Ah, springtime in Columbia County, a time when residents' minds turn to packing dozens of cats in their homes.
Might as well. A little more than a year ago, county officials decided not to limit the number of animals that residents could hoard.
To commemorate the anniversary, Columbia County Animal Care and Control officials went around the corner from their Appling facility recently and hauled away 81 cats from Nan King's County Camp Road mobile home.
Not only were the cats evicted, but county code enforcement officers also booted King and two other occupants out of the trailer until it can be brought up to county code; one official described the home as "unhealthy, unsanitary and dilapidated," which seems a polite description for a single-wide litter-box.
King was charged Wednesday with 81 counts of "failure to care for and maintain animals," under the county's animal cruelty ordinance, but her punishment probably won't amount to much. When Denise Beausoleil went to court after animal control officers removed 92 cats from her Martinez home just over a year ago, her slap-on-the-wrist sentence included restitution for animal control expenses and a six-month moratorium on owning cats. Based on that weak precedent, King can restart her mobile-home menagerie in time for Thanksgiving.
Worse, county officials still don't see anything inherently cruel about keeping 81 cats in one household. Why is it so hard for commissioners to support an indoor limit on animals?
They can't use a property-rights argument; they lost that moral leverage when they imposed a ban on smoking as a public health issue. So why can't commissioners see there is something inherently unhealthy about packing a home with dozens of pets?
And if they're worried about stepping on breeders' toes, why not simply craft an ordinance that requires a breeder's license for anyone who owns more than, say, 10 cats in a household?
Otherwise, we're sure to read again about someone living in filth, surrounded by cats or dogs or chickens, blipping the code-enforcement radar only when it gets so bad that it can no longer be ignored.
Incidentally, of those 81 cats removed from the King household and grounds, 75 were put to death because they were too sick or wild to be adopted. "If any good can come from this situation," says Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker, "it would be that people get their pets spayed/neutered so we don't have this happen again."
More good could come from this situation if commissioners recognized that animal hoarding is no healthier than second-hand smoke - and unlike those 75 unfortunate cats and kittens, at least smokers aren't executed.
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