The Humane Society of North Texas was granted custody Friday of 108 cats seized last week from a small home in Vernon, where officials say cat food was found strewn across floors and furniture and a room had been turned into a giant litter box.
The cats are being held at a quarantine facility in Crowley, and the Humane Society is seeking donations to help make them available for adoption.
Vernon police Sgt. Wayne Hodges described the condition of the 1,100-square-foot home from which the animals were seized Feb. 25 as “deplorable.”
He said two of the home’s bedrooms had been blocked off from the cats, leaving the felines crammed in about an 800-square-foot space. Leaves, wood shavings and mulch had been tossed on the floors of an open dining area to serve as a litter box, he said.
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“I’ve been doing this for almost 17 years, and I’ve never seen anything quite like that,” Hodges said.
Hodges said animal control officers had been trying to work with the cat’s owner after complaints first surfaced a few years ago that the now 56-year-old woman was hoarding cats, initially at a different residence in the city of about 10,500 people northwest of Wichita Falls.
At that time, Hodges said, the cats numbered around 20 to 30.
He said animal control officers had been trying to help the woman get the animals fixed, alerting her to free spay and neutering clinics. She had also been issued roughly 20 citations during that time, he said, for improper care of an animal and her cats not having rabies vaccinations.
After those efforts provide futile and because they were unequipped to handle such a large seizure, Hodges said officials reached out for help from the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, which referred them to the Fort Worth-based Humane Society of North Texas.
“It finally just came to a head that we had to do something,” Hodges said.
He said it took just under seven hours for five people — animal control officers, police and HSNT investigators — to complete the seizure of the cats, which were inside and outside the home.
“The smell of ammonia and feces was unbearable, even from the street in front of the house,” Kim Meek, lead humane investigator for the HSNT, said in a news release about the seizure issued Friday morning. “… The entire scene was disheartening.”
Of the 108 cats seized, the majority were found to be suffering from parasitic infestations and respiratory infections.
18 of the seized cats were pregnant
Five of the cats have been preliminarily diagnosed with feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus — life-threatening conditions that, if confirmed, will require the animals to be euthanized.
“The health situation was just a really, really bad situation. New ones were being being born into this,” Hodges said. “It was completely unsanitary for the animals and people alike.”
Hodges said the cats were reproducing at “an alarming rate.”
Of the 108 taken, 18 of the cats were pregnant. One has already given birth to her litter, and several others are due within the next couple of weeks.
“We anticipate when it’s all said and done that it will have exceeded 130,” said Whitney Hanson, a spokeswoman for HSNT.
For now, all the cats are being held at a quarantine facility in Crowley. Volunteers from RedRover Responders, a California-based nonprofit, arrived Friday to assist HSNT in caring for the cats.
A judge in Vernon granted HSNT custody of the cats Friday. It was not clear if the cat’s owner would appeal.
“As you can imagine, caring for more than 100 ill cats is extremely time consuming,” Meek said. “In addition to the felines, we also have nearly 200 recently rescued equines in quarantine on the property, so our staff have been stretched thin.”
Hanson said while many cats of hoarders cannot be adopted out because of a lack of socialization with humans, those seized in Vernon are “very, very social.” She said the Humane Society will work to find them new homes once the cats recuperate and are spayed and neutered.
“They’re really affectionate and friendly with the volunteers and staff that are working with them,” Hanson said. “Provided we can ensure they’re healthy, all but those five, we are very confident will find a great home.”
Hoarding cats not uncommon
Hanson said hoarding cases like that uncovered in Vernon “happen a lot more than people think it does.”
“It kind of goes unreported because a lot of times people who are hoarders don’t usually let people into their homes because they’re embarrassed,” Hanson said.
Even when the hoarding problem is discovered, she said, the person might not know what to do or who to alert. She said oftentimes, authorities are only alerted to the problem after the smell from the deplorable conditions reaches the street, prompting neighbors to complain.
“Most of the cases we do are under 50 [cats], but we have had cases in the several hundreds in the past,” Hanson said. “This is probably the largest one that we have done in the last year.”
We were told by a neighbor that there was probably anywhere from 30 to 40 cats that were buried in the front yard
Vernon police Sgt. Wayne Hodges
Hanson said mental illness always plays a component in the hoarding cases. In some of the smaller cases, she said the pet owners often claim to have a relationship with each cat.
In the Vernon case, the owner, who was not identified, said she had names for each cat. When they died, she buried the cats on the property, adorning their graves with flowers and other mementos, Hodges said.
“We were told by a neighbor that there was probably anywhere from 30 to 40 cats that were buried in the front yard,” Hodges said.
In addition to the cat’s owner, the woman’s boyfriend also lived at the residence, and others would sometimes stay there.
Hodges said it has not yet been decided if authorities will seek animal-cruelty charges against the woman.
“Our main thing was just to get the cats out of the situation and at least take a big step in rectifying the problem,” he said.
How To Help
The Humane Society of North Texas is seeking donations to fund the veterinary and rehabilitative care of the cats required to prepare them for adoption. Donations can be made online at www.hsnt.org or through the mail at 1840 E. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth, 76103.