The Brookline Hoarding Case: One Year Later

Deana Boggs and Officer Tracy Schweitzer organize cats in carriers.
Deana Boggs and Officer Tracy Schweitzer organize cats in carriers.

On May 2, 2016 Tarra Provident and Mary Kay Gentert, volunteers with both the Homeless Cat Management Team and Pittsbugh C.A.T., responded to a request to help cats suspected left behind in an abandoned house.

Looking sadly out the window.
Looking sadly out the window.

Seeing the situation Tarra called the police and a humane investigation began as they removed 34 frightened, emaciated live cats—all adults and only one lone kitten just weeks old—and one deceased kitten from the home that day, taking 30 of them to the HCMT clinic for care. In the following days other cats were trapped in and around the house and eleven deceased kittens were also found in the bags of trash on the front porch of the house, placed there by the homeowner.

The owners, Heather and Michael Risko, had left a month before, though Heather stopped back intermittently but left overflowing litter boxes and rooms full of feces on the floor and empty food and water bowls. The neighbors had opened a window and tossed food inside when they realized what was happening. The cats drank from a toilet and ate rubber hairbands and the stuffing from a couch cushion.

Overflowing litter boxes.
Overflowing litter boxes.


Some cats were close to death as volunteers carefully fed measured amounts of food and gave any extra care they needed under the instructions of HCMT’s medical director. Cats aged six months by a veterinarian only weighed three pounds when they should weigh at least twice that. A few cats had birth issues that often result from inbreeding. For months teams of volunteers went to the clinic nightly to care for them. In the following weeks each cat was sent off in singles or pairs to one of Pittsburgh C.A.T.’s foster homes for socialization and continued care. They became “The Brookline Cats”.

Taking care of the cats.
Taking care of the cats.

Ironically, Tarra found that the woman and her husband who had abandoned the cats had actually contacted HCMT the previous summer for help with four cats they had “found”, apparently a mother and father and two older kittens—the Facebook conversation was still on her phone, and Pittsburgh C.A.T. had taken the cats into foster and found homes for them. Those four cats had features identical to the ones rescued from the house that day. The volunteers who found the cats, trapped them and transported them to the clinic said that instead of abandoning the cats, the Riskos had only to call and ask for help.

The Three Graces from the back; you can see the hair loss, two of them were recently nursing.
The Three Graces from the back; you can see the hair loss, two of them were recently nursing.


Though some cats took months of care to bring their bodies back to a normal state of digestion, muscle tone and even neural responses, and most needed weeks if not months of socialization after that trauma, all of the cats rescued that day survived, and to date all of them have found loving homes, some with the fosters who helped them regain their lives.

Hundreds of people donated goods and cash for food and litter and cages and toys, and especially veterinary care—even though HCMT has a clinic and a veterinarian and veterinary technicians to provide low-cost spay/neuter and vaccinations at clinics, the blood tests, vaccines and surgeries still have a cost, and many of the cats needed critical hospital care for days to weeks, and one of them needed off and on care for months. The story even got national attention as, on hearing the story, Rachael Ray® Nutrish™ pledged a year’s supply of food for each of the Brookline cats when they were adopted.


Three frightened, malnourished cats.

HCMT helped initiate and participated in the humane investigation against the perpetrators. Tarra, Mary Kay, Deana Ann Boggs and others attended each hearing, spoke with news reporters, and in October 2016 Heather and Michael Risko accepted plea deals in the deaths of 12 kittens and the rescue of 40 starved cats. They agreed to pay a total of $3,000 in restitution to HCMT, though HCMT spent an estimated  $10,000 in medical costs to rehabilitate the malnourished cats, foster and provide spay/neuter surgeries and vaccinations prior to adopting them to loving forever homes.

Making life better for cats

Rhys sleeping. When rescued at six months old he weighed three pounds. He is now a healthy 11 pounds, living the life. He was adopted by his foster.
Rhys sleeping. When rescued at six months old he weighed three pounds. He is now a healthy 11 pounds, living the life. He was adopted by his foster.

Often cats in hoarding cases are  simply kept as evidence or killed if no charges are pressed because they are traumatized, often ill and needing care as the Brookline cats were, and are considered unadoptable. The volunteers with HCMT and Pittsburgh C.A.T. saw other cats trapped at hoarding sites and taken away to be euthanized, or to an unknown fate and never seen again, and are glad to have been able to save these cats.

In the process HCMT has opened a new avenue of rescue for cats in the Pittsburgh area. Officer Christine Luffey was so impressed with the professionalism volunteers showed at every stage of the rescue, and at the care given to the cats including their successful adoptions, that as the humane officer often called when hoarding is involved, she now calls on the Homeless Cat Management Team to meet her at the site and to help manage the cats found at the scene. In the past year Officer Luffey has called for HCMT’s assistance five times to help trap or remove cats and kittens from a situation, including the 23 cats from Sheraden in February.

Read about the initial rescue

HCMT Assists With Brookline Hoarding Case

Talking to the news before we left.
Talking to the news before we left.

Read updates on the case and on the cats as they were fostered and adopted in this archive.

The Team

From left: Officer Tracy Schweitzer, Joyce Zilliott, Officer Christine Luffey, Deana Ann Boggs, Mary Kay Gentert, Tarra Provident. All but the officers are volunteer members of the Homeless Cat Management Team.
From left: Officer Tracy Schweitzer, Joyce Zilliott, Officer Christine Luffey, Deana Ann Boggs, Mary Kay Gentert, Tarra Provident. All but the officers are volunteer members of the Homeless Cat Management Team.

The team above went into the house the first day of the rescue, got cats into carriers and brought them outside, cataloged them and arranged for transport (I photographed each one in its carrier to document them, and photographed outside the house). Officers Christine Luffey and Tracy Schweitzer answered the call, got the warrant and oversaw our work through the hearings to the sentence.

Below, the group from the last day we went in looking for any possible cats left behind.

The second group: me, Karen Sable, Deana Ann Boggs, Mary Kay Gentert, Officer Tracy Schweitzer, Tarra Provident.
The second group: me, Karen Sable, Deana Ann Boggs, Mary Kay Gentert, Officer Tracy Schweitzer, Tarra Provident.


Happily ever after

Pittsburgh C.A.T. put a call out for photos of the Brookline cats a year later in their new homes. Here are some of the Brookline cats in recent photos.

Little Dude

This was the only kitten in the rescue.
This was the only kitten in the rescue.

Though we found several female cats who showed signs of nursing recently, we found only one living kitten. Little Dude was in a carrier with a long-haired gray cat who showed no signs of nursing and so was not his mother. Malnourished and underweight he was nursed back to health by Robin Duffy who bottle fed and syringe fed and nurtured him for months afterward. He was adopted and here he is, below, with wonderful gray feathers.

Little Dude
Little Dude



Gracie was the least responsive cat of all who were rescued, and all wondered if she would even survive the night, let alone to be fostered and adopted. Quiet in her carrier, she made no response at all to calling to her or even shaking her. Days of fluid therapy and careful tube feeding helped to nourish her, yet even after months of critical care she was still unsteady, walked in circles and suffered neurological events that could be seizures or mini strokes. When she was finally ready to leave the constant care in the clinic she was fostered by Deana Ann Boggs, though even with Deana’s level of care Gracie had to return to the clinic a few times for more testing and critical care. Today there are no residual signs of what she suffered, and she is a very happy housecat, patiently supervising her human, inspecting large shopping bags and keeping guard at the window.


Roo’s front legs and hind foot.

The bent and stunted growth of Roo’s front legs, radial aplasia, is a birth defect which is often the result of inbreeding. Seeing the number of cats who looked alike all close in age and the number of cats in the house, only one of them spayed, inbreeding was a pretty clear guess. Roo had a number of x-rays and scans and tests to determine her condition and to see if surgery or therapy could assist in straightening out her legs. Nothing could be done, but this playful and pretty little girl couldn’t have cared less. She was fostered and adopted and greets her human, ready for play and love, every day.

Roo simply enjoying life.
Roo simply enjoying life.



Mickey was only one pound when he was rescued, though by his teeth he was older and likely should have weighed two or three times that much. Sadly, he was about the same age as the deceased kitten found locked in the basement of the house. He went immediately to a veterinarian who also works with HCMT, and then stayed with the woman who had transported him. Intending to foster him, she adopted him instead.

Mickey, all grown up.


Cash, the rescued kitten.
Cash, the rescued kitten.

Rescued kitten Cash spoke for his fur siblings from the house in Brookline, as translated so eloquently by Mary Kay Gentert:

I am from that house in Brookline. If I could talk I would tell you how I was born in filth. I would tell you I wondered if my momma was still alive. I would tell you I had no where to go to the bathroom. I would tell you every noise I heard I believed something bad was going to happen to me. I would tell you I was always hungry and thirsty. I would tell you my family was always crying. I would tell you I saw cats just like me starved to death.

I would tell you someone rescued me. I would tell you I can not trust yet. I would tell you I can’t let you touch me. I would tell you I have to eat really fast because I can’t believe I have food now. I would tell you I am very confused when humans try to love me. I would tell you I don’t know what love is.

Cash was adopted but was returned by his adopter for a little extra socialization. He’ll be up for adoption again soon and a gorgeous adult like he is won’t be around long!


And more…

Read more stories in my weekly Rescue Stories series
and read about my Rescue Stories series.

All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.

Art and Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals


HCMT/Pittsburgh C.A.T. Spaghetti Dinner, buy tickets now!

Help us help cats and join us at our second annual spaghetti dinner!

SUNDAY, May 21, 2017
3:00 to 7:00 PM
J. Verno Studios, South Side
3030 Jane Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Pasta with Marinara Sauce, Salad, Roll, Dessert, and Drink.
Marinara sauce is vegan. Vegan and gluten-free options for dessert.
Adults – $10 • Children 5 and under – $5
All proceeds help our mission of providing low-cost spay and neuter services to Pittsburgh area cats and socializing and finding adoptive homes for rescued cats!

Read more and order your tickets.

© 2017 | | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!



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2 thoughts on “The Brookline Hoarding Case: One Year Later

  • May 2, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Blessings to all the cats and to those who have saved them and shown them love.

    • May 3, 2017 at 2:08 pm

      Thank you, Meg. I’m so happy we can do even more than we could before.


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