June 3, 2011


Cats taken from Water St. house

SPCA removes 20 cats as Code Office condemns property

CatsBob Ellis/staff photographer
Dressed in a hazmat suit, Cortland firefighter Derrick Reynolds carries two cats Thursday afternoon from 17 Water St. Authorities removed 20 cats from the home after discovering unsanitary conditions in the house during a medical call.

Staff Reporter

A black and white cat with almond-shaped green eyes looked out from behind cage bars Thursday afternoon at 17 Water St., one of 20 cats rescued from the house during the afternoon.
Approximately five cats who were more difficult to remove remained in the house this morning and will be caught by humane traps, said animal cruelty officials.
An emergency medical services call at the residence earlier Thursday morning revealed unsanitary conditions at the home, prompting the house to be condemned, officials said.
Cortland Community Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals workers and Cortland Fire Department officials, wearing masks and dressed in protective suits, loaded cats into carriers throughout the afternoon.
The cats were transported to the SPCA shelter, where they will be examined by a veterinarian. The cats appeared thin and some had respiratory problems, said SPCA shelter manager Sandy Snyder.
Several cats meowed from behind the bars of their carriers, stretching their paws through openings in the cage.
Snyder said the shelter received the call from the Cortland Police Department, which had responded to the scene of an EMS call when the elderly lady who lived there had to be hospitalized. She lived in the house with her son, according to responders.
Snyder said the gray house, with green trim and a blue tarp on the roof, was filthy inside, with cat feces “everywhere,” messy litter boxes and cat food strewn about.
SPCA Animal Cruelty Investigator Bill Carr said that no charges have been pressed against the cats’ owners so he did not disclose their name.
The house is listed under Donald Foster, though neighbors said the woman’s husband recently died.
The cats’ owners could face misdemeanor animal cruelty charges for keeping the animals in unsanitary and unhealthful conditions, Carr said.
City Code Enforcement Director Chief William Knickerbocker said the house was posted as unsafe because of numerous issues.
“It just so happens that in this case there’s a collection of combustibles and an immediate concern over cleanliness and sanitary conditions inside the house,” Knickerbocker said.
Cortland Fire Department Capt. Michael Ten Kate said structural issues were also discovered on site.
“The foundation is collapsing. The primary mission yesterday was to get the people and animals out of it (the house),” Ten Kate said, adding that it is not yet known what will become of the site in the long run.
Knickerbocker said that in cases like this, the county works to put the people up in a hotel or at the American Red Cross temporarily. When a house is condemned, Knickerbocker said, the owner must take measures to restore it to a livable condition, or, in a worst-case scenario, it could be destroyed.
Carr said the animals were being taken from the residence Thursday because the owners had consented to having the home checked and signed the cats over to the shelter. Since the property was deemed to have unfit living conditions, the animals were removed. The animals would be, ideally, adopted out after they are given a clean bill of health by a veterinarian, Carr said.
He compared the situation to a 2006 hoarding case on Wheeler Avenue, in which a cat clinic was shut down after approximately 300 cats were removed from the premises. Although not as large in scope, Carr said the current case was a similar example of someone collecting animals in a fashion that could be classified as hoarding.
Neighbors described the owners as good people who let the situation get out of hand.
“We used to have a lot of stray cats around and she would feed them, then she might have tried to take them in the house and it got away from them,” said Virginia Fleischman, a neighbor who lives on Sands Street.
Another neighbor, who declined to be identified, said they were “nice people” who tried to feed, shelter and protect the stray cats in the neighborhood.
The street was blocked off by fire trucks for part of the afternoon Thursday, as the rescue operation went on. The fire department determined the fumes, such as ammonia, were not of high enough levels to require oxygen tanks but some rescuers donned respirators or paper masks.
Snyder said this morning that most of the cats had dental issues but all appeared friendly.
A veterinarian will give the cats a thorough examination over the weekend, said Snyder, determining which ones could be adopted out.


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