Siglinda Scarpa walks me through the main house at The Goathouse Refuge, when a golden yellow cat that looks a lot like all the other 200+ cats starts rubbing against both of our legs, purring the way cats purr.
"Hey, Mimi," says Scarpa (presumably this is the cat's name), "What do you say? Stop that shooting range!" Scarpa chuckles.
The best way to think of Goathouse refuge in Pittsboro, NC is like Neverland -- for cats. There are dozens of plastic chairs and cat-sized houses scattered about in an outdoor pen. A couple of those jungle gyms covered in carpet with places to hide. And, of course, lots of kitty cats.
Scarpa founded the Goathouse Refuge out in the country. Where it’s quiet, for the most part. You can hear roosters and frogs not far off. But several months ago Siglinda got a visit from a hunter who would shoot game on the surrounding land. To that point, she had considered him a nuisance.
"He came one day and he said, 'You're gonna be happy. I'm not gonna be here anymore,'" Scarpa recalled. "But you're gonna have a shooting range," he told her.
The machines came next, cutting down trees to make way for firing bays. Scarpa says she went over to talk with the owner of the 71 acres being developed.
"And he said 'I'm just doing a little range for friends.'"
Of course, some friends are louder than others. This is audio from a video posted by a volunteer at the refuge:
The range is called Range 2A. It’s run by a guy named Mark Atkeson. On the face of it, it’s easy to understand why the noise could be annoying. The range allows pistols, rifles and shotguns. But the folks at Goathouse say it’s more than just a nuisance… it’s becoming problematic.
"Because you see the animals... they all run and hide in the front of the building under the cages," said Linda Donaghue, a volunteer at the refuge. She said one day, during the shooting, her son tried to call her five times, but she couldn't hear the phone ring.
Range 2A wasn’t available for an interview, but they and Goathouse have been duking it out on warring Facebook pages for the past week or so. 2A posted a video of Mark Atkeson’s dog out on the range earlier this week. It looks German Shepherd-esque, and the caption says it’s sitting about 150 ft from active shooting.
It’s hard to know whether or not the cats are actually getting sick from the shooting. Scarpa says some cats are over-grooming - licking themselves to the point where hair is falling off. Others she says are getting diarrhea. But, it’s a shelter with more than 200 cats, and some of them are bound to be sick. The refuge has been accused of having health problems in the past.
What’s clear is the issue is no longer about two neighbors, one of whom is being too loud. The Goathouse refuge has a petition on Change.org that’s attracted a lot of attention from outside the state.
Brian Bok, Vice Chair of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, says he and other commissioners get email updates every time someone else signs the petition.
"By far, the majority of the people we are hearing from are not local, not North Carolina, and not even the United States," said Bok.
Of course, the folks at Goathouse and their volunteers are local. And many want the range shut down. Bok says that just not within the county’s power.
"That are of the county is unzoned. And like The Goathouse Refuge, they have a right to be there," said Bok."
The county manager has said staff plan to sit down with the two parties to figure out a solution. Though the Internet seems to have give Scarpa the upper hand for now. She says since the outcry began earlier this week, the range has been silent.