Animal care attendants Kimberly Berry (left) and Stephany Davidson assess one of dozens of cats on Aug. 8, 2019 that was taken into the Chilliwack SPCA from a cat hoarder in Maple Ridge. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Animal care attendants Kimberly Berry (left) and Stephany Davidson assess one of dozens of cats on Aug. 8, 2019 that was taken into the Chilliwack SPCA from a cat hoarder in Maple Ridge. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Hoarding cats often a mental health issue: Chilliwack SPCA

Chilliwack SPCA explains why they don’t remove all animals in one go from a cat hoarding situation

A months-long SPCA animal intake, which included the surrender of more than 130 cats from a 600-square-foot house, has finally been closed.

The situation was directly related to mental health issues, said Chloé MacBeth, branch manager at the Chilliwack SPCA, which took in some of the cats, along with Maple Ridge and Surrey shelters.

“Most of our files it’s a mental health gap. It’s support for the humans that are failing and, as a result, the animals are suffering,” MacBeth said.

In April, the SPCA was dispatched to a small, one-bedroom home in Maple Ridge where complaints had come in from neighbours.

“What neighbours started to notice was the smell. The landlord himself noticed the smell, but just though it was normal for a couple of cats,” said Christine Carey, one of the SPCA animal protection officers on scene.

But, unbeknownst to the landlord, the tenant didn’t have just a couple of cats. She had well over 100 – all of them indoor cats.

The home was filthy, according to Carey. There weren’t enough litter boxes and there was cat feces everywhere – cats were stepping in it and sleeping in it. There wasn’t adequate food or water. There were even dead cats and kittens in the home, according to the SPCA report.

“Disgusting” is how MacBeth and Carey both described the home.

The house also had “dangerously high” ammonia levels, Carey added.

The place, declared uninhabitable, was considered a hazmat situation because ammonia levels were so high. Full hazmat suits and respiratory equipment were required to enter the home.

The SPCA took in 136 cats between April and October to the Chilliwack, Maple Ridge and Surrey shelters. Three cats later had litters of kittens while in foster care, for an estimated total of 150 cats from one cat hoarder.

As sad as the situation is, it’s far from uncommon. According to MacBeth, all of their large-scale animal intakes are directly linked to people with mental health issues.

The owners are well intentioned, but “it’s so easy for it to get out of control,” she said. “They want to save them all then they can’t afford to spay or neuter one, and then all of a sudden it’s a much bigger problem.”

The home in Maple Ridge started three years ago with just three cats. When the SPCA first visited there in April, there were more than 100 cats. Over the course of about six months, they slowly removed groups of about 10 to 20 cats each visit. It seemed like a never-ending problem as pregnant cats were giving birth to litters of kittens at the hoarder’s home throughout the surrender.

In large-scale animal intakes like this, people often wonder why the SPCA doesn’t simply remove all of the cats and be done with it. Why take a dozen cats at a time gradually over six months?

First, they don’t have the resources or kennel space.

“If we just take them all in, we’re no better than the hoarders themselves… we’re not providing them with that standard of care,” MacBeth said.

Second, removing all of the pets from a cat hoarder’s home will be a shock to the owner. By gradually removing the animals, the SPCA can show the owner the benefits of having just a few cats – that it’s manageable and healthier for both the owner and pets.

Third, the SPCA has to take into consideration local veterinarians who assist them.

“If we all of a sudden have 28 cats that all need medical care, who does it? We rely on our community veterinarians to clear their schedules basically,” MacBeth said.

The SPCA gathers as much information as possible from the home so they learn, for example, what type of litter the cats were using and what food they were eating, which helps the shelters.

Each cat undergoes a medical exam, including vaccinations and spay/neuter. Then there’s “major behavioural work” on top of all of the medical issues, MacBeth said.

The cats are stressed and in a new environment with unfamiliar people and smells. The SPCA’s behaviour modification system sees that the cats are housed together in a room where there’s music playing, calming pheromones and hiding places in each kennel. Volunteers and staff come in regularly to socialize with the animals and introduce them to new faces and scents.

It can take weeks or even months for a cat from a large-scale intake to be suitable for adoption. Dozens of cats from this surrender were taken into the Chilliwack branch and have since all been adopted.

READ MORE: See a video of one of the cats surrendered from this intake

The SPCA deals with several large-scale animal intakes every year, but what they don’t see as often are positive end results, like in this case. One reason for its success is the SPCA has recently been collaborating more with the RCMP and Fraser Health to identify people at risk. The other reason is the gradual intake of the surrendered animals.

Back at the Maple Ridge house, the woman now has six cats, all of which have been spayed or neutered. Her file was closed in October, and the SPCA did not press charges because she was so compliant.

They have been back numerous times to check on her and each time, it’s been a “very positive interaction,” MacBeth said.

This is exactly the type of end result the SPCA wants to see.

“We’ve been consulting with hoarding experts, and the way this file was done is actually best practice in terms of recidivism,” MacBeth said, adding that slow intakes on cases like this are the way to go.

“It’s not a shock to their system in terms of all of a sudden they go from 150 to none. They realize the benefits of having fewer and fewer animals and that compulsion to get more isn’t there.”

“It’s easy for people to become overwhelmed. We are here to help,” MacBeth said. “We want to keep animals and their humans together.”

RELATED: BC SPCA to recommend charges in case involving 27 horses

RELATED: 97 rats surrendered to SPCA from B.C. home

RELATED: BC SPCA overwhelmed with cats, kittens needing homes


 

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
jenna.hauck@theprogress.com

@PhotoJennalism
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

From left, Kimberly Berry, Stephany Davidson and Christine Carey bring cats in to the Chilliwack SPCA on Aug. 8, 2019. The cats were some of 136 surrendered from a cat hoarder in Maple Ridge. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

From left, Kimberly Berry, Stephany Davidson and Christine Carey bring cats in to the Chilliwack SPCA on Aug. 8, 2019. The cats were some of 136 surrendered from a cat hoarder in Maple Ridge. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Over the course of six months, the SPCA took in 136 cats from one cat hoarder to the Chilliwack, Maple Ridge and Surrey shelters. Three cats later had litters of kittens while in foster care, for an estimated total of 150 cats from one cat hoarder. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Over the course of six months, the SPCA took in 136 cats from one cat hoarder to the Chilliwack, Maple Ridge and Surrey shelters. Three cats later had litters of kittens while in foster care, for an estimated total of 150 cats from one cat hoarder. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Animal care attendants Kimberly Berry (left) and Stephany Davidson assess one of dozens of cats on Aug. 8, 2019 that was taken into the Chilliwack SPCA from a cat hoarder in Maple Ridge. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Animal care attendants Kimberly Berry (left) and Stephany Davidson assess one of dozens of cats on Aug. 8, 2019 that was taken into the Chilliwack SPCA from a cat hoarder in Maple Ridge. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Kimberly Berry assess one of dozens of cats on Aug. 8, 2019 that was taken into the Chilliwack SPCA from a cat hoarder in Maple Ridge. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Kimberly Berry assess one of dozens of cats on Aug. 8, 2019 that was taken into the Chilliwack SPCA from a cat hoarder in Maple Ridge. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

It can take weeks or even months for a cat from a large-scale intake to be suitable for adoption. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

It can take weeks or even months for a cat from a large-scale intake to be suitable for adoption. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Animal care attendants Kimberly Berry (left) holds a cat steady while Stephany Davidson photographs it on Aug. 8, 2019. The cat was one of dozens that was taken into the Chilliwack SPCA from a cat hoarder in Maple Ridge. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Animal care attendants Kimberly Berry (left) holds a cat steady while Stephany Davidson photographs it on Aug. 8, 2019. The cat was one of dozens that was taken into the Chilliwack SPCA from a cat hoarder in Maple Ridge. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Just Posted

Russell Jonathon George Gurney was last seen in Chilliwack in mid-December. (RCMP photo)
RCMP ask for help to find missing Abbotsford man last seen in Chilliwack

Police and family are concerned for the well-being of Russell Jonathon George Gurney

The Harrison Hot Springs village office, as seen from the back. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)
Harrison village staff to get additional office space

The village has agreed to spend up to $75,000 of the COVID-19 Safe Restart Grant on a new portable

Harrison Hot Springs kindergarten students held a peaceful protest Monday (Jan. 18) to end separated recess. The protest was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and his lessons of non-violent action. Check out page XX for the whole story. (Dustin Neufeld/Contributed)
PHOTOS: Harrison students launch peaceful protest against playground division for MLK day

The kindergarten students negotiated with the school principal to enable recess on both playgrounds

Ottawa serial killer Camille Joseph Cleroux died of natural causes at Abbotsford’s Pacific Institution on Sunday.
Serial killer housed at Abbotsford’s Pacific Institution dies of natural causes

Camille Joseph Cleroux announced dead on Sunday, known as notorious Ottawa serial killer

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Southern resident killer whales in B.C. waters. Research shows the population’s females are more negatively influenced by vessel traffic than males. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Female orcas less likely to feed in presence of vessel traffic: study

Research the southern resident population raises concerns over reproduction capacity

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
1-in-5 COVID tests coming back positive in and around Fernie, sparking concern

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Most Read