Here’s an update on the cat hoarding case from a former cat rescuer:
Fairfax County Animal Control collected 168 cats from 7100 Village Drive, Annandale. Most of the cats were relinquished by the owners.
They have been examined by a vet at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, treated for medical needs, and are being housed and cared for in a temporary (and comfortable) shelter in a climate-controlled barn facility in an undisclosed location. Many of the cats had upper respiratory infections, but the hoarders, Eleanor Kaufer and Paula Burns, had them spayed and neutered.
The Friends of Fairfax County Animal Shelter worked with the animal shelter to apply for an emergency grant of $15,000 from Petsmart Charities and have been using a $25,000 emergency fund to pay for the deeply discounted care and board. Almost all of the cats are expected to be put up for adoption when they are ready. FFCAS will advertise a special adoption event but is also working with the rescue community to find homes for some of the cats. FFCAS is still in desperate need of donations.
The former cat rescuer, who prefers to remain anonymous (I’ll refer to her as “Amanda”), offered some insight into how a cat rescuer can develop into a hoarder. She believes the Annandale cat hoarders “truly cared about animals and tried to do the right thing.” As more and more people brought them stray cats, they likely felt that each case “is a matter of life and death.”
A cat rescuer has to maintain a boundary, Amanda says. “You have to understand that you can’t save them all.” There are no set limits on how many cats are too many. “If you have 70 cats in a condo, for example, it’s a lot worse than having 70 cats in a Great Falls mansion. When you have a lot of cats, the air quality deteriorates, and the more you have, especially if you’ve taken in feral cats, the more you’re likely to get some that spray on the wall or refuse to use the litter box,” she says. After living in a situation like that for a while, “people get used to the smell and it doesn’t bother them anymore.”
Obviously, Amanda says, having almost 170 cats, like the Annandale ladies, “is way too many and impossible for one or two people to keep things clean.” When Amanda was in charge of a rescue program, she had as many as 50 at one point. “I knew that was way too many and worked to get the number down.” She now has about 20, and they stay on a screened porch, separate from her living quarters, and are able to go outside. As a rescue supervisor, she trained volunteers to take care of foster cats, inspected their homes, checked references, and made sure they had their cats vaccinated, spayed, and neutered.
She acquired many of her cats from a feral colony at a Northern Virginia landfill. She would trap the cats, take them to a vet, get them vaccinated, neutered, and checked for disease, then set them free. She acknowledges making some “bad decisions” by keeping too many. “When it was 20 below zero, I couldn’t leave a cat back at the garbage dump.”
“Some people in life push themselves beyond their comfort level to help care for animals or children or the elderly,” Amanda says. “But there’s a risk of harming themselves” by taking on more than they can handle. “You have to applaud people for doing more than their share. But it can turn into a martyr syndrome.” On the other hand, “how many people can say, ‘I saved a life today?’ That is so rewarding. It can get addictive.”