WITH VIDEO: Cats rescued from “deplorable” conditions at a breeder’s home | News, Sports, Jobs
ALPENA – A fatal New Years Eve accident north of Alpena led police to discover dozens of malnourished cats, surrounded by debris and feces, in a house that also served as the headquarters of a breeder in the one of the rare cat breeds in the world.
Police say as many as 100 cats have apparently lived for years among mountains of garbage, hundreds of empty cat cans and the corpses of other animals unable to survive the conditions at the Township home. Alpena.
The old Alpena County Jail building has been set up as a temporary shelter for rescued cats as their numbers are too large to fit in the Alpena County Animal Control Facility.
On Monday, cats watched from cages lined up on metal bunks in the old cells, some emaciated and shivering, meowing hoarse, others silent and still.
Researchers found the cats in “appalling conditions to say the least,” said Michelle Reid, an Alpena County animal control officer, who led the removal of the animals from the home.
Home resident Candice Massey died in what police suspect was a medical accident at the intersection of US 23-North and Golf Course Road around 10 p.m. Friday.
Called to the scene because responders found four cats in Massey’s vehicle, Reid recognized the cats as Havana Browns, an extremely rare cat breed bred by Massey.
When she peeked out the garage window of Massey’s house the next morning, “there were only cats everywhere,” Reid said.
Reid and Otsego County animal control workers removed 38 cats, three ducks and a chicken from the house over the weekend.
Reid estimated that there were 40 or 50 cats left in the house, many curling up in spaces above ceiling tiles or hidden under mounds of household items and collected trash.
Known for his pleasant and affectionate temperament as much as his chocolate brown color and distinctive head shape, the Havana Brown ancestry includes the dignified Siamese cat, a lineage written on the black-masked faces of some of the cats and kittens taken to the Massey’s house.
Rescuers also found domestic shorthair cats, apparently used for breeding, Reid said.
According to passionate cat websites, Massey bred Havana Browns for 35 years under the Acapella cattery trade name and was affiliated with several national cat associations.
In passionate cat-loving online forum posts dating back decades, Massey has made an enthusiastic plea for the ‘brown beauties’ she has bred, encouraging other breeders to be ethical and generous in their care for the breed.
Massey has helped lead a movement to strengthen the breed’s delicate lineage through a genetic diversity program, according to some online sites.
Several websites list Massey as the contact person for a Michigan Havana Brown rescue group.
Reid, who knew the breeder when the assistant worked for an Alpena vet decades ago, called Massey a bright and “super nice” woman.
âI had no idea this was going on,â Reid said.
Surrounded by woods at the end of a dead end, Massey’s house was showing signs that its resident was suffering from a mental illness, his extreme turmoil indicative of impulses to hoard. Massey’s brother said the breeder had fought for a long time, Reid said.
On Monday, hundreds of empty Special Kitty cat food cans, some covered in rust, filled the floors of the garage and passageways. In a side room, several inches of excrement covered the floor, while a row of cat show ribbons hung in a doorway.
In the middle of the rubbish lay small, cleaned bones.
âThey literally eat each other to stay alive,â Reid said.
Other small bodies, still intact, lay on a tarp in the backyard, removed by workers during the previous day’s rescue efforts.
The unlivable conditions were the reason why Massey’s car was showing signs that she was living there, Reid said.
Reid, who had expected to find cats in the dozen or so live traps she had left in the house overnight and baited with food, only removed one caged cat from the house.
âWell that’s more than disappointing,â she said, worrying about the eerie silence of the house where she believed several dozen cats were still hiding. “I’m so scared they’ll die, damn it.”
Faint noises above a ceiling tile gave the officer hope cats could still come out of the house, though her flashlight beam was blank as she stood on a rickety table to look through a hole in the ceiling.
“There are still so many cats here,” said the animal control officer, teary eyed as she wondered how to find the remaining cats before they died. “How do you explain to a cat that you are trying to save it?” “
Apparently no one saw how Massey lived with his cats, “and if they did, shame on them for not reporting what they saw,” Reid said.
Michigan law dictates how breeders breed dogs, but the state has no regulatory oversight over cat breeders, according to Pollyanne McKillop, Animal Shelter Program Manager at the Department of Agriculture and Development rural Michigan.
Local governments can regulate the care and custody of animals, including the number and types of animals people may have, McKillop said.
The Township of Alpena website does not list specific animal care ordinances.
Police believe other animals may live in similar squalid conditions in the Alpena area. They need the help of residents who are ready to speak out when they notice something is wrong, Alpena County Sheriff Steven Kieliszewski said on Monday outside Massey’s home.
âIf you see something, say something,â Kieliszewski said, pointing to the front window of the house. ” There are others. “
Had Massey’s cats been discovered before his death, police could have charged him with violating state cruelty and neglect laws.
Or, says Kieliszewski, she could have gotten the mental health help she needed.
Massey’s brother gave police jurisdiction over the rescued cats, Reid said.
Most cats have upper respiratory tract disease, and many – especially the Havana Browns, with a less robust build than domestic shorthair – are undernourished, some unable to eat regular cat food because that their slim body cannot process it.
The cats will remain at the old prison while workers carry out health checks and ensure that those previously mentioned by people who have done business with Massey are united with their cats.
Once the dust settles, the county will hold an adoption day for some cats, sending others to shelters and animal shelters, Reid said.
County employees will spay and neuter all animals before they move to new homes, Reid said.
Donations to help pay for the care of Havana Brown Cats rescued from a hoarding situation this weekend, and other animals rescued from life-threatening situations, can be turned over to the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office at 4900 M-32 West in Alpena, with checks made out to Alpena County Animal Control.