A fresh start for the cats of Beamsville

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor NATALIE PAD­DON

RJ runs to the front door of a semi-de­tached home in a Beamsville sub­di­vi­sion on a re­cent sum­mer af­ter­noon.

The fluffy grey and white tabby does not play shy — he lets his vis­i­tors pick him up, pet him, give him a cud­dle.

He jumps and plays about the liv­ing room, but it’s not un­til the treats come out that he is joined by his three broth­ers and sis­ters — Tissy, Piglet and Rogue.

It’s not known if these kit­tens are tied by blood, but they are sib­lings of cir­cum­stance.

They are among the more than 80 liv­ing cats res­cued from a run­down Beamsville home over the past three weeks — a grue­some dis­cov­ery in a house de­scribed as “the scene of a hor­ror film” by at least one res­cue worker.

The dozens of cats range in age from two days to seven years, in­clud­ing some that are preg­nant.

Many had up­per res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases, most were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing “ex­treme star­va­tion” and three had to be put down be­cause of the con­di­tion in which they were found, said Di­nah Ni­chol of Project Save a Cat’s Life.

The ones who sur­vived are in foster care af­ter be­ing saved by groups like Beamsville 4 Paw Res­cue and Project Save a Cat’s Life (formed as a re­sponse to the sit­u­a­tion at Mer­ritt Road).

But soon they will be on the hunt for per-

ma­nent homes.

AN ADOP­TION EVENT is be­ing held at the Pet Valu in Grimsby this Satur­day and Sun­day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to help find lov­ing fam­i­lies for about 15 of these fe­lines, with a plan to adopt the re­main­der out once they’re ready.

But more than 100 oth­ers, ac­cord­ing to Beamsville 4 Paw Res­cue owner Pam Hu­son, will not have this same op­por­tu­nity.

Af­ter be­ing tipped off about the ru­ral prop­erty in mid-July, Hu­son said she ar­rived to find some­thing she has never seen the likes of in her more than 20 years do­ing an­i­mal res­cue.

There were dead cats in bar­rels, in garbage bags and un­der trees scat­tered across the 11-hectare prop­erty. A wooden struc­ture with a tarp over it housed the re­mains of a mother cat with her kit­tens that ap­peared to die while try­ing to suckle.

And that’s just out­side. Ni­chol said there are cats in­side the home — un­der a bed, be­hind the front door, be­neath the win­dow — that they have not been able to get to be­cause of the clut­ter and de­bris. “It’s a hor­ror film,” she said. Prop­erty owner Noor Teyyab, who pur­chased the site about five years ago, said he had no idea what was go­ing on at the house un­til he was con­tacted by po­lice.

He al­lowed the for­mer home­owner to rent the prop­erty from him, and while he vis­ited once a year, he said he al­ways stood on the road and had never en­tered the house be­fore this sit­u­a­tion was brought to light.

Teyyab said he’s been no­ti­fied by the Town of Lin­coln that he needs to clean up the prop­erty and is work­ing to get that done as soon as pos­si­ble.

The prob­lem be­gan more than 20 years ago but has sig­nif­i­cantly es­ca­lated in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to neigh­bour Moira Sa­gan­ski.

Driv­ing home from work, she would of­ten find the cats lit­tered across the dirt road lead­ing up to her prop­erty.

But start­ing in July, she learned that when the vine­yard staff she em­ploys would make their way home at the end of a long day, they would be fol­lowed by cats they ended up feed­ing.

“They don’t have enough money to pay for cat food so I said ‘I’ll take over,’” Sa­gan­ski said. “I was feed­ing them — I started ev­ery other day — and then I was feed­ing them ev­ery day.

“As soon as I came on the prop­erty, the cats would just sur­round me, they were so, so, so hun­gry.”

Sa­gan­ski said she con­tacted the OSPCA about the sit­u­a­tion af­ter hear­ing from neigh­bours that they had been phon­ing for years.

Al­li­son Cross, OSPCA spokesper­son, said they have been in­ves­ti­gat­ing a pos­si­ble an­i­mal cru­elty sit­u­a­tion at Mer­ritt Road for eight months af­ter re­ceiv­ing a com­plaint.

Since then, she said they have re­moved about 17 liv­ing cats from the prop­erty and have found about 10 dead ones.

It’s be­lieved the dead cats died be­fore be­ing brought on the prop­erty, that they were road kill the ten­ant had col­lected and dis­posed of them there, Cross said.

“It is a hoard­ing sit­u­a­tion,” she added. “It was a very de­bris-filled type prop­erty.”

De­spite this, OSPCA in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not been find­ing the same con­di­tions the res­cue groups have been sound­ing alarm bells about, she said.

“If the an­i­mals are ac­tu­ally there … why are they not shar­ing this ev­i­dence with us?” Cross asked.

By dis­pos­ing of an­i­mal car­casses and re­mov­ing cats off the prop­erty, the groups are “jeop­ar­diz­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion”, she said.

Both the OSPCA and the res­cue groups say they won­der when the other side is go­ing to con­tact them about the ev­i­dence col­lected from the prop­erty.

Hu­son and Ni­chol said they have stopped re­mov­ing dead cats from the prop­erty be­cause they don’t want to tam­per with ev­i­dence.

Cross said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing and that look­ing into hoard­ing sit­u­a­tions can take a bit longer.

Un­der the On­tario SPCA Act, penal­ties in­clude a max­i­mum fine of $60,000, a life­time ban on own­ing an an­i­mal and up to two years in jail.

Hu­son and Ni­chol say they want the per­son re­spon­si­ble for this to be banned from ever hav­ing pets again.

And un­til ev­ery sin­gle cat is re­moved from the site, they plan to be there with their traps, food and wa­ter, hop­ing to find them.

On Mon­day, Hu­son said she be­lieved only a few liv­ing cats re­mained on the prop­erty but said they would be the trick­i­est to cap­ture.

It’s not known if there are any in the house or in the barn, she said.

Both res­cues say they can use all the help they can get — whether that be vol­un­teer­ing time, fos­ter­ing a cat or do­nat­ing money or drop­ping off tow­els, lit­ter, gift cards, blan­kets or crates.

While nearby vet­eri­nar­i­ans and cre­ma­to­ri­ums have been gen­er­ous in do­nat­ing some ser­vices, each cat they have had to pay for has cost them $250, Hu­son said.

Di­nah Ni­chol, of Project Save a Cat’s Life, in­side the Beamsville house that has been de­scribed as “the scene of a hor­ror film.”

Two kit­tens res­cued from the Beamsville home.

Di­nah Ni­chol, of Project Save a Cat’s Life, needed a res­pi­ra­tor just to en­ter the house be­cause of the smell.

The Beamsville home where over 180 cats, both alive and dead, were found.

A cat breed­ing house be­ing used on the prop­erty.

Garbage bags de­com­pos­ing on the prop­erty.

A trap used by res­cuers to cap­ture the home’s re­main­ing cats.

In­side the house.

Pam Hu­son, of Beamsville 4 Paw Res­cue, with one of the res­cued cats.

Five kit­tens res­cued from the home.

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