|Who, age||What||Where||When||Last Known Address|
|Paul Franco||77 cats seized||
|October 7, 2009|
|Kathy Franco||77 cats seized||
|October 7, 2009|
|Type of Crime||Other Crimes||#/Type of animal(s) involved||Case Status||Next Court Date|
From the outside, the gray house in south Sacramento looked neat and tidy.
But when a SWAT team kicked open the door, they found horrific conditions for the home's owners and their dozens of pet cats.
Animal feces caked the home and a separate garage, where cat cages were stacked floor to ceiling and felines of all sizes and colors roamed and cowered. The hardiest investigators said they had rarely seen, or smelled, anything like it.
It was a classic case of animal "hoarding," said Penny Cistaro, animal care services manager for the city of Sacramento, who sought the court order that allowed officers to enter the home.
Researchers have looked into compulsive hoarding of animals and objects and the phenomenon's link to psychological problems. A documentary television program on the A&E station, "Hoarders," has brought public attention to some of the most dramatic cases in the country.
"It's an interesting thing about people who hoard animals," said Laura Warner, the city shelter's veterinarian, who was on the scene. "They really love their animals. Things just get out of control. It looks like that's what happened here."
The city has dealt with other animal hoarding cases, but this case is among the worst the shelter has encountered, Cistaro said. The agency has fielded complaints about the couple and their cats for at least a year, Cistaro said, but the homeowners refused to allow investigators inside.
Following weeks of planning, a small army of people including veterinary specialists, shelter workers, animal control officers and police converged on the home and spent hours rescuing cats, which were taken temporarily to the county's animal control center. Property inspectors immediately condemned the house as being a safety hazard, and police said the owners would be charged with felony animal cruelty.
The owners, Paul and Kathy Franco , insisted that they cared for their animals, most of which appeared healthy and friendly.
"Go pick on someone else! We have the records! We took care of our cats! I'm not abusing them!" yelled Paul Franco, who identified himself as a proud Vietnam veteran. "What are you going to do with my cats? Are you going to kill them?" When Franco began cursing and degrading police, they handcuffed him.
His wife dissolved into tears when Cistaro told her that the city would allow the couple to keep only seven of the cats, the maximum allowed by law. She gently told her that the city would hold the chosen seven pending the outcome of the couple's case. The others will be medically evaluated and then potentially be available for adoption, Cistaro said. "I know that this is a lot to absorb right now," Cistaro told the woman. "But you've got to think about what is best for the cats."
Cistaro and other workers, wearing masks and rubber boots, later accompanied Kathy Franco to the garage where most of the cats were housed. Franco cooed at the felines, identifying each of them by name.
"Come here, Sammy," she said. "Hi, Little Lady. Come on, Precious." Sobbing, she helped workers load the meowing felines into cardboard carriers and transport them into a waiting van.
(Photo courtesy of Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee - Kathy Franco sets out to pick 7 cats she and her husband Paul would be allowed to keep).
By the end of the day, the workers had collected 77 cats, and planned to set traps for others that they were unable to capture.
Kathy Franco said she was unsure how many cats were in the house and the garage, but said they were like family members to her and her husband. She said the couple have spent thousands of dollars in veterinary bills for the animals over the years. "We are not perfect," she said. "We did the best we could."
Update 12/1/09: Only a handful of 77 cats seized in a dramatic raid at the south Sacramento home of alleged animal "hoarders" have the chance at a happy ending.
Most of the felines, which were living in a home caked with animal feces, have been put to death because of behavioral and medical problems, said Sacramento City Animal Shelter manager Penny Cistaro.
Nine are available for adoption, two were taken by a rescue group, and seven are being held pending the outcome of the criminal case against their owners, she said.
The owners, Paul and Kathy Franco, are scheduled to appear in court on misdemeanor animal cruelty charges, said Shelly Orio, spokeswoman for Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully.
"We got these cats out of a horrible situation," Cistaro said. "We hope that at least some of them will have a bed to sleep on this Christmas."
Many of the cats were suffering from respiratory and other health problems associated with their living conditions, said Cistaro. Others, she said, were considered "unadoptable" because they were fiercely anti-social.
The Francos chose seven cats, which is the maximum number allowed within the city limits, for the shelter to hold for them until their criminal case is resolved. However, they will have to reimburse the city's cost of their board and medical care in order to get them back, Cistaro said. The final tab has yet to be calculated, but board cost is $10 per day per cat, she said.
The nine felines available for adoption are various colors and coat types, including black and orange, sandy brown and tortoiseshell, Cistaro said. All are healthy, attractive and friendly, she said, but like most adult cats at the shelter get little attention from potential adopters.
"We worked very hard to take care of these cats and bring them out of their shells," she said. "It would be nice if a few of them got a second chance" at a home.
Dia Goode criticized the city's handling of the Franco case. "I think it's appalling," she said. "When you go into someone's home like that, you need to make a commitment to resolve the matter in a positive way for the people and the cats. It's very unfortunate the way it happened."
Cistaro said the overloaded city shelter did its best to find homes for the Franco animals, but most would have been unsuitable as pets.