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Squalid house of cats affected neighbors



Published: Fri, September 8, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Photos of the rescued cats will appear on ohiospca.org.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Residents near a Douglas Street house were being held hostage by the smell of dead cats and mounds of feces from live ones, city Prosecutor Jay Macejko says.

Macejko said Thursday that he will visit the South Side neighborhood soon to meet with those affected by the house at 1317 Douglas St. He wants to assure the residents, who have complained that the house was a longtime problem, that steps are being taken to prevent similar situations.

Residents said they weren't able to sit outside this summer because of the stench. They also feared the cats, which left the house through a broken window, would spread disease to neighborhood pets.

Rescuers captured roughly 30 abandoned cats at the house this week and set traps to catch the rest. Officials estimated 40 to 50 cats lived in the squalid conditions and said the house contains the remains of untold dead felines.

The house has been red-tagged by the city, which means it is not fit for human habitation and anyone found inside will be arrested, Macejko said.

Assessing the house

Health Commissioner Neil Altman said once all the animals are removed he will send in sanitarians to assess the condition of the dwelling. A letter saying whether the place can be cleaned for habitation or must be demolished will then be sent to the owner and the city, he said.

The owner, Leslie Travis III, is responsible for cleanup or demolition costs, Macejko said. The costs will be placed as a lien on the property, he said.

Macejko said he will have police put together a photo lineup to determine if neighbors can identify Travis as the man seen coming and going at the house. If so, charges of animal cruelty and abandonment will be filed against him, the prosecutor said.

Neighbors said Travis' mother died several months ago and he hasn't been seen at the house in about two weeks.

Although the cats' predicament came to light last week when Dave Nelson, deputy dog warden, went looking for a loose pit bull, the rescue effort did not begin until two days ago.

Animal Charity, a humane agency on South Avenue, said last Friday that it wouldn't be able to enter the house because Jason Osborne, its humane agent, lacks certification for the job. Jennifer Houser, program director, then called reporters Wednesday to say the city prosecutor gave the OK for removal of the cats.

Citizens can go

Macejko explained that, without the services of a humane agent, the law permits private citizens -- not government employees -- to enter private property to protect a neglected animal. The state confers immunity on such people, he said.

The prosecutor said Osborne and the others who assisted in the rescue did so as private citizens. Workers from Animal Charity and Angels for Animals of Canfield participated.

With Animal Charity reportedly out of the picture last week, Angels for Animals, which is not a humane agency, made arrangements to remove the cats, have them tested for AIDS and leukemia and euthanize the ones that could not be saved, Matt Ditchey, president of the organization, said Thursday. The healthy cats would then be sent to the Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which offered to foster the animals until homes could be found, he said.

Maggie Godfrey, a volunteer with the OSPCA in Portage County, said Thursday that Animal Charity knew of the Angels for Animals plan and was OK with it. She expressed confusion as to why Animal Charity, which said it didn't have space or money to test the cats last week, decided to rescue them.

Twenty-one cats were taken to a garage at Animal Charity on Wednesday. Ditchey said Angels for Animals took nine cats and set traps to catch the rest.

No disease so far

So far, between Animal Charity and Angels for Animals, 14 cats were tested for disease and the results were negative, Godfrey said. She said they were also spayed or neutered and will be sent to her.

She said photos of the cats will be posted on the Web site ohiospca.org.

Ditchey, meanwhile, said he met Thursday with Mahoning County Commissioners Anthony Traficanti and John A. McNally IV and Dog Warden Mike Fox about getting more humane agents. Ditchey said the officials are going to see what can be done to prevent cases like the one on Douglas Street from happening again.

Altman said he'd like to have a humane agent on his staff and will ask city council to fund the position. He said a vacant building in the city could be used to hold animals.

In the interim, Macejko has taken steps to have someone trained as a humane agent. The four-day $150 course is being offered next month in Cincinnati.

He said a humane agent would be appointed by the mayor to represent the city for a minimum of $20 per month but work out of a humane agency on an as-needed basis. He said those interested, who must have an Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy certificate, should contact the health commissioner.

Macejko said he will also talk to Police Chief Jimmy Hughes about humane agent training for officers interested in helping on an as-needed basis.

meade@vindy.com




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