Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dozens of 'hoarded' cats rescued; home condemned

From the outside, the gray house in south Sacramento looked neat and tidy.

But when a SWAT team kicked open the door Wednesday morning, they found horrific conditions for the home's owners and their dozens of pet cats.

Animal feces caked the home and a separate garage, where cat cages were stacked floor to ceiling and felines of all sizes and colors roamed and cowered. The hardiest investigators said they had rarely seen, or smelled, anything like it.

It was a classic case of animal "hoarding," said Penny Cistaro, animal care services manager for the city of Sacramento, who sought the court order that allowed officers to enter the home.

Researchers have recently begun looking into compulsive hoarding of animals and objects and the phenomenon's link to psychological problems, according to the Humane Society of the United States. A documentary television program on the A&E station, "Hoarders," has brought public attention to some of the most dramatic cases in the country.

It's an interesting thing about people who hoard animals," said Laura Warner, the city shelter's veterinarian, who was on the scene Wednesday.

"They really love their animals. Things just get out of control. It looks like that's what happened here."

The city has dealt with other animal hoarding cases, but Wednesday's is among the worst the shelter has encountered, Cistaro said. The agency has fielded complaints about the couple and their cats for at least a year, Cistaro said, but the homeowners refused to allow investigators inside.

Following weeks of planning, a small army of people including veterinary specialists, shelter workers, animal control officers and police converged on the home Wednesday and spent hours rescuing cats, which were taken temporarily to the county's animal control center. Property inspectors immediately condemned the house as being a safety hazard, and police said the owners would be charged with felony animal cruelty.

The owners, Paul and Kathy Franco, insisted that they cared for their animals, most of which appeared healthy and friendly..." More & additional pictures

Photo: Renee C. Byer