Down the road from my home is a neglected house on the corner of Academy Street and Kenneth Terrace. The steps leading to the front door are crumbling. You have to be careful where you step because it doesn’t look like the steps could hold the weight of a small child. The side yard has rows of plastic garbage bags waiting to be hauled away.
A carcass of some long ago dead animal lies next to the trash. On the front lawn a worn table and chairs are covered with leaves. Underneath the table is a pair of running shoes—showing signs that a family once lived here.
Peeling paint shows further signs of neglect, and the stench of urine can be smelled from the curb. A mother, her daughter, approximately 30-plus cats, and five dogs lived in this house. The mother died on December 16, 2011. When she died, the dogs found shelter at Jersey Animal Coalition (JAC).
Most of the cats are still in the house. Two kittens were moved to JAC. A number of cat rescuers in town expected the rest would follow. A few, with checkbooks in hand and the willingness to find foster homes, offered help. Some of these cat rescuers volunteer at JAC.
“I went to the house with a friend who knew the family and asked if I could help,” says Virginia Canino, a South Orange resident and cat rescuer. “The daughter said that her grandfather (who owns the house) had called NJ SPCA.”
“My plan was to get as many of the cats out of there,” says Canino. “The first thing I wanted to do was separate the males from the females. I wanted to get them tested for feline leukemia, to have them de-flead and de-wormed, get them rabies shots, spayed and neutered so they wouldn’t breed, and get them into foster homes until they were well enough to be adopted out.”
“I was offering physical and financial help,” says Canino. “I’ve done cat rescue for a number of years, and I was offering to foot the bill.”
Canino has rescued nine cats from the house. Three were adopted. One is at Cameron Animal Hospital in Montclair; one was put down (euthanized because it was near death), and that was the decision of the daughter; and four are in temporary foster homes. Three tested positive for feline leukemia, which is contagious between cats. (There are two stages of feline leukemia. In the primary stage often kittens are able to eliminate the virus and halt progression to the secondary stage. The secondary stage causes infection of the bone marrow and other tissue. If feline leukemia reaches this stage, there is no cure. Feline leukemia is not transferrable between people and cats.) Three others were tested, and of those three, two of those three were negative for feline leukemia. They are back in the house and can contract the disease if they don’t get out of the house.
“One cat was fixed last week,” she says. “I named him Captain Jack Sparrow because he stole my heart. These cats are extremely affectionate and socialized. They are not feral.”
Canino and others have sent me e-mails, called my home, and even approached me if they see me in town about this house and the unfortunate cats that are somehow surviving inside. Many people know I write a pet blog and know I get donations for animal shelters. So, I listened.
“The house on Academy is a very worrisome spot,” says Nancy Heins-Glaser, who lives down the road from the house. “Health issues are important. Folks have been told to stifle, not complain. I don’t really know why.”
Doreen Grasso, shelter manager of JAC, and Ruth Perlmutter, executive director, both said they were told by Sergeant Al Peterson of NJSPCA that he is investigating the situation, and that it would be less complicated if the volunteers would allow the authorities to take care of the situation instead of trying to get involved.
Peterson said that this case is under investigation and that the volunteers basically don’t understand why these matters take as long as they do. Peterson explained that if he were to rush in and remove the cats immediately that these cats would go to a kill shelter. He said if residents are concerned, they can send an e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barry R. Lewis, Jr., the newly appointed South Orange Village Administrator, who has been on the job for four weeks, says, “As per Dick Ash (South Orange Animal Control Officer), 18 cats have been medically treated and relocated, and Dick estimates that another 18 or 20 cats are left in the house. The daughter broke her ankle, and was able to give us a key to go in and tend to these cats. So hopefully this has paved the way to get these cats the medical attention and foster homes they need.”
Lewis just learned that a number of South Orange and Maplewood residents have stepped forward to help pay for medical care, spaying/neutering, and finding temporary and permanent foster homes. “If anyone wants to help, they should contact John Festa, South Orange's Health Officer or Dick Ash.” He also said that if residents don’t hear back, they should call his office. (The number for South Orange Village Hall is 973-378-7715)
Pet News and Views is an animal welfare blog written by Michele C. Hollow. The blog covers animal welfare, pet care, and the people who work with and on behalf of animals. The blog can be found at http://PetNewsandViews.com.