published Friday, September 5th, 2014

Overwhelmed by cats: Neighbors smell problem in Chickamauga; authorities seize 160-plus animals

  • photo
    On Thursday afternoon, Walker County Animal Control supervisor Curtis Patterson, right, helps load a select few of the of 157 cats found Wednesday at a Chickamauga residence. The owner presently is cooperating with the county and the Georgia Department of Agriculture, according to Patterson.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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TIME LINE

Large animal seizures in the region:

January 2005: Catoosa County, Ga., animal control officers find more than 40 living and dead animals om a trailer in the Lakeview community.

June 2005: The former operator of the Perry Link Memorial Humane Society is charged with 147 counts of animal cruelty after Marion County Sheriff's Office investigators found more than 50 neglected dogs and cats at the shelter and 80 more neglected dogs at her home.

October 2006: Sumner County deputies and animal rescue volunteers confiscate up to 400 dogs from the property of a breeder in the Nashville suburban community of Bethpage.

February 2011: Rescuers seized 19 sick and debilitated Chihuahuas from a trailer in Hixson. The owner faced 95 animal-related charges.

June 2011: A feces-strewn home in Apison was found to contain 44 cats and eight dogs after their owners were hospitalized.

February 2014: More than 70 dogs were seized at the Puppy Patch animal shelter in Morristown, Tenn. Some of the dogs had been sent there from the animal shelter in Cleveland, Tenn.

June 2014: Some 240 dogs were seized from a puppy mill on Candies Creek Road in Bradley County, Tenn.

Source: Newspaper archives, The Associated Press

CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. — The first thing that hit Chris Patterson when he arrived on the scene Thursday was the smell.

It was a beautiful day in Chickamauga: blue skies with just enough clouds. But it was hot, close to 90, with a light breeze.

That breeze on one small road carried a smell that Patterson, the animal control supervisor for Walker County, said you never forget.

Cat urine -- a lot of it.

The smell radiated from one small trailer home, set a ways up from the road. Inside the house, Patterson and a handful of others found more than 160 cats overwhelming their owner and what Patterson said appeared to be her mother-in-law, who both live in the home.

On Wednesday morning, the odor prompted a neighbor to call animal control. But Patterson said when he first arrived, he didn't know what to expect, because so many calls turn out to be simple spats between neighbors.

When the officers showed up Thursday, Patterson said it seemed like the owner had been expecting them.

"When I approached her, she went to crying," he said.

When he stepped inside, he saw cats crammed into cages or loose, with many more running around outside. Piles of cat excrement more than a foot high were found in some of the cages.

Patterson said he has never responded to an incident with so many animals in one house.

"I'm surprised no one called it in earlier," he said.

The discovery in Chickamauga marked the second time in 12 weeks that a large concentration of animals has been found and seized.

Twelve weeks ago, on June 11, more than 240 dogs were seized from a puppy mill in Bradley County.

In the past 10 years, there have been at least seven major seizures of large numbers of animals in local area.

Karen Walsh, the former executive director of McKamey Animal Center, has called animal hoarding an obsessive-compulsive mental disorder, and said the center usually encounters two or three major cat hoarding situations a year.

Neighbors in Chickamauga who did not wish to be identified said they'd had suspicions about the cats being inside the trailer, but had no idea about the extent of the problem.

"I came out one day and thought, 'What is that smell?'" one neighbor said, adding that her son told her it had to be cat urine.

Patterson said the woman who lives in the trailer moved onto the property five years ago and found a dozen cats already living there. She felt bad for the cats and took them in.

"Then they started multiplying," Patterson said.

On Thursday, the cats were carried out in cages, some filled with half-a-dozen animals, just to save room during their transport. The cats hissed and scratched at one another. Many of them are feral from lack of care, or inbred.

Patterson said the owner was cooperative, and no charges are being filed as yet. But if they are, she could be up for animal cruelty as well as failure to inoculate the animals for things like rabies. In the state of Georgia, owners are also required to have a permit for so many animals. Patterson said they've told the owner she can only have 20 cats, or she has to get a permit.

"If they let it get again like this, they're going to have a problem," he said.

Patterson said animal control receives several calls each month relating to cases of animal hoarding. And although this is the greatest number of cats he's ever seen at one location, he said the case overall is not the worst.

His worst was in Rossville, when around 40 cats had to be removed from a bedridden woman's home. There, excrement was piled on the floor several inches deep, in a sort of sludge.

Thursday evening, workers had managed to evacuate fewer than 100 cats. Today, shelters from neighboring counties and cities, including Atlanta, will come to see what cats they can take in.

Patterson said many of the animals will have to be euthanized, if they're in poor health or are too wild. But he thinks the woman had good intentions, citing sacks of cat food and litter found in the trailer.

"They can't take care of that many," he said of the two women.

Contact staff writer Hannah Smith at 757-6731 or hsmith@timesfreepress.com.

about Hannah Smith...

Hannah Smith is a staff reporter for the Times Free Press. She previously worked as a Pulliam Fellow at the Indianapolis Star and as a Middle East news reporter at the Global Post in Boston. She has also spent time in broadcast, interning at Channel 13 WTHR in Indianapolis, and radio, as a reporter for American Student Radio. Hannah graduated with honors from Indiana University in May with degrees in journalism and Arabic. There she ...

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