72 cats removed from hoarder's home

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - 8:58am

Fort Myers Shores, FL (WBBH) -- A Fort Myers Shores home is the latest location of a series of hoarding cases uncovered by Lee County Domestic Animal Services this year. The agency was notified of the situation by an anonymous caller. On Tuesday, March 18, officers responded to the home of Sandra Berkshire at 12350 Fourth Street and found 72 cats living in extremely unsanitary conditions.

Most of the cats were lying in their own waste stacked in cages inside the home. Many were found to be suffering from upper respiratory infections, severe flea dermatitis and overall neglect. The case is still under investigation and charges have not been filed at this time.

An alarming number of hoarding cases are scattered throughout Lee County -- at least 20 already this year.

On Tuesday Berkshire's house was deemed unlivable. It took nearly seven hours to clear out all the cats. It was a severe situation according to Lee County Department of Animal Services.

But it's an all too familiar case -- the department says the number of hoarding cases in Lee County continues to rise.

"You cannot condone this at all," said neighbor Danielle Null.

Cat after cat after cat -- pulled from the home, caged up and sent in for examination.

"And they just keep bringing animals out," Null said.

Null, an animal lover herself, can't believe it.

"I can't imagine living with more than what I have right now," she said.

Neighbors say Berkshire began rescuing cats 10 years ago.

"She was taking care of the cats, she was feeding them every week -- you could see all the bags of litter set out. So she's looking after them, no matter how many were in there. She was on top of it," said neighbor Geof Greene.

Greene doesn't agree with Lee County's Department of Animal Service taking away Berkshire's pets.

"They don't bother investigating. It's just boom, bust the door down and get in," Greene said.

"It's very difficult to breathe. You can't stay in the house for very long," said Tony Backhurst, LCDAS.

So bad in fact the home was deemed unlivable -- even after the cats were removed.

It was a difficult situation for Berkshire, but for neighbors watching too.

"I feel bad for her, I feel bad for the animals. Obviously she is very attached to them or she wouldn't keep them like this," Null said.

Authorities say there are 52 known hoarders in Lee County. Animal Services estimates 300 cases unreported.

The shelter is in need of foster homes to help with the care of the cats and to alleviate the overcrowding that the case has caused. Anyone interested in fostering may download a foster application. (http://www.leelostpets.com/Pages/FosterProgram.aspx)

"We urge residents to report suspected cases of neglect and abuse. It is the only way we can help the animals and see that the abusers receive help and/or are prosecuted," said Glenn Johnson, LCDAS Operations Manager.

Call 239-533-7387 to make a report or complaint. Callers may remain anonymous.


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