Lisa Anderson knew the people who lived in the house on the next street over had a lot of cats. But Anderson, along with other members of various pet rescue groups, had no idea the magnitude of the mess they would uncover as they began retrieving the Persian-breed cats from the home.
When Anderson and representatives of East Valley-based pet rescue groups AJ’s Best Friends, Desert Paws and Hope for Cats later went to the single-story Parkwood Ranch neighborhood home April 20 — about two months after one of its owners died of a heart attack at age 48 — they were appalled at what they saw when the sister of the woman who died answered the door.
Cat feces and trash were piled up to the point the garage door couldn’t be pushed opened. In all, 82 cats were living inside, including 17 that had been locked inside the garage. And a nauseating smell permeated the Mesa property — located in the 10000 block of East Dolphin Avenue — and its surroundings.
As the bank is expected to foreclose on the home today, Anderson and representatives have rescued 55 cats that they plan to put up for adoption; 27 were determined to be too sick to save and have been euthanized by Mesa Animal Control.
Anderson and her pet rescue counterparts involved in the situation now plan to form a coalition, as there are no agencies who help rescue hoarded cats from homes or feral cats from outside colonies, Anderson said. However, the cats rescued from the Mesa home were not feral cats and were deemed potentially adoptable. They can become pets after they are rehabilitated.
“It was the most shocking thing I ever saw in my life,” said Anderson, who also is the president of the Mesa Historical Museum. “It was the most overwhelming and shocking thing I ever encountered. It took a lot to get the courage to go inside the house because the smell was hazardous, hazardous to people. We didn’t know what we were walking into. I feel like I’m still smelling it.
“I’m emotionally drained and financially drained,” added Anderson, who said that pet rescue groups have paid out of pocket expenses to have some of the cats neutered or spayed. “When these things happen, a lot of people say, ‘oh, there’s a lot of agencies who can step in and help.’ That’s not true. When these things happen, it’s always the pet rescue groups that become involved at their own expense.”
Anderson became involved in the hoarding situation on Dolphin Avenue after she noticed the cars that once were parked outside the home were gone, and she wanted to find out what was going on at the residence. She returned to the home for three straight days before someone answered the door, and she’s glad she kept going back.
The woman who had initally lived in the house had been feeding the cats before she died, but her husband decided to abandon the home and let the bank repossess it after asking his sister-in-law to come up with a solution for the animals, Anderson said. He had encountered an unaffordable issue with Maricopa County Animal Control Department. Animal Control said there would be a $100 per cat fee to come pick up the cats to euthanize them or $51 if he brought them in to be euthanized, she added.
Although the city of Mesa has its own animal control department, Anderson said representatives told the homeowner that they would charge him to pick up the cats and euthanize them, adding that they were not readily adoptable.
However, Diane Brady, Mesa Animal Control supervisor, told the Tribune on Monday that the department does not charge to pick up the cats. It will only spay and neuter them if they are deemed adoptable, and euthanize them if they are not.
The Arizona Humane Society did not provide any assistance to the situation because the agency lacks enforceable jurisdiction in animal cruelty cases such as hoarding, Brady said.
Cheri Minauri, who operates AJ’s Best Friends in Gilbert rescued 13 Silver Chinchilla Persians from the Dolphin avenue home. She is getting the “unsocialized” cats settled so they can be adopted. Minauri said that she would like to see county or city animal control groups spay and neuter feral cats at some point during the early spring to help control the feral cat population.
“It’s a huge problem,” Minauri said. “What’s scary is that these cats came from just one hoarding situation with just one person. Right now, there’s nothing in place of where to relocate cats from hoarding situations. If you remove them from one location and take them to another, they’re no longer in their familiar surroundings, don’t know where to get their food and water and eventually die.
“The reason why we keep doing this is because of our love for the animal,” Minauri added. “We don’t want to see them euthanized.”
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