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Live and dead animals seized at Fort Worth home

FORT WORTH -- Evangeline "Angie" Chambers considers herself a cat rescuer.

Officials call her an animal hoarder.

On Friday, Chambers, 49, vowed to fight for her animals a day after animal-control officers seized about 100 cats, five puppies and 50 to 100 cat carcasses from freezers inside Chambers' east Fort Worth home.

"These cats mean everything to me," Chambers said, breaking into tears. "I have devoted my whole life to them."

The seizure took place about 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Chambers' residence in the 6100 block of Craig Street.

Keane Menefee, Animal Care and Control manager, said Chambers first came to the unit's attention in December after code compliance received a complaint about excessive cats inside her home.

"We couldn't get anyone to verify how many animals were inside the property to be able to gain a warrant to access the property," he said.

But Monday, officials received a similar complaint. Though Chambers refused to let them in the house Thursday afternoon, animal control officers returned hours later with a search warrant.

"We had an individual who had been inside the home that was able to fill out a witness statement that we presented to the court to be able to get access to the property this time," Menefee said.

The seizure

Officials say officers were met by an overwhelming stench of urine and feces inside the home.

About 100 cats in varying conditions were roaming throughout the house. Five puppies, which Menefee described as in poor condition, were found in cages or what appeared to be laundry hampers.

Inside three freezers, officers found dozens of frozen cat carcasses inside bags.

"We're estimating anywhere from 50 to 100 right now," Menefee said.

Officials say animal hoarders like Chambers have a compulsive behavior to collect animals, under the belief that they are protecting them. In reality, Menefee said, these well-intentioned animal lovers are posing health problems for the animals, themselves and neighbors living in the area.

"Our goal is not to yank these animals out of this home and euthanize them," Menefee said. "I've been in animal control for 11 years now. Animals living in these type of conditions can't happen. The neglect and cruelty and torture these animals go through, no living creatures should have to go through."

Menefee said the animals will be stored at the city's shelter and checked by a veterinarian until a hearing next week before a municipal judge, who will decide whether custody of the animals should go to animal control or remain with Chambers.

If custody is awarded to animal control, the case will be handed over to the Fort Worth police to determine whether criminal animal abuse charges will be sought against the woman. Animal control will then focus on whether the animals are healthy enough to be placed for adoption.

"First step is getting custody," Menefee said. "If we can get custody, then we'll take each animal case by case and determine its adoptability."

Cat rescuer?

On Friday afternoon, Chambers occasionally broke into tears as she recalled how officers seized all her pets, with the exception of three dogs.

"I was trying to calm the cats and tell them it would be OK, that God was bigger than this and he knows the motive of my heart," she said.

Chambers said she started rescuing cats 15 years ago.

Some were strays. Others were wild or sick cats she rescued from an Arlington shelter so they wouldn't be euthanized. Still others had been abandoned and given to her because of her reputation for taking in animals.

Decorating the cluttered top floor of her foul-smelling, two-story home were cat decorations -- stuffed animals, knickknacks, pictures, books and a human-size cat statue. Chambers said she splits her time sleeping on a futon upstairs among her older cats and downstairs, where the younger cats are free to roam.

Chambers said she cares for her animals using the almost $800 disability check she receives each month, including about $200 each month on cat medications alone. She said her disabilities include a back and hand injury and the use of only one eye.

She cried as she rattled off some of the names of her cats from a notebook where she logs those on medication.

"Anabelle. Lucy. Chloe. Clover. Ray Ray. Kookaburra. Moses. He has one eye. He's kind of a special boy being that I have one eye, too. He had his eye removed earlier this year," she said. "Mocha. Pebbles. Penelope. Precious. ..."

Chambers could not say Friday how many cats she owned but said she keeps a master list. She said she places a sad face with tears to mark those that have died.

Chambers said she had been storing the dead cats in the freezer for five years until she could earn enough money to cremate them. She said the cats had died for various reasons over the years.

"I held them until they passed. I said their name and said that they were loved and I was glad that I knew them," Chambers said. "Then I let the other cats say goodbye to them."

Chambers' mother, who arrived at the home as reporters were interviewing her daughter, said she did not approve of her daughter's many cats and had repeatedly tried to persuade her to get rid of them. The woman, who refused to give her name, said she was not surprised that animal-control officers seized the animals.

"She's been warned many, many times," she said.

How to help

The animal shelter is designed to house about 60 animals. Keane Menefee, Animal Care and Control manager, said large seizures like Thursday’s put a great strain on the shelter.

"One of the biggest helps we can get is for people to come in and adopt the animals we already have up for adoption to give us space for these animals we brought in," Menefee said.

If you suspect animal hoarding or are interested in adopting an animal, contact the Fort Worth Animal Care and Control Center at 817-392-3737.