Local News

For neglected cats, life is a longshot

Sad story of cat hoarding hits neighborhood hard

It started with an elderly neighbor telling me his cat was pregnant and sick.

What followed was a flurry of activity among neighbors, police, Orange County Animal Control, and a bunch of cat rescue organizations.

The day after he’d told me about his sick cat, I asked if she was doing better. She wasn’t. I asked if I could see her. He was reluctant, said his place was a little dirty and he’d been planning on cleaning it, but he finally relented.

On the way into the approximately 450-square-foot unit, he sheepishly told me, “I have more than 20 cats, you know.”

The place was foul with urine and feces, littered with empty food tins and swarming with maggots. There were no fans, no air conditioning. Cats zigzagged here and there. Most hid under a bed, high up on shelves and in any crevice they could snake into. About four or five stood on a dresser, big eyed, curious, scared.

The sick cat was hiding on a shelf with maybe a foot of space between her and the ceiling. I couldn’t tell anything about her condition.

“Have you contacted a veterinarian?”

“It costs so much,” he said.

“An animal hospital?”

“What’s the cost?”

“I love them so much,” he added. “You don’t know how much I’m suffering.”

I heard faint meowing and tracked down the sound. There were three newborns in a cardboard box with a wet shirt on them. They were cold, near death.

“Where’s their mother?”

He didn’t know, but she was somewhere in that room, because he never let out the cats. Not evenings, not in 100-degree-plus daytime heat. He was feeding them milk by syringe, but only twice a day. I asked him to lose the wet shirt and place a warm blanket in there. It didn’t matter. They died the next day.

I left thinking I needed to talk to my wife, call experts, strategize. Walking home, I said out loud, “I should have grabbed that (expletive) box.”

This was my introduction to the phenomenon that is cat hoarding. It’s a sickness. It can be triggered by early-life abandonment and late-life trauma, among other events, according to psychiatric experts.

I should add that my neighbor has always been a sweet man who seemed to believe he was indispensable to his cats and swore that he loved them so. I should also add that I, a dog person, didn’t know if the cats were feral. Some, for sure, were unsocialized. About a third, it turns out, were fixed.

Fast forward three weeks and dozens of calls to cat rescue operations, police, Animal Control, neighbors.

Police visited several times but couldn’t make contact with the man. Same with Animal Control. Same with County social services. All tagged his door.

OC Community Cats stayed in touch with me via text, getting updates and giving invaluable advice. Throughout the ordeal, this organization has been fully invested in saving those animals, by hook or by crook.

The problem is cat rescues throughout the area are jam-packed. It’s kitten season, meaning unfixed cats are procreating. Many end up in rescues, some are adopted, others are euthanized.

Neighbors were steadfast — taking to social media, reaching out to rescues, providing resources. In short order, we became a team. A handful of us decided to intervene. We confronted the man, making three requests: 1) Clean up the place; 2) Get some air going in that sauna of a studio; 3) Stop leaving cat food outside to lure in more cats.

He would have none of it.

As luck would have it, a police officer was down the street, tending to a different issue. He agreed to come by and talk to the man. And he called Animal Control.

On July 8, the cats were confiscated and treated by Animal Control. At last check they were trying to adopt them out — a moonshot at best.

That’s where you come in.

If you’re interested in adopting a cat or two, go to ocpetinfo.com, then Lost Pets, then Found Pets, then Cats. You can sort by intake date (7-8-22) and city (Fullerton). Animal Control’s adoption services can be reached at 714-935-6848.

At last check, there were five left. There ain’t much time.

Some of the cats up for adoption at Orange County Animal Care.