Several local animal shelters took in a record-breaking 90 cats from an apparent hoarding situation in Delaware County on Saturday, April 3.
Staff and volunteers from the Delaware Valley Humane Society, the Susquehanna SPCA, the Heart of the Catskills Humane Society and the Animal Care Sanctuary of East Smithfield, Pennsylvania, spent the afternoon and evening removing cats from the single-family residence, a modular home in Walton near Sidney Center and Masonville.
The cats were found in various states of poor health, according to DVHS shelter manager Erin Insinga.
Many have severe upper respiratory infections, ear mites and missing eyes or eyes that will need to be removed due to infection. Further veterinary evaluation will determine how many have feline immunodeficiency virus or leukemia.
Insinga said a concerned family member in New Jersey reported that the cats were left unattended when their owner was suddenly hospitalized. Over the phone, she said, it was difficult to hear whether the caller was reporting 50 cats or 15.
“Of course 50 is a staggering number,” Insinga said. “When you get these kinds of calls, it’s usually pretty safe to assume there’s less than the person is telling you. Fifty cats usually means about 20.”
When shelter staff arrived at the home, she said, they were taken aback to find “180 eyeballs” — more or less — staring back at them.
For coming from such a situation, the cats were unusually well-socialized, Insinga said. “I am confident that every single one of these cats will be adoptable. They just need time to get over the shell shock. You could tell they had been there for years.”
Asked how 90 cats had come to live with one human, Insinga said the owner’s parents, who arrived later, said it started with good intentions.
“This person started with a couple of male cats and came home from the store one day with a pregnant female cat,” she said. “She’s an avid animal lover and it just got out of control.”
Until proven otherwise, Insinga said, it is assumed that each of the female cats is pregnant.
“Getting the cats out was physically difficult. Now begins the hard work of getting them healthy,” Insinga said. “They had food and they had affection, but these cats had been medically neglected for a long time. It’s not an issue of them not loving their animal, it’s a matter of proactivity. Intervention is key.”
“We obviously don’t want the family to feel shame,” she continued. “Working in shelter management, you know this is going to happen from time to time.”
The shame and stigma surrounding a hoarding situation or other mental health-related incident prevents many well-intentioned animal owners from seeking help caring for their pets, Insinga said.
“This is something we haven’t seen for a long time, but we know there are many more people out there in the same situation,” she said. “It’s a reminder that we need to check on our neighbors and friends.”
“We don’t want anyone to feel bad about calling for help, but it should never be an option for any person or animal to live like that,” Insinga continued. “Things like this happen to really good people — it just goes wrong somewhere along the line. People become prisoners in their own home. It’s a human problem and a humane problem.”
Insinga said she advised the owner’s relatives to take the opportunity to clean out her home and offered to connect them with local cleaning services if necessary.
“This is a community issue, and it will be difficult on our community as a whole,” Insinga said. “We pride ourselves on being an option for people who are in over their heads and our fast-moving animal surrender process, but we can’t take any other cats at this time.”
The cats will soon be in need of foster homes and additional socialization, Insinga said.
“They’re all good cats, but this was all they knew. They were born into this situation,” she said. “They have a whole new life waiting for them. It’s just a matter of easing them into it.”
The Delaware Valley Humane Society is always in need of multipurpose household cleaner, bleach, laundry detergent, disinfecting wipes and spray, twist mops, wood pellets, canned cat food and gift cards to McDowell & Walker.
With the influx of cats, Insinga said the shelter welcomes donations of over-the-counter flea and tick treatment, deworming medication, cotton swabs, cotton balls and rubbing alcohol.
Monetary donations can be made:
• by check made payable to the Delaware Valley Humane Society at PO Box 182, Sidney, NY 13838 or via PayPal at dvhsny.org
• by check made payable to the Susquehanna SPCA at 4841 State Highway 28, Cooperstown NY 13326 or via PayPal at sqspca.org
• by check made payable to the Heart of the Catskills Humane Society at PO Box 88, Delhi, NY 13753 or via PayPal at heartofthecatskills.org
• by check made payable to the Animal Care Sanctuary at PO BOX A, East Smithfield, PA 18817 or via PayPal at animalcaresanctuary.org
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.