The 44 cats and eight dogs found at an Apison home Wednesday afternoon made up a "classic example of hoarding," according to Guy Bilyeu, executive director of the Humane Educational Society of Hamilton County, which rescued the animals.
The interior of the home was littered with feces, and wallpaper was peeling off the walls. Cats were roaming freely, Bilyeu said. In the backyard was an overgrown pen containing several doghouses, where the dogs were found.
At least three more cats remain at the house, until Humane Society workers determine the best way to catch them.
The couple living at the home had both been recently checked into separate mental health facilities, Bilyeu said. Their son, who lives in Seattle, approached the Humane Society saying he didn't know what to do about the animals.
"He's obviously distraught about this, but he did the best possible thing," Bilyeu explained. "We could have cited them with all kinds of charges, but because he called us and released them over to us we won't have to do any of that. Fortunately, in this case we can just focus on the animals."
The son helped Humane Society workers with the removal, renting an air conditioned U-Haul truck to transport some of the cats and donating money to help with their recovery. He declined to talk with the Times Free Press about the matter.
None of the animals at the home were spayed or neutered, and many of the cats were afflicted with ear mites and skin disorders. Several of the dogs' claws were long and curled.
But all animals were well-fed and adequately hydrated, showing no signs of serious neglect, Bilyeu said.
All of the animals will be inoculated and then quarantined for two weeks for evaluation and treatment before veterinarians will determine if they can be put up for adoption.
The vast number of animals in the home was unrelated to the April tornadoes that devastated neighborhoods a few miles away, Bilyeu said.
Compulsive animal hoarding is considered a mental disorder, Bilyeu explained.
"The sad reality is that hoarders start out thinking they're going to save animals' lives. They get overwhelmed, and then they just sort of let the animals take over," he said.
He said it's the worst case of animal hoarding he's seen in the county in several years.
In February, McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center rescued 19 Chihuahuas from a trailer belonging to Winston Andrew O'Dell.
Chattanooga City Court convicted O'Dell on 96 charges including animal neglect. He was ordered to give up all of the dogs but two.
Bilyeu said Wednesday's sudden influx of felines at the Humane Society comes in the middle of what is already considered "kitten season," when dozens of kittens are born and brought into the center.
"It's hard on the whole shelter. Fortunately we have enough space to accommodate them, but we're scrounging for basics like litter pans and food bowls," he said.
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.