage and sanitary issues.

Responding to a complaint from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Hanahan police visited Pozniko’s home in July and cited her for having too many cats, authorities said.

A city ordinance allows three pets per household, and she had around 10 cats, city prosecutor David Aylor said. A police officer issued her a ticket for $1,095, which she has challenged.

Pozniko contends that she is being persecuted by the city while police turn a blind eye to nearby residents who trap and shoot pellets at the cats. She appealed to City Council to raise the allowable number of pets, but it turned her down.

Meanwhile, Pozniko said, a police officer has hounded her at home and scared her half to death. She recently filed a complaint with the city about the officer, Sgt. Cassie Watson, accusing him of cursing at her and damaging her front door during a Dec. 14 visit.

“I don’t have children, so my cats are my kids, and I am registered with the state for feline foster care,” Pozniko said. “Why don’t they zone in on the rapists, killers and pornographers? Why are they coming after me?”

Pozniko showed The Post and Courier paperwork from the S.C. Secretary of State’s Office certifiying her Feline Foster Care as a nonprofit corporation in August.

Police would not discuss the complaint against Watson, but city officials said he was just doing his job.

City Administrator Johnny Cribb said officials are trying to make sure Pozniko follows a law that is needed to protect the quality of life in dense, residential areas like the neighborhood where she lives.

Aylor said officials have tried to work with her and avoid a trial, but Pozniko has resisted efforts to do a feline count and show she has capped her cat capacity at three. “At this point, she is not cooperating with the police department,” he said.

Neighbors have complained, and Pozniko’s federal probation officer has noted a continuing problem with an excess of cats in her house, Aylor said.

Pozniko was placed on probation after she pleaded guilty in 2011 to making false statements in connection with an $800,000 car-loan scheme in which six others also were implicated, court records show. She maintains that she was an unwitting participant in the crime.

A trim woman with an easy smile and a taste for sparkly, colorful clothes, Pozniko is a painter who teaches at a local craft shop. She shares her brick ranch with a tenant who works as a paramedic, living modestly amid walls decorated with religious iconography. She said she has just three cats at present.

PETA and pellets
Police first went to her house in May after she reported that someone had shot her cat in the jaw with a pellet gun. She told officers she suspected one of her neighbors had wounded the animal.

Police returned to her home in July after PETA called the city with concerns, authorities said.

Pozniko said she called PETA looking for help and advice concerning a wounded cat, but she hung up in frustration after she was shuffled around to several people. PETA apparently got the mistaken idea that she wasn’t caring for the animal and called police, who then cited her for having too many cats, she said.

PETA did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

Police returned to her house three days in a row, Pozniko said, and Watson was very rude to her.

The following month, Pozniko said, a neighbor trapped two of her cats and they were carted away by animal control. Five kittens then disappeared. Police did nothing, she said.

Cribb, the city administrator, said the city has looked into Pozniko’s allegations about her neighbors but found no evidence of a crime. “We can’t go out there, arrest people and send them to court for things we have no proof of,” he said.

William Whitley lives just down the street and has been accused by Pozniko of trapping her cats. He doesn’t deny that he has trapped cats, but said he has done so humanely and turned them over to animal control for care.

Whitley said he doesn’t dislike cats, but they have overrun the neighborhood thanks to Pozniko’s efforts. They get under his house, tear up his laundry room, damage his clothes and become a general nuisance, he said.

“They were all over the place,” he said. “The lady loves cats and that’s OK. But she needs to keep them at home.”

Pozniko insisted that she has only one 18-year-old cat and is sheltering two more foster felines that showed up at her door. Others come around and she treats them kindly, she said, but they don’t belong to her. She said she couldn’t estimate how many cats she tends do.

“I don’t count,” she said. “I’m an artist, not a mathematician.”

Counting cats
Pozniko, who has lived in her home since 1964, said she is willing to let the city count cats at her house, but she wants her lawyer present. That’s why she wouldn’t let Watson in on Dec. 14, she said. He then flew into a rage, banging on her door so hard he fractured its stained glass window, she said.

“His face was all narled (sic) up showing his teeth as a rabid dog would before an attack,” she wrote in her complaint to the city.

Watson declined to comment for this story, but Cribb and Mayor Minnie Blackwell said there is no evidence that he did anything improper. In fact, Blackwell said, Watson went out of his way to help Pozniko.

He used his cruiser to take some of her cats to a shelter and printed up fliers that he placed around the area seeking homes for her extra pets, she said.

“He showed such gracious professionalism to her,” Blackwell said.

The mayor and Cribb described Pozniko as a caring woman with a big heart, but they said the city has done everything it can to help within the letter of the law.

Pozniko doesn’t buy that, and she said she has every intention of carrying on her mission to help cats.

“I’m not going to apologize for loving animals,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing, and more people should be this way.”

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