When the Bucks County SPCA showed up at a Perkasie apartment last week they rescued 14 cats abandoned after the tenant was evicted.
The humane officers had no idea how to find the woman. Turns out, she found them. The next day she showed up at the animal welfare agency’s Quakertown shelter. She wasn’t alone.
In her van she had 37 more cats she had left the property with, including mother and newborn kittens. After speaking with agency staff, the woman agreed to surrender the 51 cats.
But it wasn’t the last the agency would see of her. A few days later, she returned with more cats in what has become the largest animal hoarding case the agency has handled this year.
As of Tuesday, the woman turned over a total of 76 cats, many in poor health.
“There may still be another round,” Bucks County SPCA spokeswoman Cindy Kelly said on Thursday. “She feels like she hasn’t caught all of them.”
Summary and misdemeanor animal neglect-related criminal charges are pending against the cat owner, who the agency has not identified, Kelly said. Officials are waiting until they get a final total of cats and its veterinarians can assess their conditions before filing the charges.
Humane law enforcement officers had been attempting to investigate the owner for several months after receiving neglect complaints, but were unable to gain entry to the property, Kelly said. The owner also did not respond to agency notices left at the property.
After the eviction, the SPCA notified about the cats left behind and its humane officers no longer needed a search warrant to access the apartment, where the cats were found living in unsanitary and unhealthy conditions, Kelly said.
After the owner surrendered 37 cats, she told SPCA staff she had more that she couldn’t take with her so she released them. The woman then returned to the apartment and set traps outside to catch the others to bring them to the SPCA.
Kelly did not know how long the woman had been rescuing cats, but it estimated it could take a year or less to reach 75, adding that while some of the cats were sterilized, many were not.
“You can get into that kind of trouble pretty quickly,” she said.
So far, 21 of the healthy cats have been sterilized, microchipped and adopted into new homes and others are also available for adoption, Kelly said.
But dozens of the cats are being treated for upper respiratory infections and other illnesses. They will remain at the shelter or in the care of trained foster volunteers until they are healthy and ready for adoption.
One cat required emergency surgery and is recovering at the shelter’s clinic. A few cats and kittens turned in this week are also in poor health, Kelly added.
The large influx of animals has placed a significant strain on the shelter and its staff only days before the Christmas holiday, since the owner relinquished their custody voluntarily, it will help speed up the adoption process, Kelly said.
Typically with hoarding and neglect cases, the animal owner refuses to cooperate with the agency, which then needs to take legal action to gain custody.
SPCA Executive Director Linda Reider called animal hoarding cases like this one both “complex and heartbreaking.” She urged anyone struggling to properly care for their animals to accept the agency’s help sooner rather than later.
“Sometimes people are afraid to accept our help because they hold onto old stereotypes and fear that the animals will be euthanized. The SPCA exists to save lives,” Reider said. “Euthanasia is a last resort, used only for severe medical or behavioral cases.”
The Bucks SPCA is not necessarily seeing an uptick in hoarding cases, but it is seeing an uptick in evictions and people facing other serious financial hardships that ultimately endangers the animals under their care, Kelly said.
“People may start out with good intentions, but their inability to see and address the needs of the animals under their care can lead to serious cases of neglect,” Reider added. “It is awful for the animals who live in filthy crowded conditions, suffering from untreated illnesses.”
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