Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reeking house held 120 cats

Investigators seize felines after neighbours notice smell

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It is being described as the worst case of animal hoarding ever discovered in Winnipeg.

Officials are scrambling to deal with about 120 cats seized Thursday evening from a filthy Wolseley-area home.

Winnipeg police and provincial animal services personnel discovered the felines while investigating tips from area residents about what was happening inside 273 Evanson St.

The cats and kittens were found throughout the residence and didn't have adequate food. Police say the animals were in various states of health, some in poor condition with a variety of infections.

The house smelled heavily of ammonia, posing a challenge for those who had to go in.

'I haven't seen any evidence of that many cats, so they've done a really good job of keeping the cats inside'

-- nearby neighbour Naomi Maendel

Nearby neighbour Naomi Maendel, who said she's lived there for three years, said neighbours were suspicious of what was going on because of the smell. She said she's seen only three or four cats in the house at a time.

"I had no idea there were that many," Maendel said. "I know one man owns the house and two men and a woman live there. I haven't seen any evidence of that many cats, so they've done a really good job of keeping the cats inside."

She said animal-control personnel seized five cats and a dog from the house last Monday.

Another neighbour, Sig Johnsson, said he has lived nearby with his family since August 2011, just a few houses down and across the street from where the cats were seized.

He said he saw the cats being taken from the house Thursday between 4 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

"The backstory is that the owner of the house, as we understand, he was some elderly, nice gentleman," Johnsson said.

"He lost his wife and what he did is rent out the rooms and then this lady showed up... She was a colourful character that we haven't seen for a long time. For about three or four weeks she's disappeared. We don't know what happened.

"She kept us safe. If anything ever happened, she was like a busy bee running back and forth."

Johnsson said because the Wolseley neighbourhood is so full of stray cats, residents didn't notice an unusual number coming from the house.

"We never had any hints on her keeping the cats in there. There were stray cats running around here and there that we didn't consider to be hers or anyone else's.

"She wasn't a real troublemaker. She was loud -- she would be yelling at, like, three or four in the morning. The two houses across from ours are rented, so they had drunken university students and she always quieted them down.

"We had this arrangement: Any time we had soda cans, we gave them to her. She collected bottles. They went on bicycles throughout the neighbourhood, collected them and everything. We are assuming that went towards cat food now."

A spokesman for the provincial veterinarian's office said Friday none of the cats has been euthanized. Those with illnesses or injuries are being treated as officials try to trace where they may have come from.

The female owner of the house is facing a criminal charge of uttering threats against an animal-protection worker involved in the seizure. Further charges may follow.

Police said they assisted in the investigation due to safety concerns.

Sources told the Free Press there are probably mental-health issues involved in the case. As well, they said they believe the woman felt she was giving the cats a warm, loving environment.

As a result, cruelty-to-animals charges are unlikely, they said.

www.mikeoncrime.com jessica.botelho-urbanski@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2013 A3

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