When Yakima Sheriff Office Deputy Dustin Dunn entered the house on Summitview Ext Rd., his eyes began to burn.
Inside, piles of cat feces sat and stank on a urine-saturated carpet, stained the walls, overwhelmed every room of the house. Cats and kittens were running everywhere.
For Animal Control Officer Randy Sutton, who also responded to the scene, the clutter and hiding felines made counting the number of cats impossible.
The officers had received a call about the residence from a caseworker with Adult Protection Services, who reported that up to 40 cats were living at the residence.
A records check showed that crisis responders, Aging and Long-term Care and Adult Protective Services had visited the house over concerns about living conditions there at least nine times since 2015.
Sutton would later write in his incident report, “The amount of feces and urine inside the residence has made the home unlivable and a bio-hazard” and that the “stench inside was unbearable.”
The 81-year-old owner of the house greeted the deputies cordially. Hunched over, walking with a cane, he appeared to be in good spirits, according to Sutton’s incident report.
When asked by the deputies if he was willing to surrender the cats, the man admitted that his sister, who had lived there with him, had recently been hospitalized and admitted to a nursing home. The cats had come to be a lot of work, he said.
The deputies noticed several bowls of food and water. The man said the cats were his company. His sister would be upset if he parted with them. But ultimately, he agreed to sign a surrender form.
“Yeah, it would probably be better for the cats, but you need to leave me a couple for company,” he said, according to Sutton’s incident report.
In his incident report, Dutton wrote, “In 19 years of law enforcement experience, I have not encountered a home that is this uninhabitable.”
“I was forced to exit the residence several times, as I was gagging and having a hard time breathing,” he said.
A rescue operation
On Oct. 6, a crisis responder arrived at the residence on Summitview Ext Rd. and took protective custody over the 81-year-old man and transported him to Virginia Mason Memorial. A deputy later took the man home, when the hospital didn’t have a bed available for him.
Eight days later, on Oct. 14, four staff members arrived from Pasado’s Safe Haven, a Sultan animal welfare nonprofit.
With the help of the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, they removed 30 felines: 18 cats, 12 kittens, and 15 carcasses. The living cats all had signs of respiratory infections, matted eyes, and clogged and crusted noses.
Spokeperson Casey Schilperoort said hoarding situations like this one are not common for the Sheriff’s Office.
“We have responded to about four or five in the past 23 years,” he said.
Pasado’s said after the rescue that three of the rescued kittens were 7 weeks old, had severe upper respiratory infections and needed to be syringe-fed back to health. A mother cat with three 2-week-old kittens also was in bad shape, the nonprofit reported.
“Many needed immediate medical care and are suffering from severe upper respiratory infections, open wounds, dehydration and are visibly thin,” the nonprofit said in a newsletter about the rescue. “Several kittens have such severe infections they couldn’t open their little eyes.”
As for Sutton, he had other concerns.
Sutton was concerned about the 81-year-old man whose only company was the cats, who was living in a residence that has since been condemned by the Yakima Health District and the city’s Code Compliance Office.
Another deputy, Sgt. Mike Russell, shared those concerns. He spent his own money to pay for a hotel room for the cat owner at a nearby Day’s Inn. Although comfortably settled, the had gone back to his residence every day to feed and water the cats before Pasado’s stepped in.
Schilperoort said there will be no criminal charges brought against the man.
“The important thing is that he is in a safer environment,” Schilperoort said.
Adult Protective Services will now be tasked with finding a safe place for the man, Schilperoort said.
As for the cats, they are recovering at Pasado’s cat sanctuary. Once healthy, they’ll be adopted out or placed with foster families.
“The cats are doing well,” said Stacey DiNuzzo, the nonprofit’s communications director. “Those that have received medical attention are getting better every day.”