Three cat-loving rescuers voluntarily don hazmat suits and respirator masks to enter a hoarder’s house and look for cats who’d been abandoned inside the house when the owners were forced to leave. They had no idea now many cats were there, only that the house had been closed up for some time with cats and people inside, with no water or electricity, no litterboxes for the cats, who had been busily reproducing, and that household stuff and garbage were strewn and piled all over the house.
The smell from outside, even with the windows and doors closed, was sickening enough, and neighbors had tried to help but the owners angrily told them they didn’t need any help. Even knowing this, when the call went out from Dr. Becky Morrow that she had contacted the police, was leading the way on the rescue of these cats and needed assistance in getting in there to rescue the cats Sydney Bader, Lisa Kalmeyer and Margo Cicci Wisniewski, in the photo above, offered immediately along with many other offers to help when they could, to drop off traps and carriers and supplies, to set and check traps and otherwise assist with the operation.
Conditions were so bad and the density of ammonia so painful even with respirator masks that they could only spend about 15 minutes at a time in the house before stepping out to take a break in chasing cats through rooms full of urine-soaked garbage, walking through piles of cat poop and even finding at least one dead and decomposing cat. Dr. Morrow had spoken with the police and they were also collecting evidence for a humane investigation. That first day, 15 cats, mostly kittens, were taken out, including three 10-day old kittens who would be bottle fed until their mother was found. They left a kitchen window open so the cats could escape the filth and set traps on the porch because there was no level place inside the house to set one. In the two days afterward 12 more cats were trapped, including the kittens’ mother, and they were reunited. Once trapped, the cats were filthy and malnourished with parasites and respiratory infections, but were friendly, purring, and responding to treatment and affection. (As of Monday night, September 7, a total of 35 cats had been trapped, and their health condition was better than the cats trapped earlier. Dr. Morrow felt there were a few more still inside.)
Volunteers with the Homeless Cat Management Team and Frankie’s Friends Cat Rescue don’t just sit back and wait for stray, feral and rescued cats to come to them for help with low-cost spay/neuter and veterinary care. Often the cats have no owners, or owners are resistant or lacking resources. Even still, these volunteer rescuers pursue every lead they possibly can, working with getting cooperation from people first, at least to help with the rescue and foster and care for the cats, to take some responsibility for the situation they caused or found with support from our group. Often all the people needed was help and support, and a horrible situation like hoarding or abandonment is avoided. If not, and the situation is bad enough, they are out there every day following up on messages about cats who need to be rescued, taken out of a bad situation and often given intensive medical care to restore their health.
This hoarding case is an extreme situation, but only one of six multiple-cat rescues from hoarder or abandoned houses in the past two months among the rescue groups I know. Not only have they been time-consuming and expensive—and with no owners, there is no one to pay any of the costs for medical care and food for all the cats taken in, expensive materials like hazmat suits, and even travel—but the toll taken on rescuers and those working at the clinics amounts to a type of trauma. They do their best, but many cats just don’t survive. Each loss is noted, each loss is shared with the group, each loss is mourned.
And for all this work and heartache, there is often not much in the way of thanks. In fact, outside of the animal sheltering world there is often criticism or ridicule that they are “helping cats when people need help”, or that “cats can survive on their own”, “cats are pests and should be killed because there are already too many” or “they are just cats, why bother?” Really, it’s not the cats who are the problem. The cats in this house did not create their own situation, it was created by people. Cats don’t have kittens under your porch or eat out of your dumpster because they like it that way. It’s because that’s the best they can do in the circumstances after someone has abandoned them. To blame their situation on them is pointless, and to criticize or stand in the way of rescuers who want to help them and also the people involved is misguided.
As we move into the autumn and kitten season is in full swing, it’s just about time for those kittens born in April, and left outside with no health care, to start reproducing and bring on the next wave of kittens. Before this happens, help your local rescuers in any way you can. Here is a short list of things you can easily begin to do today:
- volunteer your time at a clinic
- help trap stray and feral cats in your neighborhood or another
- find all the low-cost spay/neuter and veterinary opportunities in your area and hand out the information wherever you can
- foster rescued cats and kittens
- donate to those who are doing the work already
Here are links to articles and news stories about the hoarding case mentioned here.
And here is a link to Frankies Friends to help pay the costs of this rescue.
And here is a link to the Homeless Cat Management Team to help cover the costs of spaying and neutering and providing care to hundreds of cats who have no owner, at no charge, just because they need it.
Thanks to Margo Cicci Wisniewski for the photos, especially the coolest group selfie ever!
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Read more about the Homeless Cat Management Team and Frankie’s Friends on The Creative Cat.
Read more Essays and Rescue Stories on The Creative Cat.
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