By Nora Vondrell, Executive Director
How Is This Better?
Recently, I received a telephone call from the Director of the Ohio SPCA (OSPCA) to help with a cat hoarding situation. The OSPCA, based out of central Ohio, called us because the hoarder lives within 25 miles of our center. She asked us to “assess” the situation first, so the OSPCA could better understand the severity of the circumstances.
When I spoke to the hoarder, “Tammy”*, she stated she lives in a trailer and has over 50 cats. Tammy stated that many of the cats were ill and she was concerned some of them might not “make it through the weekend”. Tammy sounded extremely concerned about their health. I asked if she knew exactly how many cats and their approximate ages. Tammy stated she wasn’t sure. “I have such a soft heart”, Tammy stated. “People just drop these cats off to survive on their own outside. I bring them in and feed them, but I can’t afford their medical care. Then they start breeding, and before long, I have litters of kittens.”
Tammy shared with us that “7 or 8” of the cats were in the worst shape, so we agreed she would surrender them to SICSA so we could provide for their medical care. When she showed up, she had 11. The conditions of the cats were deplorable. The cats ranged from 5 week old kittens, to 2 year old adults. All had feline calicivirus (FCS), a common and treatable respiratory disease. Untreated, FCS has a mortality rate of up to 67%, with painful symptoms which include mouth ulcers, discharge from the eyes and nose, a loss of appetite, and lethargy. One of the kittens had rubbed her eye until it was no longer in the socket. Another had lost half his body weight over the course of three days.
I understand that Tammy believes she was helping by taking these cats “off the streets” and “protected” in her home. But how was this situation better?
FCS is not generally present in private homes. In situations where many cats live together, such as in hoarding homes and/or “catteries”, the opportunity for FCS to present quadruples (40%), and can spread in epidemic-like proportions. In the situation of these 50 cats, they most likely are all now infected.
When cats have been living outside their whole lives, accessing food and shelter through their own means, we call them “Community Cats”. While Community Cats do have shorter life spans than household cats, they adapt to their living environments and often find multiple sources for sustenance and shelter. If spayed and neutered through Trap Neuter Return (TNR) programs, neighborhoods with large Community Cat populations can actually reduce the sizes of their cat colonies over time. Spaying and Neutering is more cost effective than attempting to rehome litters of stray cats. And in this case, the health and well-being of those cats would have been much improved.
Yes, Tammy kept the cats warmer than they may have been outside during the winter. She also kept them mostly well-fed. But at what cost? These cats were in pain when we received them. All were dehydrated and anorexic. Several are touch and go as to if they will live through the week. All are requiring costly medical care, medications, and testing. The adults that live will be extremely difficult to rehome.
SICSA plans to work with the Ohio SPCA and Tammy to get the remaining cats into treatment, spayed and neutered. It won’t be easy. While we will educate Tammy and attempt to close down her cattery, we will do so at great expense both monetarily and emotionally. It is heartbreaking to see a 6-week-old kitten with her eye barely attached. It is difficult to allow any of the remaining 40 to stay in her care. Especially when we know that as soon as we work our way through the entire 50, Tammy will “rescue” more.
The Mayo Clinic Staff report “People with hoarding disorder often don’t see it as a problem, making treatment challenging.” Which to us means, the probability that Tammy will change her hoarding behavior is unlikely. If she were in Montgomery County, animal enforcement would get involved. Unfortunately, Tammy is in a community where those services are overwhelmed, understaffed, and underfunded. The future looks bleak for Tammy’s trailer park; and most likely for many of the remaining 40 cats. But for the 11 that SICSA rescued this week, there is hope. And it is, better.
If you wish to assist SICSA with helping to care for animals with special needs such as the trailer cats, please donate to our Guardian Angel Fund at www.sicsa.org/give or contribute items from our wish list at www.sicsa.org/wishlist.
*Tammy is not her real name, and has been used to protect her identity and neighborhood.