I’ve read about animal hoarders in the news and seen them on TV, but I never thought I would come into contact with one or, worse yet, know one. But I did.
People who knew this person suspected she had more than a few cats, and probably a few too many. But nobody could have even come close to imagining the situation. When we found out, I was one of the group of people who helped re-rescue all of the cats she had originally “rescued” herself.
I knew this woman online through Facebook and animal rescue. Many people did. She was supposedly working with local rescues in Tampa to take in cats, many of them sick, and get them healthy again and adopted. I know numerous people who sent cats from kill shelters to her, with the expectation of a better life for the animals and the promise of a brighter future.
At some point in the past, I believe, that was happening. I believe she had it under control for quite a while, and perhaps at some point it became all too overwhelming. But I might be giving her too much benefit of the doubt. Who can say?
This woman went on vacation a few weeks ago and suffered a major stroke while she was out of state. She was hospitalized, and her condition was dire. Physicians weren’t sure whether she was going to make it, let alone ever come home again.
And so it was discovered that she had way too many cats. First estimates were at around 40. That’s 40 once-rescued cats in her home in varying states of health.
When word got out, rescuers from numerous places scrambled to find pictures of the cats that had been sent to her. Each one hoped to get those cats back. Many other rescuers opened their doors and hearts and took in a few here and there. Local shelters took the sick cats.
I posted an album on my Facebook page of all the cats who the South Florida rescue folks had sent to her. We posted pictures and as much detail as we had about each one, and we shared it with those who were going in the house and getting the cats out.
One woman was on the front lines, in the house every day. She knew the hoarder but was totally blown away by what she saw when she entered the home.
The first day, she took 20 cats out of the house and straight to the vet. The sickest ones were pulled out first. There were sick cats and hungry cats, and as it turns out, FIV+ and FeLV+ cats all mixed in with the general population. One cat had an eyeball literally hanging out, and the vet believed it had been like that for a couple of weeks.
The next day, 24 more cats were pulled from the home. Estimates went from 40 to at least 60 cats in the home.
The following day, another round of cats was taken out, and the day after that, another batch. Each cat was taken directly to the vet and tested and checked out. Local rescues filled up any piece of space they had with these cats. Fosters stepped up, and adopters came around as well.
In the end, there were 85 cats pulled from the three-bedroom home. Eighty-five cats. No one had any idea this was going on. You wonder how in the world no one knew. This shows me that anything is possible. You really have no idea what’s going on behind closed doors in anyone’s house.
We worked with the rescuer mentioned above to identify nine cats we were looking for. Comparing our pictures with the cats once they arrived the vet, we were able to track down seven cats originally rescued from South Florida shelters in Broward and Dade counties. Seven of our South Florida cats were safe, and now it was time to get them down here so we could find them real forever homes.
Pretty, Aurora, Adele, Amelia, Panther, Casper, and Misty were held at two different places -ÔÇô at the woman’s house and at TAPS animal rescue -ÔÇô while I worked out transport to get them back down here.
The two we weren’t able to identify were an orange tabby named Oliver and a tabby named Tiger. Unfortunately, I am told there were 24 orange cats and probably just as many brownish tabbies like Tiger. They tried to compare markings but couldn’t identify these two.
I’ve been doing a lot of cat-transport coordinating lately, so I asked a few friends to help drive these kitties down to Fort Lauderdale. A friend in Tampa offered to drive the first half of the trip, and another wonderful woman in Fort Myers offered to do the second half. Now all we needed to do was find seven cat carriers!
Not having the money to buy seven new carriers, I put a call for help on my Facebook page asking for people in Tampa who could donate a carrier to help rescue some hoarder cats. Within a few hours, I had seven with our cats’ names on them. My sister, who happens to live in Tampa, drove all around the following morning collecting carriers and dropping them off at the first driver’s home so they’d be ready to go that afternoon.
This past Saturday afternoon, our emergency re-rescue transport happened! The first driver, a wonderful woman named Tristin B, drove to the first place and picked up four of the cats, and then drove an hour from there to pick up the other three. Cats from this hoarder’s home were temporarily tucked away all over in a 100-mile radius from Tampa.
And then they were on the road!
They reached Fort Myers, switched over to the second car with a fantastic friend named Pam C, and continued their journey.
At around 10 p.m. on Saturday night, the re-rescued kitties arrived in Fort Lauderdale and settled down in an empty condo a great friend of mine offered up for their temporary safe housing. They are now Good Karma Pet Rescue of South Florida cats (my awesome partner in cat rescue!), and we’ll take them all to the vet and make sure they find the best homes ÔÇô- the best forever homes.
One of the cats, a 15-year-old Siamese named Pretty, has a couple already waiting to adopt her. Three others, Adele, Aurora and Amelia, are being taken in by our friends at HART of Maine cat shelter. They will be in foster until their forever family finds them. Two more, Panther and Casper, will hopefully find homes soon.
The most shocking thing about the cats we received is that Misty, a pretty but seriously skinny tortie, is actually pregnant. This hoarder woman was supposed to get her spayed, and even said that she had it done on her “own nickel,” but clearly she lied. Some may not agree with us, but we’re going to get her spayed ASAP. There are too many homeless kittens in our shelters now; we don’t need any more. Then she’ll need a home, too.
I visit the kitties at the condo every day during my lunch break from work. It’s right across from my office! They are wonderful cats and surprisingly healthy. They eat like pigs and love like lovebugs.
I’m particularly in love with Panther. He is an amazing cat! So friendly and so big, and so demanding of attention. This is what he does every day from the bathroom counter:
Lesson to be learned here: If you are a rescue or shelter, be very careful who you adopt to. You really don’t know someone until you see their house. And if you do rescue cats, be careful not to get in over your head. What starts out as good intentions can unfortunately turn ugly if not kept under control and done smart.
Let’s keep saving and rescuing cats, and make sure we do it the right way. Cats in shelters are depending on us. Let’s not let them down.
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