While thousands of cat rescues all over the U.S. are quietly doing their work to save and properly care for their feline charges, the highly publicized seizure of almost 700 cats from Haven Acres, a sanctuary in High Springs, Fla., could cast a negative shadow over many others’ efforts.
Haven Acres was operating under a special-use permit granted by Alachua County commissioners despite the fact that neighbors and High Springs officials argued against it. At some point the commissioners may have begun to sense there was a problem, though; the early 2010 permit renewal came with the condition that Haven Acres could have a maximum of 200 cats on the premises.
County officials periodically inspected the facility to see if it was in compliance with its permit. On April 7, 2011, visit, they deemed the conditions acceptable. But on their June 8 visit, code enforcement officers reported that site “has degraded” since the earlier inspection.
That may have been the understatement of the year.
The report’s details include “very strong odors” around and inside the pens and shelters where the cats were kept; uncleaned litterboxes; moldy cat food; and mosquitoes breeding in standing pools of water.
The Health Department then deemed Haven Acres a sanitary nuisance and ordered owners Steve and Pennie Lefkowitz to clean the facility.
In the days following the inspection, Alachua County Animal Services, with the help of the Humane Society of the United Sates, removed 697 cats, many of whom seemed to be suffering from upper respiratory infections, wounds, and other illnesses.
Over the last month, 50 of the seized cats have been euthanized due to the severity of their ailments. The rest are recovering in a temporary shelter set up by Animal Services and staffed by a small army of volunteers from HSUS and the United States Animal Rescue Team.
Inspectors checked in every week through the month of June and reported that the cleanup was progressing, and on June 27 they said that the sanitary nuisance “no longer exists.”
Although the sanctuary has been cleaned and the cats’ health is improving under appropriate care, County Growth Management Director Steve Lachnicht says the Lefkowitzes have submitted a signed letter to the county agreeing to the revocation of their permit.
Because criminal animal cruelty and neglect charges against the Lefkowitzes are pending and the cats are evidence, they are not yet available for adoption.
The Haven Acres incident raises a lot of questions. How did conditions at Haven Acres become so horrible in just two months? Was it always this bad and nobody noticed or cared? When does rescuing become hoarding? And is it really hoarding if a small sanctuary simply becomes overwhelmed by the number of animals left at its doorstep? Did the Lefkowitzes ever ask for help? Is help even available for sanctuary and rescue operators if they find themselves in over their heads? How many of these tragedies don’t get publicized — and how many suffering cats don’t get rescued — because the massive PR machines of organizations like HSUS aren’t involved? And what can we, as individual cat lovers, do to help rescuers before they become hoarders or get overwhelmed by the mission they took on?
[Source: Gainesville Sun]