A woman allegedly abandoned more than 40 cats outside a Newark animal shelter after hours on Monday night after cramming the animals into five carriers, the shelter's operators said.
The containers were so overstuffed with kittens and full-grown cats that some of the animals' skin was bulging out of the caged front doors of the crates, which were also filled with urine and fecal matter, according to the Associated Humane Societies of New Jersey, which runs the shelter.
Scott Crawford, assistant director of the AHS, said seven of the cats had such severe eye infections that their eyes popped out of their sockets, another eight had infections but their eyes were still intact, while a dozen of the animals had upper respiratory illnesses.
"It is inhumane to have that many animals in a carrier that’s made for one or two animals maximum," Crawford said in an interview.
An animal control officer who was returning from a call and dropping off an animal at the facility at 124 Evergreen Ave. spotted the woman as she tried to abandon the 42 felines. He snapped photos of her before she fled, the assistant director told FiOS1 News.
Crawford said the officer was heading back to the shelter at about 8 p.m. Monday when he saw a red pickup truck pull up outside the facility and watched as the woman got out and began unloading the carriers. They were overfilled with cats that ranged from a couple of weeks old to six or seven years of age.
The truck drove off, the officer approached and questioned the woman, and she said she could no longer take care of the animals. But the animal control officer told her the shelter was closed and she needed to return the following morning during business hours and fill out paperwork before dropping the animals off, Crawford said.
The pet owner claimed that she would get a ride back to the site in an hour and pick up the cats. The officer began snapping photos of the woman, figuring she would not return, prompting her to become belligerent before leaving the scene, Crawford said.
Had a staff member not spotted the woman dropping the crates off, many of the cats likely would've died of suffocation or overheating by the time shelter personnel found them when they opened the facility the following morning, Crawford said.
"In my opinion, they wouldn’t have lasted through the night," he said.
Even if the woman gave the shelter advance notice, even if she was an animal hoarder, Crawford said the society would've tried to help her out by providing veterinary care, by going to the residence and cleaning up, and taking some or all of the animals in.
The cats would’ve been removed gradually rather than all at once. "There were a lot of better ways to do this," Crawford said.
But "the way she went about transporting them is inhumane and cruel," and in light of the fact that she attempted to desert them on the street, the pet owner could now face criminal charges, he said.
The assistant director said he wants to locate the former cat owner because she might have more animals that are in similarly poor shape and living in squalid conditions.
All the abandoned cats have survived their ordeal and are receiving medical treatment, but the shelter is looking to transfer some of them to the society's Tinton Falls and Forked River facilities. Officials are hoping that other rescues or shelters will also take in some of the animals.
Crawford pointed out that the shelter receives 25 to 30 intakes per day in the summer and holds about 480 animals daily. Roughly 7,000 animals are taken in by the Newark shelter each year.
"It is an overwhelming time of year and we've got to find other rescue groups or shelters to lighten the load,” he said.
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