Nearly 70 cats removed from vacant home in Craig | SteamboatToday.com

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Nearly 70 cats removed from vacant home in Craig

— What began as a seemingly harmless handful of cats living inside a vacant house on the 800 block of Taylor Street in Craig ended in the removal of nearly 70 felines from the house over the past 10 weeks.

The majority of the 68 cats had to be euthanized due to their large numbers and feral nature.

The owner of the house first contacted Craig Police Department Dec. 10 to ask for help removing the cats, which he thought numbered about 30 at the time. He had also contacted Craig Animal Shelter.

Law enforcement is not releasing the name of the home owner, and no charges were filed.

"I think he was just trying to be helpful (by caring for the cats) but didn't get them spayed or neutered, and they just kept reproducing," said Moffat County Humane Society volunteer Ann Anderson. "It just got out of hand."

The man fed the cats, but they never went outdoors or learned to hunt. The only human contact they had was with him, though many hid in the structure of the house, which may have led to their numbers being so drastically underestimated.

"They're pretty much beyond (rehabilitation). You can't even touch them," said Kelly Hepworth, owner of Craig Animal Shelter and Bear Creek Animal Hospital. "He feels horrible about it. He thought we'd be able to save more than we were."

The man took responsibility for trapping and bringing the cats in, himself, usually about 10 at a time, as well as paying nearly the full relinquishing fee of $100 per animal.

"He waited way too long to get going on this, but once he did … he really stepped up to the plate," Hepworth said.

The last group of cats came into the shelter Feb. 24, with only a couple more still remaining at the house. The Craig Animal Shelter and Craig Police Department together made the decision to put most of the animals down. About six cats younger than one year who showed potential to be adopted were spared.

"We, as a shelter, hardly ever put anything to sleep, so this is an extremely unusual situation for us, as well," Hepworth said, noting that the shelter used to euthanize animals that weren't adopted within five days, a policy he discontinued when he took over.

The shelter only euthanizes animals if they are severely sick or injured, feral or otherwise unadoptable, said Craig Police Community Service Officer Jill Nelson.

"We're all really sensitive about it," Hepworth said. "It's a horrible situation."

In 2016, Craig Animal Shelter euthanized 53 cats, or about 26 percent of the total 202 cats that entered the shelter, according to statistics provided by Nelson. The national average is 41 percent, according to American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The current situation is unique, Nelson said, but it highlights an ongoing battle by local animal officials to convince some area residents of the importance of spaying and neutering cats.

"If a cat is reproducing for 10 years, they could potentially have 120 kittens in their lifetime," Nelson said, her numbers based on fairly conservative ASPCA statistics.

Nelson added that if half of those hypothetical kittens are female, that would mean another 60 mother cats. If each of those gave birth to 120 kittens in their lifetime, that could lead to a potential 7,200 kittens.

"Hopefully, that helps underscore the need to spay and neuter cats," she said.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.