Long road ahead for 34 cats rescued from Barnstead home

  • Veterinarian assistant Nancy Protzmann holds a male cat at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Merrimack County in Concord on Friday. The cat was one of 34 that were brought in suffering from various medical issues. What initially sounded like the cat hissing was actually congestion. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Most of the cats brought have upper respiratory infection, conjuctivitis, dental disease in many, typical in Persian breed, ear mites and skin infections. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Friday, February 03, 2017

It takes time and a lot of tenderness to care for an animal that’s been neglected. When you’re looking at 30 animals, the task might seem overwhelming.

But the staff at Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord-Merrimack County were up to the task Wednesday night, after Barnstead police executed a search warrant and removed 30 cats, mostly Persians, from a Barnstead residence, many of whom were in poor shape, according to the department’s Facebook page. The owners of the home, a father and son, had to find a new place to live, police said. Four more animals were recovered and brought to the shelter the next day, Pope Memorial Director of Operations Cathy Emerson said.

Many of the animals had matted fur, upper respiratory infections, conjunctivitis and signs of dental disease, as well as skin infections and ear mites. The home they were removed from was deemed uninhabitable by the town’s health department, and had signs of a typical animal hoarding situation, with piles of debris and animal feces strewn about the house, Emerson said. It’s unclear whether animal cruelty charges are forthcoming – Barnstead police could not be reached by press time. 

When shelter director Cheryl Avery got the call Wednesday night that 30 cats were arriving, she knew she and the four other staff members present were going to have a lot on their hands, she said. So they got to work, setting up cages wherever they could find space for them – including a bathroom.

The sex of each animal had to be determined upon arrival, as well as whether they needed immediate medical care. In the space of two hours, each critter was settled in a cage with food, water, and a blanket.

“It was pretty amazing to see, how quickly everything was taken care of,” Avery said.

But the cats have a long way to go before they’re ready for adoption, and shelter officials are hoping the public will continue to support their efforts to clean them up and find them permanent homes. 

The biggest hurdles are the medical costs, Emerson said. Taking care of the animals’ spaying, neutering, vaccinations and antibiotics alone can cost $200 to $400 per animal, Emerson said, and any serious dental work could cost up to $1,000. It will take a while to make sure the animals are well enough to withstand surgery, further delaying adoption.

Both Emerson and Avery were hesitant to come down harshly on the pet owners, noting there were signs they had been attempting to take care of the the animals.

Emerson said there was plenty of food, and the owners had made efforts to stop the cats from breeding. While only one of the 34 animals was fixed, the females in heat were placed into carrying cages with food, water and makeshift litter boxes in an attempt to keep them from opportunistic males. Still, she said, many of the animals are probably brothers and sisters.

“In their own way, and it might not look good to most people, they were trying,” Emerson said. “...They were clearly overwhelmed pet owners.”

Avery noted that animal hoarding is a complicated issue, one that people are quick to judge harshly. She said that while people have been supportive by sending donations and spreading the news on social media, they have also been unkind in the same venues.

“We don’t know their circumstances, and it’s important to remember it wasn’t just cats living there,” Avery said. “Those negative responses don’t help the cats, and those people have their own stuff to deal with.”

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’s website, animal hoarding is defined as “an inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care.” Most hoarders think they’re helping the animals, according to the ASPCA. It’s unclear why people animal-hoard, but research has shown the behavior can be connected to personality or mental health disorders.

Monetary donations would help to deal with medical costs, Emerson said.

The organization accepts donations at popememorialspca.org. 

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @AcutalCAndrews.)