Volunteers with PAWS of Rockford said it was one of the worst cases of hoarding and animal neglect and abuse they had ever seen in the six years they have been involved in animal rescue.
At the beginning of December, PAWS retrieved a message left on their voice mail from a woman who owned a farm home in Ogle County. She said she needed help because she had “too many cats.”
PAWS workers Sue Golan, Kate Gill and Ariel Winch went out to the location to assess the situation. What they saw was beyond words, they said.
By their best estimate, 150 cats were on the property — half inside the home, half outside in the snow huddled by the back door, on lawn furniture, steps, in barns and even in the woods.
The couple who owned the house was estimated to be in their 60s. Their identity is being protected for their safety and the remaining cats on the property (about 20).
Volunteers said the husband appeared to be in denial about the situation.
“He went along with whatever the wife said and wanted to do,” said one volunteer. “And the wife seemed to have physical and some mental/emotional problems.”
The wife had been a dog breeder at one point and then began breeding cats. In addition to all the cats on the property, there were also four dogs and four horses.
Pictures of the house posted on the PAWS Facebook page show several rooms in the home that were completely destroyed by urine and feces. Only three litter boxes were spotted. Feeding consisted of the owner pouring dry food out across the carpeting in rows with the cats fighting to eat. Furniture was completely ruined, piles of feces were throughout the house, and the general state was utter filth.
Several cats who died because of starvation or the cold were put into a 55-gallon barrel outside because the ground was too cold to dig into to bury them. Several cats were also noticed on the side of the house deceased.
“We were not allowed upstairs or downstairs and only in one of the barns on the property,” Gill said.
PAWS workers went out to the property four separate times over the course of a month and rescued the majority of the cats. The owners voluntarily relinquished them.
“It was the most heartbreaking, yet rewarding, experience,” Gill said. “I have never seen such depressed animals. They were curled up in balls, just waiting to die.”
Cats came out with a variety of physical ailments — missing fur (as a result of malnutrition and stress), missing eyes, scratches, upper respiratory infections.
Several other organizations helped. They included Friends of Strays of Princeton, Fresh Start of Belvidere, Another Chance of Capron, Tails, Forever Friends of Freeport and Hillside Animal Hospital.
The homeowners had reportedly reached out to Ogle County Animal Control six months before contacting PAWS in Rockford. But the Ogle County Animal Control office consists of a vet with only six cages. There is no broad in-take program like in Winnebago County.
Ogle County has no cat ordinances whatsoever; therefore, the Health Department would not condemn the home. Nor were they able to step in and fine the couple or remove any of the cats. PAWS is actively working with Ogle County to get laws in place that protect cats from neglect, abuse and hoarding.
The Department of Agriculture was on site and assessed the situation. However, it deferred to the convening county laws — which were non-existent.
“We were very disappointed in Ogle County and the Department of Agriculture,” Golan said. “They are very backward in protecting animals.”
Ogle County Animal Control Officer Kevin Christensen said there are no ordinances or laws in the county concerning cats. He confirmed the county could not condemn the house, despite the rampant feces, urine and general unsanitary conditions because the property taxes were paid. He has been to the property several times, and was contacted by PAWS to help. The help given was to the four dogs on the property, he said.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture is monitoring the two horses on the property. Dr. Mark Ernst, bureau chief of Animal Welfare, said an investigation is still ongoing as well as monitoring of all the animals on the property. He could not comment extensively because of the open investigation, but said the Department of Agriculture is very aware of the situation.
Most of the rescued cats from the property went to one of the organizations that got involved. Some went in to foster homes. About eight to 10 cats came in pregnant.
PAWS greatly appreciates donations during this time when extra medical and food expenses are being expended to get the cats in “adoptable” condition.
You can drop a payment off to their State Street location at Petco in the Forest Plaza shopping center, where Kohl’s and Michael Crafts are located. Or, you can make a donation online at: PAWSHS.org. Mailing address is: P.O. Box 7722, Rockford, IL 61126. Phone is (815) 299-7297.
From the Jan. 8-14, 2014, issue