ST. MARYS – The ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), at the request of the Elk County Humane Society, is removing approximately 400 cats living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions from a sanctuary known as the Animal Friends of Elk and Cameron Counties in St. Mary’s, Pa., with assistance of responders from the American Humane Association and PetSmart Charities, Inc.
A search warrant was executed Thursday morning for the removal of the cats, based on complaints from individuals. The ASPCA is also collecting evidence for the investigation, as well as lending the services of its Field Investigation and Response and Animal Forensics teams.The cats were living in overcrowded conditions on the first floor of a two-story commercial building at 930 S. St. Mary’s Road, about 120 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
“The ASPCA is grateful to be in a position to provide resources and assistance in this overwhelming situation,” said Tim Rickey, the ASPCA’s Senior Director of Field Investigation and Response. “Right now, our primary concern is to get these animals the care and treatment they so desperately need.”
“Our community desperately needs a resource for unwanted cats,” added Joanne Smith, a humane police officer for the Elk County Humane Society. “Our goal today is to help as many cats as possible and alleviate suffering, and then look at the bigger picture to determine where we go from here.”
The cats were relinquished to the Elk County Humane Society by Animal Friends and are being transferred to an emergency shelter at an undisclosed location, where they will be triaged by Dr. Melinda Merck, Senior Director of Veterinary Forensic Sciences for the ASPCA, Dr. Jason Byrd, Associate Director of the Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Dr. Julie Levy, also with the University of Florida, a team of veterinary students from the University of Pennsylvania led by Dr. Michael Moyer and veterinary technicians from the ASPCA. More than 50 responders are on the scene, including staff and volunteers from the American Humane Association, which is providing sheltering services, and PetSmart Charities, which is providing much-needed supplies. The Red Cross is also providing meals for responders.
To assist in the triage, the ASPCA has on scene its Northeast-based, fully equipped “Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit,” a specially-designed vehicle outfitted with state-of-the-art forensics tools as well as medical equipment tailored for animal patients. In addition, the ASPCA’s newly deployed animal transport trailer, mobile command truck and equipment trailer are also being utilized to help transfer animals to the emergency shelter.
The cats—some loose, others in cages, some spayed and neutered, others not—include kittens and adults. According to the ASPCA’s Dr. Merck, the cats are suffering from a host of ailments, including upper respiratory conditions, eye infections and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Many are expected to test positive for the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a disease that weakens the immune system and make cats susceptible to secondary infections. Several cats were in critical condition.
“The overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, as well as the stress of coping with untreated illnesses, has resulted in severe conditions for many of these cats,” said Merck. “Every effort is being made to treat them and make them comfortable, and most appear to be friendly and well-socialized.
The investigation was set into motion after complaints about the facility were received by the Elk County Humane Society, which contacted the ASPCA for assistance.
Officials believe the cats came from a variety of sources.
Animal Friends is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Its Web site pictures more than 100 cats available for adoption.