The Heritage Humane Society has recently welcomed 14 cats, including some kittens, from a hoarding situation.
But that isn’t the first — or the last — time the organization will have to rescue animals from homes where they’ve been part of a large collection of pets.
“A lot of people aren’t aware that these cases happen, but they do,” said Jennifer LaFountain, marketing and humane education manager for Heritage. “It’s a big endeavor and it takes a lot of volunteers, staff and money.”
The newest 14 cats were surrendered to the shelter by their owner, LaFountain said. The cats arrived at the door, including two mother cats with newborn kittens, with a variety of medical and emotional needs, including being covered in dirt and fleas.
While the cats were voluntarily surrendered, some people have a hard time giving up their animals in hoarding situations, said Officer Shirley Anderson, supervisor of the James City County-Williamsburg Animal Control.
“A lot of times, when people take in stays they think they’re rescuing,” Anderson said. “And then it gets out of hand with the amount of animals they take in and it becomes a hoarding situation.”
Anderson said many of the people involved in hoarding situations might have issues with mental illness or depression, which makes their thinking unclear and harder for them to give up their animals.
“They think they’re doing the right thing by keeping them because they fear animal control will euthanize them or that they can take the best care of them,” Anderson said. “Really there’s some type of imbalance or personality disorder that doesn’t allow these people to let go.”
Those hoarding situations don’t happen frequently in the area but when they do, it typically involves cats while in some other areas, there might be dog breeders that turn into animal hoarders.
The definition of animal hoarding depends not on the number of animals, but rather on their quality of life. Anderson said a person might have 20 cats and wouldn’t be considered a hoarder if they were all well-fed and taken care of.
However, in many situations that’s not the case.
For example, Anderson said one time she handled a situation where there were 30 cats in a home that had been badly damaged by a storm. The cats weren’t spayed or neutered and many of them were living in filthy conditions to the point where the owners were living in their cars.
At that point, Anderson said Animal Control will seize the pets and petition the courts for authorities to hold them.
In less severe situations, Animal Control will simply try to reduce the number of animals and educate the owners on proper care. Then officers will regularly visit with the owners to make sure the animals are finally receiving proper care.
When animals are seized and taken to shelters, there can be a lot of medical issues that have a time and cost associated with them, LaFountain said. Even just 14 new cats can take up a big chunk of resources.
“Our staff have to work longer hours and have to separate them in areas to do medical assessments and look for foster homes,” LaFountain said. “Every single cat and kitten has to have all the vaccinations, be spayed and neutered, micro-chipped and that doesn’t even include if there are extra medical costs, which is usually the case because they’re living outside. It’s a big endeavor but that’s why we’re here.”
When animals come from hoarding situations they typically aren’t social or comfortable with other people, she added. That means the shelter has to find foster homes for the cats in order to socialize them, but this can take months sometimes depending on the animal.
Cats that never become truly comfortable living inside and are transferred to the organization’s Career Cat Program which places them in homes where they primarily live outdoors.
The 14 cats are all currently in foster care and have been treated by the organization’s medical team. Some have already gone up for adoption but the mothers and newborns will remain in foster care for the time being.
Once the cats are ready for adoption the organization will find homes for them through its Adoption Team. Those interested in adopting can contact Heritage Humane Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit the Heritage Humane Society online.
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