When State Police at Sidney investigated an animal complaint in West Oneonta on Thursday, the conditions they found led to a rescue effort from the hoarding-like situation, several involved said on Friday.
Officials said about 40 cats and two chickens will be rescued when the effort is completed. Nobody will be charged as a result, troopers said.
The Susquehanna Animal Shelter, where the cats are being housed, is seeking the public’s help through donations and adoptions. The chickens, meanwhile, will stay with veterinarian Dr. Joan Puritz of the Oneonta Veterinary Hospital.
Troopers received a call about 5 p.m. from Puritz saying that there were 30 cats in “deplorable conditions” at 3783 state Route 23, state police public information officer Nathan Riegal said.
Riegal said troopers could see through the first-floor window that there were animals in need of attention. When troopers entered the residence, which they thought was vacant, they found feces, maggots, garbage and a strong odor, along with cats and chicken in metal cages, troopers said. A male resident was located at the site later.
Troopers contacted county emergency services because of the potentially dangerous conditions, including the odor.
Along with shelter staff and Puritz, they were assisted by members of the West Oneonta Fire Department, who entered the house with Tyvek suits and breathing masks and removed the animals. Shelter staff also donned protective gear.
Puritz said she inspected the cats that were brought out on Thursday. It was difficult in the rainy conditions, but some were sick with upper respiratory infections and one was healthy, she said. She said she hoped to do a full physical Sunday.
“Many looked thin and dehydrated,” she said.
A woman who had lived at the residence died recently at a hospital, Riegal said. No further information was available. The man who lived at the residence was interviewed at the house, no further information was available. Adult protective services was contacted to follow up with him. Other living arrangements were provided privately.
The unidentified man was attempting to get help for the cats and was feeding them, so he did not face charges, Riegal said.
Troopers also contacted the property owner, Andrew Capra, who purchased the property at a tax sale and allowed the residents to remain there. He said he did not know about the condition of the animals until Thursday. Troopers said Capra wasn't to blame for the animals' condition and had been helpful.
Capra said Diana Charles, who had lived at the residence for decades, died two weeks ago at an area hospital. She was in her late 70’s, he said. Her husband, Emil J. Schlup, is in his late 50s. He had a stroke about a year ago, and Capra told troopers he was probably asleep, when they entered the house. Capra said he gave Schlup money to find someplace to stay Thursday evening.
Capra said he had known the family since about 1970. He bought the property three years ago because it is adjacent to his home. The county asked him to work with the residents, who were living in the house at the time it was purchased.
“They had nowhere else to go,” Capra said. Perhaps the county could have handled the problem differently so it would have been handled in “a more humane way,” he said.
County Treasurer Dan Crowell said without knowing more about the situation, he didn't want to comment. In general, he said, his office refers information on tax foreclosures to a variety of county agencies that might be of help in resolving a problem.
Puritz said that Schlup first came to her office about a week ago to say he needed help with the animals. She knew he was working with the Susquehanna Animal Shelter, but she wasn’t aware how bad the problem was. When she tried unsuccessfully to reach him several times, Puritz said she called the troopers Thursday.
Susquehanna Animal Shelter Executive Director Stacie Haynes said her shelter was already full before the cats were removed. It can use temporary housing for the cats, “but we are really pushing it," she said.
The shelter isn't reimbursed by the county for the expenses resulting from the rescue, Haynes noted. To encourage adoptions of the 66 cats and 22 dogs it currently houses, the agency is cutting its adoptions fees by 20 percent until Thanksgiving.
Donations of money or supplies, especially canned cat food would always be helpful, she said. For information on how to help, contact the Susquehanna Animal Shelter at 547-8111.