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The Animal Welfare Board may propose limiting how many cats Evanston residents can own, after a Dewey Avenue house fire in August led to the rescue of more than 40 felines.

The Board met virtually Tuesday evening, Oct. 12, to discuss the state of the cats rescued in the Dewey fire, the animal warden job opening and plans for the new animal shelter.

Some of the cats rescued from Dewey Avenue. (Photo provided by Nancy Maize)

A total of 42 cats were ultimately rescued after an Aug. 16 fire at a home in the 1300 block of Dewey, in what authorities called a hoarding situation. Since then, the Evanston Animal Shelter has been developing a plan for the cats’ rehabilitation and slowly moving toward the animals’ foster care and adoption.

Kristi Bachmann, the shelter’s TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) Director, said she has worked with other hoarding cases, but the situation in August was like nothing she has “seen or experienced ever before.”

“When I arrived the fire crew was still there and they immediately asked me to suit up in a full hazmat suit,” Bachmann said. “Over the next four days, we pulled 42 live cats out of the house. I say ‘live,’ because there were many cats that did not make it and that was not due to the fire. This person had obviously been hoarding these cats for quite a long time.”

The owner of the house said there were six or eight cats, but it was soon evident there were many more, not including the bodies of cats who were killed in the fire or had died before it, Bachmann said. Because of that situation, the board discussed enacting a limit on the number of cats Evanston residents could possess.

Currently, Evanston allows residents to have up to three dogs, but there is no limit on cat ownership. Chicago does not have a limit on the number of pets, but the board decided to reach out to other area municipalities to inquire about their limits and bring a proposed ordinance to City Council.  

The Dewey cats had been breeding in the house and some younger cats and kittens were living in enclosed containers, resulting in further health concerns, Bachmann said. Each cat rescued had smoke inhalation and respiratory infections along with a variety of other health issues, such as dental and vision problems, she said. 

Vicky Pasenko, the Executive Director of the shelter, explained that the first step was to get all the cats to the vet and then decide where to put them. She started calling local animal hospitals and the shelter was able to bring a few cats by each day to get treated for immediate issues.

The shelter had to rent a storefront because of the vast number of cats. Bachmann said that staff decided to keep the animals all together because the only comfort they had was each other.

“Many of these cats were terrified,” she said. “Their whole world was turned completely upside down. I knew from just being in that house that the cats probably have not seen the light of day.”

The cats are regaining their strength and becoming more comfortable with their new environment and will soon be ready for adoption and fostering. Bachmann said the whole experience led the shelter to talk about how to prevent this type of hoarding situation from happening again. Complaints had been made to the police about the house attracting wildlife due to ground feeding, but nothing was noted about the number of cats because they were so hidden, she said.

The board then shifted to discussing the recent opening of the city’s animal warden position. A new job description has been posted that emphasizes a further relationship between the shelter, Evanston 311 and the public. It was reported as of a week ago the city had 11 applicants

The meeting concluded with Shane Cary, Project Manager for Public Works, sharing an update on the status of the new animal shelter. The proposed 8,500-square-foot building would use electricity from the city grid but would not use any natural gas. The construction would take place over 2023 and should be in use by the fourth quarter of that year.

 

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