Fort Mill’s Cat House holding adoption events to find homes for rescued felines

mharrison@fortmilltimes.comAugust 22, 2012 

— When a local animal rescue group started systematically caring for and removing more than 60 cats apparently being hoarded by a troubled Tega Cay resident, that was supposed to be the hard part.

Instead, the most frustrating part is finding new homes or even foster care for the now healthy felines. Several have been adopted and a few others have foster homes, but many more are being cared for in a temporary shelter dubbed the “Cat House” in what used to be a used car lot office next to a car wash in the Crossroads shopping center at the corner of Gold Hill Road and Hwy. 160 West.

Members of the Animal Adoption League retrofit the office with cat-friendly crates and are holding weekly open house adoption events as well as promoting the cats and kittens online. Volunteer Vivian Downes even invites anyone interested to contact her anytime the Cat House is closed and she’ll meet you there to let you browse and get to know the pets.

The problem is, they don’t have unlimited time. Though grateful to get use of the building, it’s commercial space that’s on the market and the AAL volunteers know the landlord’s generosity has to have its limits.

“He’s kind of the hero of the story,” Downes said of the landlord. “But if somebody comes in and wants to buy the property, we know we have to leave.”

That’s why the AAL isn’t pussyfooting around trying to encourage adoptions.

And if cats really do have nine lives, the ones in the care of the AAL have to be living proof. Living in unhealthy conditions, they needed basic care which was donated by a local veterinarian. Then there was a point at which the felines may have been within a whisker of being rounded up by York County Animal Control and likely euthanized.

This was no ordinary rescue operation. It began when a teen jogged passed the alleged hoarder’s home and couldn’t ignore what he noticed.

“One of volunteer’s son was running passed the house and noticed the smell and noticed all the cats outside the house and he told him mom,” who happens to be AAL Treasurer Gay Patterson, Downes said.

Patterson, who’s Downes’ neighbor and got Downes involved in the group, said the volunteers didn’t realize at first the extent of the hording.

“We knew from the start he was a hoarder from the sheer number of cats on the property. We could see just on the outside about 40 cats,” Patterson said.

“I don’t think anyone realized the extent of the problem until we got inside the house. The first thing we had to do was stabilize the population and bring that under control and provide proper nutrition for the cats, but we really needed was to get the kitten population as close to zero as possible.”

With the help of the Humane Society of Charlotte, which spayed and neutered the cats for free, the AAL was able to stem the breeding. They even convinced the owner, who Downes is convinced “really loved the cats – they were his only family,” she said, to allow the volunteers to incrementally remove his pets to foster care. But then the operation hit a major snag – the owner lost his rental home.

“It all basically unraveled when [the landlord] served him with an eviction notice,” Patterson said.

Patterson said the group never considered reporting the pet owner to authorities because the volunteers believed he didn’t mean the cats any harm and they feared what their fate would be if they were removed by Animal Control. But when the eviction occurred, they moved fast to evacuate the remaining cats.

(Editor’s note: Although the alleged hoarder once spoke to the Fort Mill Times, he could not be located and interviewed for this particular story, so his name is being withheld.)

Looking back, Downes is still somewhat amazed the AAL was able to make the progress it did before the eviction.

“Those were his family – they were all he had,” she said. “It got out of control. He loved them all and nobody was going to take them. He knew them all, knew their names and birthdays.”

Now that the group achieved its primary goal of breaking the breeding cycle among that warren, it’s working to make the fairy tale ending of 100 percent adoption a reality. And anyone who visits the Cat House expecting to see traumatized animals will be in for a surprise. Every one of the cats and kittens there are playful and affectionate and there seems to be breeds and markings to satisfy every taste.

The next open house is Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Cat House, located behind Bojangles and the Wells Fargo bank branch at the corner of Gold Hill Rd. and Hwy. 160 West. Events are planned for every Saturday until all the felines have been adopted. To get a preview, go to www.mynextpet.com and click the link to the AAL’s Facebook. Donations can be made via PayPal.

To visit the cats any other time, call Downes at 336-209-0519 or send an email to vivien0207@comporium.net.

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