You may have heard about a hoarding case where over 30 cats were abandoned in a home at 608 Elmbank in Brookline, south of Pittsburgh on May 2, 2016. The cats in this post were rescued from this hoarding case which the Homeless Cat Management Team became involved with through our capacity of helping people with homeless cats and cats in need. The cats were released to HCMT to care for and rehome, we are still checking for other cats left behind, and the investigation is continuing. The story isn’t over yet. In fact, it keeps getting worse.
I’d been following a request from Sunday evening on Facebook involving a neighbor who had contacted us concerned about cats left behind in a home in the neighborhood. The next day a call came out for carriers, traps and crates, so I packed up a half dozen carriers and took off for the address.
When I arrived two police cars and a news van were there, and several people from HCMT were sending carriers in and out an open front window and lining them up in the front yard. I walked up with my carriers and explained to the humane officer I had been requested to bring them. Deana Boggs, one of our members, asked me if I had a pen and paper and said we had to document each of the cats in the carriers before we removed them by photographing and taking notes. I had my DSLR with me and offered to take the photos, and any other photos they might need.
I did not go into the house but I could see in the windows and the stench was horrible. HCMT’s involvement began with the neighbor’s request on HCMT’s public Facebook page asking for help with cats they knew were locked in the house while the owner had moved away at the end of March. They could see them in the windows and hear them screaming. Apparently the owner had come back Sunday and picked up her mail, took out some trash and left. The cats were still seen in the windows and heard meowing and yowling inside, and the smell was strong even with the windows closed.
A couple of our members who live in Brookline went to the house on Monday morning, saw the situation and decided to call for a humane officer who came to see the house and left to get a warrant to enter. In the meantime no one could be on or in the property. The neighbors had opened a side window and a few cats had escaped; one was taken in by a neighbor and a few others were loose and trapped in the neighbors’ yards before the humane officer returned.
Those who went inside described areas of the house ankle-deep in feces, even feces in the sinks and tub, caked litterboxes, and lifted up a mattress on the floor to find even more feces. Cats were locked in bedrooms and came meowing for affection when the door was opened. A few cats had to be trapped inside the house but the rest could be picked up and placed in carriers, sometimes two or three at a time.
A total of 35 cats were taken out that afternoon, all young adults and older kittens and only one tiny solid black kitten about four weeks old who was in a large carrier, remarkably clean, with a long-haired gray female. One of the 35 was a deceased older kitten found curled up on dirty laundry in the basement who went off to Animal Friends for a necropsy. I helped organize the last of the cats they brought out and photographed each of them for the record while the humane officer numbered the carriers and Deana wrote down descriptions of the cats and the carriers. Five of them went to Animal Friends, the rest we divided among ourselves to drive to our clinic in Tarentum. I packed nine in my car in carriers and traps and stayed to help assess them.
At the clinic we moved them from carriers into cages that were already set up, and then set up more and sent out a request for even more cages. We were instructed to give them only a small amount of food and water so that their weight, hydration and body condition upon leaving the house could be determined and so that suddenly gobbling food would not make them sick. They were so hungry and thirsty that most of them ate and drank right away even though they were frightened. It took hours to set up cages and organize them into logical groups according to sex and age, and as we did they each had blood taken for FIV/FeLV tests, all of which were negative. A few were a little hostile, but more time and a meal helped with that. Back in their cages, as they rested, many relaxed and napped, and we petted and handled them again just give them some love as they adjusted to their new life, and get a better feel for their temperament.
All were frightened but turned out to be very nice cats. They were extremely emaciated, and kittens I had thought were three to four months were six months, and only weighed two pounds, the weight typical of a two month old kitten. Most had patches of fur missing. One cat was a long-haired orange girl but all the rest were either long-haired gray tabbies or long-haired brown tabbies and shared the same features, eye color, stripe patterns and body types.
They also had lots of extra toes though not the typical polydactyl paws but ones where the paws were actually misshapen. A few also had a birth anomalies like twisted front legs—radial hypoplasia—and a few cats had a slightly wider than normal set to their eyes, slight divots in the forehead and tufts of fur growing next to their eyes. Not all of these anomalies were symmetrical. Often they are the result of inbreeding.
We also noticed that several cats were pregnant, and at least two showed signs of recent nursing, yet there was only one solid black kitten of an age that would be nursing. And with all the intact female cats in the group and only one young kitten but quite a few in later age groups, we wondered where a generation of kittens had gone who would be two to four months old. With the one we had found deceased we sadly thought they had starved to death and might still be in the house.
The neighbors said the owner, Heather Risko, had stopped back periodically to pick up mail and clean out the house, and unsure if she was feeding them they opened the front window and dumped bags of food inside. Risko had lived there until just about Easter this year. Looking at the photos from the inside of the house, the amount of feces in the house, the rotted floors and stains did not build up to that point in one month, even with 35 cats in the house.
Some of the features on the long-haired black tabbies looked very familiar, heavy stripes, wide faces, lots of black on the paws and ears and tails, and more black than usual around the nose, mouth and chin. I remembered some of the cats I had featured for adoption in the past few months from our foster group. Not all tabbies are alike, but some things are memorable. The day after the rescue one of our members remembered it as well and not only remembered actually talking to a woman who had “found” those particular cats we had fostered from that neighborhood, but she found the conversations from our Facebook page from the previous summer. The woman who had lived in that house had actually contacted us for help, we had helped her with the four cats she and her husband had “found” on a walk—a mother, father and two older kittens—but also saw that in other groups she repeatedly asked if people needed kittens.
Two more cats were trapped on Monday night. Mary Kay Gentert, another member from Brookline who had been in the house the day before, went back on Tuesday with the humane officer and trapped two more cats in the house, but no cats came to the traps outdoors, and no more cats were spotted inside.
The next paragraph has some disturbing information. Skip to the next photo if you are sensitive.
On Wednesday Mary Kay started looking a little closer. We had been wondering about the bags of garbage the owner had put out on the front porch on Sunday, covered with flies and maggots. We all knew those should be searched, and between Mary Kay and Deana, who joined her, they found 11 gray and tabby kittens, all emaciated and deceased, wrapped in towels and rags in the bags the homeowner had put out on Sunday.
And sadly, while we are continuing to set traps outside and inside, we are continuing to look for more deceased cats.
We are placing the rescued cats in our foster homes with whoever will be able to fit a few. All the cats will be spayed and neutered, vaccinated, fattened up and sent off to loving forever homes. As I always do when we encounter a costly operation like this, I will ask if you can make a donation to help us cover the costs of care for these cats, and below I offer “Donate for a Discount” for this operation, a program through which I give a $5.00 coupon to my animal art website Portraits of Animals for each $25.00 of donated goods or cash.
To give you an idea of the costs for each cat, each cat will receive: FIV/FELV test ($25), Rabies Vaccination ($8), FVRCP ($10), Flea Treatment ($8), Wormer ($8), Spayed/Neuter ($35-50), plus the cost of food and intensive care while the investigation continues and until they are adopted.
Current News Stories
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Starving cats found abandoned in Brookline
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Starving, dead cats found in abandoned Brookline home
Why HCMT Became Involved
HCMT‘s mission to provide high-quality low-cost sterilization to help end feline overpopulation in the Pittsburgh area, and helping with a situation like this is something we do regularly, from people who’ve had cats dumped on their property to people who’ve just gotten in over their heads, including hoarding cases. That’s what we’re here for. And we also know that often cats taken in hoarding cases are often killed if they aren’t immediately adoptable, or they are held as evidence and may never know a real home. Because we work with large numbers of cats rescued from the streets every day in every condition, HCMT is able to undertake the care of this many cats, and are also glad to be able to help with the investigation.
The Brookline Cats
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