HOWES CAVE — Ninety-nine cats were being nurtured back to health Thursday while the bodies of another 67 were found crammed in a woman’s freezer in what authorities called a bizarre case of animal neglect.
The live cats were seized one day earlier from what Schoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond called the squalid home of a 49-year-old woman in the hamlet of Gallupville. He declined to identify her, noting the investigation is continuing.
Before authorities became aware of the dead cats in the freezer, Desmond said it had become clear to his deputies that the house was in such deplorable condition that they had no choice but to get a search warrant and confiscate the animals.
When it was thought she had about 125 cats, they convinced her to surrender 25 of them three weeks ago, he said, adding: “But then three of the ones she kept had litters of eight each, and so she was right back up to 125 cats.”
The dead cats in the freezer were individually wrapped in plastic, he said. It was not immediately clear why she kept the carcasses in her refrigerator, he said in response to questions.
“I believe they were deceased before she put them in there,” the sheriff said.
The cats were brought to the Animal Shelter of the Schoharie Valley, which has never had to take in so many pets at once, said Kerrie Colin, the shelter’s director.
“It’s a big undertaking for us, especially when you see how small our facility is,” Colin said. “They have to be brought back to health, and we do have a couple of people who already want to foster some of them.”
She said most of the cats brought to the shelter appeared to be responding well to antibiotics, although several others had to be euthanized. Just as a press conference at the shelter was concluding Thursday afternoon, shelter aides placed a blanket over the cage of one pregnant cat after discerning she was going into labor.
The shelter, she said, will be seeking donations of cat food and other supplies to help the staff deal with sudden surge in the number of animals at the facility.
Desmond said his investigators will consult with District Attorney James Sacket on the possible charges that could be brought in the case.
The woman’s house has been condemned by the local code enforcement officer, he said, and she is now staying with relatives.
Her involvement with cats, Desmond said, began 2½ years ago when a friend left a pregnant cat at her home.
“She couldn’t bring herself to get rid of it, and it just kept going from there,” he said. “She became overwhelmed with it.”