POLK COUNTY, Iowa --The Animal Rescue League of Iowa says it hasn’t seen anything like this in at least the last 10 years, and it may be the worst case of hoarding they have ever seen. Police found a man living with hundreds of cats, both alive and dead at a rural home in Polk County. The rescue effort has been ongoing since Tuesday.
Polk County Sheriffs were the first to smell it. They had gone to 65 year-old Dennis Carlson's home near Madrid because his car was about to be repossessed, but what they discovered was unthinkable.
“Walking in was...you couldn’t really brace yourself for what you saw. It would literally make you step back a step from the wall of smell that you went into,” said Tom Colvin, CEO of the Animal Rescue League.
Dead cats littered the property and were stuffed in refrigerators and freezers. The cats that were alive were living in a home covered in inches, and in some places up to a foot, of feces.
“I have seen some really bad places, most often associated with this type of environment, but no, this was the worst one I’ve been into,” said Colvin.
In all it took the ARL eight hours to clear the house. They had to wear protective suits and respirators. Even then rescuers could only work in 30-minute shifts. Initially, they rescued about 100 cats and found close to 200 dead; both sets of numbers could increase. The surviving cats and kittens face a wide variety of health problems including skin and upper respiratory infections. The good news is that the ARL expects the rescued cats to recover. Meanwhile, police say Carlson faces several animal neglect charges.
“We're treating this as a criminal investigation. Obviously, there is another side to this so we're also working with numerous agencies including the DHS and mobile crisis. There's a lot of entities that are trying to pull resources together to try and help him out,” said Lt. Heath Osburg with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Hoarding is considered a psychological disorder and the ARL says on top of stronger animal abuse laws there needs to be a bigger discussion involving mental health.
“The outcome is the same, the suffering is the same, even if it's not intentional; and requires psychological evaluation and treatment,” said Colvin.
The ARL says they are going to need some help with this case. First, any financial donations are appreciated. The ARL doesn't know how much medical bills will cost when all is said and done. Also, they need space. The ARL says they already have 400 more cats than they had this time last year. They’re also in need kitten formula. Several of the cats that were rescued either just had new litters or are pregnant. Finally, the ARL says to watch their website and social media pages because they'll be putting out a call for volunteers soon.
You can donate here.