A cat hoarding arrest in Warrenton has caused an emotional and financial strain on the county animal shelter and revived memories of a similar case that attracted national interest two decades ago.
Kathryn St. Clare was arrested in April after she was found with 42 cats in her Chevrolet Suburban, including one that was dead. The 58-year-old Lake Stevens, Washington, woman has been charged with 40 counts of animal neglect and one count of first-degree animal abuse. Court documents revealed she may have failed to seek treatment for one cat infected with feline leukemia, a terminal disease, causing it to spread to other cats in her care.
St. Clare’s arrest is reminiscent of an animal hoarding case that roiled Clatsop County and helped change Oregon law. In 1993, Vikki Kittles, who had a history of hoarding, was arrested in Brownsmead after keeping 116 dogs, four cats and two chickens inside a school bus.
The prognosis for many of St. Clare’s cats is grim, and the influx of animals at the Clatsop County Animal Shelter has caused headaches. But stronger state laws inspired by the Kittles case may force St. Clare to face tougher penalties than Kittles did, if she is convicted.
Initial tests following St. Clare’s arrest indicated most of her cats likely would need to be euthanised, but continued examinations have offered a more hopeful outlook.
Bayshore Animal Hospital Director Dr. Brad Pope initially estimated more than half of the cats would not survive. As tests continue, though, two-thirds of the cats appear likely to be adopted.
So far, six cats have either been euthanised or died naturally due to leukemia or upper-respiratory problems. Tests will continue for another week to confirm which cats are infected.
An additional 10 kittens have been born since the arrest.
Pope, who typically visits the animal shelter just a few times each year, has made trips there once or twice a week since the arrest. He also treated the animals seized from Kittles’ bus two decades ago.
Kittles’ dogs were infected, in some cases, with parasites and heartworms, but the vast majority were later adopted. St. Clare’s cats most likely will not be as lucky, Pope said.
“That’s what makes this one more heart-wrenching for everyone, knowing that a large number of these cats aren’t going to make it,” Pope said.
Burden on shelter
The arrival of St. Clare’s cats has nearly quadrupled the number of felines housed at the small animal shelter in Warrenton.
The shelter has been forced to purchase more cages, litter boxes and dishes. Part-time staffers have been working more hours to care for the animals, resulting in higher labor costs. Animal Control Supervisor Stephen Hildreth said it’s unclear exactly how much costs will rise as a result of the case.
“It’s going to be a substantial amount, but the animals will get the best care they can get,” Hildreth said. “Between the volunteers and paid staff, we will do it.”
The shelter staffers have been caring for St. Clare’s cats, while volunteers have worked with the 31 other cats and dogs. The past few weeks have been emotionally and physically draining, Hildreth said.
“It’s just the time and energy, seeing those animals wait,” he said. “It just stresses everybody out.”
The animal shelter is considerably bigger than the one that held Kittles’ animals, but it still is experiencing space issues.
Many of the cats have been housed in a room usually designed for quarantined dogs, as well as an overflow room, their cages stacked from the floor to the ceiling. Ventilation in both rooms is designed to prevent the spread of airborne diseases, Hildreth said.
Though Hildreth was not the animal control supervisor during the Kittles case, he has seen five or six cases of animal hoarding in 14 years, including one in which 107 cats and one dog were removed from a home.
“I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen better,” Hildreth said.
Hildreth did note a silver lining to the animal shelter’s experience with animal hoarding. “We’ve fine-tuned it more, which makes it easier to handle,” he said.
Donations can be made through cash or check to the Bayshore Animal Hospital or via credit card or check at the Clatsop County Animal Shelter. Also, “there is never, ever an abundance of volunteers,” he said.
St. Clare, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, is scheduled for an early resolution conference next week. If her prosecution lasts as long as Kittles’ case, St. Clare’s cats may remain at the shelter for the foreseeable future.
Kittles filed numerous appeals and switched lawyers and judges repeatedly to prolong her case for nearly two years. Eventually representing herself, she asked witnesses a plethora of questions and took 2 1/2 days to offer her own testimony.
As the trial chugged along, it grabbed national headlines. Kittles was eventually convicted on 42 misdemeanor charges and sentenced to more than six months in jail.
The Kittles trial turned out to be a crux in Oregon’s animal cruelty laws.
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, who prosecuted Kittles, joined lawyers, politicians and activists to lobby for legislation that would upgrade a number of animal cruelty charges from misdemeanors to felonies.
In 1995, Oregon adopted what is often referred to as the “Kittles Bill,” becoming the 12th state in the county to have felony provisions as part of its animal cruelty laws. Now, 46 states have adopted similar laws.
“There was a massive change of consciousness in America. These were considered nuisance cases,” Marquis said. “The attention the Kittles case brought to animal cruelty clearly brought more attention to the issue.”
Because of the stronger law, all of St. Clare’s 41 charges are considered felonies, meaning she may face up to two to four years in prison if convicted. Like Kittles, she has a history of animal hoarding. She was convicted in Washington state last year of animal cruelty after being found with 111 cats in a trailer in 2014.
The cats at the animal shelter could be made available for adoption if prosecutors file a petition with the court or if St. Clare signs a written document legally releasing the animals from her care.
For now, both St. Clare and the dozens of cats will stay in custody until their fates are decided.