When I walked into the small living quarters, the smell was overwhelming.
Fecal matter, urine, rancid food. Flies everywhere.
More than 20 felines zipped up walls and hid in any crevice they could find. The person living there had mentioned that one of his cats had been sick for two days, so I was checking in, to see if I could lend a hand. I had no idea he was—for lack of a better phrase—a “cat hoarder.”
You’ve seen the shows on television: A person is living in unthinkable conditions, surrounded by way too much stuff, garbage piling up, and their home looking like it should be condemned. Yet they refuse to leave, clean up, or part with any of their possessions, so a concerned family member calls in a professional to help convince the hoarder that living that way puts their safety, health, even their very lives, at risk.
Unfortunately, when people hoard cats, they impose those same risks on the helpless animals they keep in their houses of horror. The cats in the home I visited did not look healthy. And how could they be when they live surrounded by filth, decay, and rot?
Several cats mustered the courage to sit on a dresser, big-eyed, looking scared but curious. None were meowing or hissing; in fact, they were all strangely quiet and still, both the ones hiding and the ones staring. I was utterly shocked by all I was seeing and smelling. I knew this problem was beyond anything I could help with, so I headed out, mind racing and heart pounding. Before I reached the door, though, I heard kittens mewing. When I tracked down the source, I found three newborn kittens in a cardboard box with a wet shirt over them. They were cold, frail, and clearly without motherly care. I knew I needed a professional, just like on TV.
So what to do? Where to start?
Because I’d never encountered such a thing, it was hard to know where to begin. I opted for the throw-everything-at-the-wall method.
First, I talked to the person living in the home, urging professional care for the cats. Sadly, I found out the kittens I spotted in the cardboard box had died. Next, I talked to some pet-loving neighbors. I contacted OC Humane Society, OC Community Cats, MeoowzResQ, Cats in Need of Human Care, and more. I looked into Animal Control. I did research on the Internet, but then remembered that’s a rabbit hole. Better to lean on people who know what they’re doing.
According to International Cat Care, the consequences for cats involved in overcrowded environments are inter-cat and stress-related problems; diseases associated with overcrowding/ poor nutrition; other health issues such as fleas, ringworm, cheyletiellosis, and fecal contamination; constantly increasing numbers because of indiscriminate breeding; congenital and hereditary diseases associated with inter-breeding; and lack of early socialization, leading to a fear of human contact.
I didn’t know if any of that applied to these cats. But I did know the situation was dire. After all my consulting with the pros, the matter is now in the hands of Orange County Animal Control. An officer provided me an activity number so I can track the investigation.
In cases where it’s determined that cats—or other pets—are not getting proper care, Animal Control tries to collaborate with the caretaker on a remedy. In more difficult circumstances, Animal Control, with the help of local police, confiscates the pets, gets them medical care, including spaying and neutering, and puts the “viable” pets up for adoption. In worst-case scenarios, pets are euthanized.
Experts I talked to, such as Darren Kimble, a manager at National Cat Protection Society, say rehoming pets who’ve lived in cramped, isolated places is a long shot because, among other issues, they haven’t been socialized.
“It’s difficult for most shelters to socialize cats because they don’t have a cat behaviorist on hand,” Kimble said. “To socialize even a kitten, it takes weeks of daily work.”
In basic terms, “unsocialized” means humans are unable to interact with the cats. If the cats are older than 6, socializing becomes nearly impossible.
“Any interaction with unsocialized cats is very much on their terms,” Kimble added.
In Orange County, shelters and rescue operations are overwhelmed with healthy, socialized cats who need homes. Those cats will likely be at the top of the list for potential adopters. The shelters are full, in part because it’s kitten season. Unaltered female cats are in heat. They give birth roughly 60 days after pregnancy, resulting in a slew of unwanted young ones. Spaying and neutering your cats goes a long way toward solving this problem. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, cats are usually safe to spay or neuter at 8 weeks old. Most county animal care centers post a list of clinics for spaying and neutering on their websites.
Cats deserve a spacious, healthy, and clean environment to live in. They deserve proper nutrition, attention, and healthcare. And they deserve the chance to be socialized, so they can live peaceably and happily with humans.
This is a sad story, and we all know it’s not an isolated incident. But here’s the good news: We’ve learned that Animal Control completed its investigation, confiscated the cats, provided medical care, cleaned them and is trying to get them adopted. Almost half have been spayed or neutered. Others will be fixed upon adoption, Animal Control officers say. My wife and I are working on adopting one or two. Neighbors have shown interest in doing the same. If you want to help, visit ocpetinfo.com, click on Lost Pets, then Found Pets, then Cats. Look for the cats who were confiscated from Fullerton on July 8 of this year.
Time is of the essence. If we can help rehome some of them, we’ll have done our part to save precious lives.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, cats are usually safe to spay or neuter at 8 weeks old. Most county animal care centers post a list of clinics for spaying and neutering on their websites.