More than 150 cats seized from Powell area home

Posted 9/2/10

Three individuals live in the residence, 79-year-old home-owner Clifton Taylor, his wife, Mimi Nesbit Taylor, 63, and her twin sister, Miki Nesbit.

“It was a living nightmare every day and it is still,” Nesbit said. She said she had …

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More than 150 cats seized from Powell area home


{gallery}08_31_10/157cats{/gallery} One of the 157 cats captured at a rural Powell home stares into the camera, as dozens of others mill about in the Lane 11 residents' basement. Workers with the Humane Society of the United States, Park County Sheriff's Office, Powell veterinarian Teri Oursler and others worked all day Thursday removing cats from the home. Courtesy photo/Bradly J. BonerA total of 157 cats were seized from a rural Powell home Thursday by workers with the Humane Society of the United States, called in to assist by the Park County Attorney's and Sheriff's Office.Officials described the conditions at the Lane 11 home south of Powell as filthy, and said many of the cats were in poor health, some requiring euthanization. Most of the cats have since been transported elsewhere for adoption.

Three individuals live in the residence, 79-year-old home-owner Clifton Taylor, his wife, Mimi Nesbit Taylor, 63, and her twin sister, Miki Nesbit.

“It was a living nightmare every day and it is still,” Nesbit said. She said she had spent four years “living in flies.”

Nesbit described the cats as mostly Clifton Taylor's — an account disputed by officials familiar with the case and by Taylor.

Taylor said all but seven of the animals belonged to his wife, Mimi.

“They are not my cats. They're Mimi's cats. She loves cats so much, she couldn't stand to get rid of them ... they've always been her whole life,” said Clifton Taylor.

“I wanted her to give some of them up, but she wouldn't do it,” Taylor added. “I loved her, so I put up with it.”

Taylor said he would dispose of the newborn kittens, but “other times (Mimi) would save them and not even tell me.”

On Thursday, a massive trailer for the Humane Society of the United States pulled up to the residence, just west of Wyo. 295, and workers began capturing the cats and removing them from the home. Sheriff's deputies, Department of Family Services workers and Powell Veterinarian Teri Oursler of Heart Mountain Animal Health all assisted.

Humane Society members examined and tagged each cat, with the numbers growing progressively higher as the morning wore on — E76, E77...

The city of Powell has a two-pet limit, but in rural Park County there are no limits on the number of animals an individual can own. Law enforcement can step in only when they have probable cause animals are not being well cared for.

“It's alleged they weren't being kept in conformity with what Wyoming law mandates,” said Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric at the scene on Thursday.

As of Monday evening, no criminal charges had been filed in connection with the case. Skoric said his office was working to determine which charges were appropriate for which individuals.

The seized animals were taken from the home to a temporary shelter at the Park County Fairgrounds.

On Friday, Oursler and four other veterinarians from Cody and Basin, processed all 157 cats, providing medical care and examinations.

On Sunday, 101 of the cats in what Oursler called adoptable conditions were transported via the Humane Society's truck to animal shelters in Cheyenne, Denver and Fort Collins, where they will be adopted out.

Officials said taking the animals to larger communities was necessary because of the large number of cats.

The City of Powell/Moyer Animal Shelter, for example, was once packed to the gills with 43 cats, said Elfriede Milburn, president of Caring for Powell Animals.

“I'm worried when it gets to be 25 (cats),” Milburn said.

Kittens are adopted fairly quickly, but adult cats may remain at the shelter for months before they find a new home.

“A couple of cats have been there over a year,” Milburn said.

Seventeen animals were euthanized following the medical examinations.

On Monday, Oursler said the only euthanized cats were “the ones that were at death's door and the ones that were truly, truly wild.”

She said the unsocialized cats were given the opportunity to calm down, and evaluated on both Thursday and Friday before the decision was made to put them down.

Five seriously ill cats were sent to Billings Monday morning, where they can be treated in isolation and later adopted, while another three females and three moms with their kittens are staying in Powell homes, Oursler said.

Fourteen of the cats have not been relinquished by the owners and remain under the care of Park County.

The Humane Society reported that many of the cats were found to have respiratory infections, ear mites, tumors and emaciation.

“Most of them were in good body condition, but almost all of them had upper respiratory infections,” Oursler said. “Most of those (infections) cleared up when we got them out of that ammonia-laden environment.”

The rest, she said, were treated with antibiotics.

“It's definitely pretty unsanitary,” Adam Parascandola, director of Animal Cruelty Issues for the HSUS, said as he stood outside the home on Thursday. He said cat urine and feces had “kinda of soaked into” the home's wood floors, contributing to the high ammonia levels. Parascandola said the ammonia levels were high enough to be harmful to both animal and human health.

“Breathing that ammonia is really hard on the lungs and the upper respiratory system,” said Oursler.

Workers at the home on Thursday, including Oursler, wore masks as they captured and removed cats.

“(The cats) weren't starving, but they certainly were living in filth,” said Oursler, adding later, “It was the dirtiest place I've ever been in my life.”

Oursler said a cat skull was found at the home on Thursday; she said when she visited the home a month ago, she found one dead cat. That visit, Oursler said, sparked the beginning of the preparations that culminated in Thursday's seizure.

Nesbit said she reported the situation to law enforcement.

“I couldn't take it and it started depressing me and it kept me from going back to jobs,” she said.

Skoric said a Nesbit report to law enforcement “would be news to me.”

“That would have gotten us into the house much more quickly,” he said.

Park County Sheriff's reports indicate the home has been on the agency's radar for some time. On March 1, a citizen reported that more than 100 cats were living in a Lane 11 house.

“Since I've been here, certainly we've had nothing like this,” said Skoric, who's been Park County Attorney since 2003.

Parascandola said the Humane Society deals with about 12 to 15 cases a year involving hoarding.

This operation was not the organization's biggest.

“We've done ones with 600 cats, which is a lot, lot more,” Parascandola said. He said in the last few months, the Humane Society has had two other seizures in the 100- to 150-animal range.

Parascandola estimated the Humane Society's costs of bringing in the people and supplies at between $40,000 to $50,000. Much of the materials were donated by PetSmart Charities.

“The bulk of the operation is paid for by the Humane Society,” said Skoric, saying he believed there would be little cost to the county.

“These guys really came to the rescue,” Deputy Park County Attorney Tim Blatt said of the Humane Society. “I don't know what we would have done without them.”

“I cannot see that we'd have ever successfully, humanely removed those cats without their help,” said Oursler.

Nesbit praised the work of responders.

“They did a good job and they tore things apart,” she said.

Clifton Taylor said he was very upset with the damage done to his home during the seizure of the cats. He said the basement ceiling — where many cats had been living and hiding — had been torn out.

“I'll never be able to put that back up,” Taylor said.

He said he had to spend about two hours Thursday night putting his bedroom back to a point where he could go to bed.

Taylor said he was spending $800 a month purchasing cat food, he said, going through more than three dozen cans and a sack of food every day. And that doesn't include cat litter, he added.

“It was breaking me, buying cat food for them,” Taylor said. He said he has only a limited income with Social Security payments and his mechanic business, Clif's Auto Repair.

Taylor and Nesbit both said they did not realize there were 157 cats in the home.

“I didn't know we had that many cats,” said Taylor, adding, “I knew she (Mimi) had too many,” but he had guessed there were 50.

“We had no idea there were that many,” said Nesbit.

She called Taylor a hoarder and said the clutter in the home was part of the reason she didn't know there were so many cats.

“The hoarding here is just unbelievable,” she said, describing her room of the home as a lone, clean “oasis.”

Taylor denied being a hoarder and said he had never owned more than a dozen cats at one time prior to the sisters moving in.

“The house was perfectly clean until they (Mimi and Miki) moved into it,” he said.

Both household members said they agreed 157 cats were too many.

“We love animals, period, but this is kind of beyond,” said Nesbit. She said she's been told that they may be able to keep three or four; she said she hopes the rest go to good homes.

Taylor said he was relieved to have the cats out of the house, but said he missed some — particularly the cats he and his late first wife, Edith, formerly owned.

“Some of them I just want to be able to get back,” he said.

Choking up with tears, Taylor said he wasn't sure what he was going to do next. He said he was upset by comments Nesbit had made to media, saying the cat situation was his fault.