PHOENIX — About four dozen residents and a handful of out-of-towners stepped in over the past week to help round up about 70 cats and kittens that had taken over an abandoned house off Dano Drive.
Dan Meyer, a nuisance wildlife trapper, was called by a family whose elderly parents had been moved from their longtime home. A handful of pet cats had, over the years, grown into a massive colony.
Meyer, who has handled some large-scale animal issues in his time, said he was astounded at the number of cats, the overwhelming odor inside the house and the lack of options for dealing with dozens of unwanted cats.
The two-story house off Rose Street, which was recently sold, was surrounded by cats pleading for food, empty bags of cat food and litter, and piles of debris from recent cleanup efforts. Meyer reached out on social media for help with the animals, and he initially had some regrets for doing so.
Some well-wishers came by to feed — or overfeed — the cats. Others came “just to look,” and others hurt efforts to find a solution, Meyer said, “by barking orders.”
Initial media reports dubbed the cats “feral,” but the large majority were tame enough to be adopted as house cats.
Meyer said he spent as much time feeding the cats, cleaning up after them and catching them as he did dispelling misinformation posted on Facebook.
The primary need, he said, was for people to take a crate, go to the house and take a cat. One by one, the number of animals finally dwindled. Neighbors adopted a few. Rescue volunteers picked up cats to foster, and area shelters took in a handful at a time. One rescue group, from Corvallis, sent two volunteers in a tiny hatchback to retrieve 10 animals.
Jackson County Animal Services visited the property and took three groups of cats — some pregnant — as space at the shelter allowed. Residents anonymously chipped in to help cover spaying and neutering costs.
“There were a lot of really good people who showed up, a lot of people who cared. Some of them brought big bags of cat food. Others offered, and we had to tell them we had plenty,” Meyer said.
Meyer worked with Washington residents Kim and Tom Wilson, family members of the home’s former occupants, to trap the remaining 12 to 15 cats.
“We tied a string to the kitchen door and would have Kim shake a cat food bag to make them think she was pouring out cat food. We would hold the string ... and pull it shut when they ran inside. It was a lot of trial and error, and a lot of it was luck and just good old-fashioned persistence,” he said.
While most of the cats have been removed, more than a dozen remain who need some extra handling.
“Right at the beginning, people came and took all the cute cuddly ones and the gentle ones that would purr. Those were the first to go,” Meyer said.
“It slowed down a little when we started getting down to the nitty gritty. It’s harder to find someone who wanted the wild ones and the barn cats. Plus, we were kind of concerned that if they got adopted as barn cats, they weren’t going to get fixed or get an exam, and then someone else would have 70 more cats to deal with.”
Meyer said the final cats, whether eventually tamed or relocated as barn cats, will be checked for health then spayed or neutered.
Kim Wilson, one of the adult children of the elderly couple who once lived in the house, said she was grateful for the community help.
“It’s not been like something that just happened. We’ve been fighting the situation for five years. It started with a few cats, and they started multiplying. We would call around — the Humane Society, the pound — nobody ever could help, and it was hard to deal with from a distance,” Wilson said.
“Code enforcement came out and threatened us with a $500 fine per day when we have been trying to take care of this for years. I’m speechless that people would allow anybody to end up like that and not step in and say, ‘You’ve got too many cats.’ ”
Wilson said she was “extremely grateful” for Meyer’s help and the community response to the problem. As of Thursday, a plan was underway for placement of the remaining cats.
“I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but I don’t even really like cats,” Meyer said with a laugh. Meyer extended his gratitude to the dozens of people who helped care for the cats.
“This wasn’t just me. Not by a long shot.”
— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.