Alleged cat owner charged

By Beth Danziger - bio | email

Posted by Terry Alexander - email

CHESTER, VA (WWBT) - A woman suspected of keeping nearly 60 cats inside a Chester home is now charged with one count of animal cruelty. Depending on additional findings, Patti Wheeler could face more charges.

The Commonwealths Attorney's office says it's waiting to get veterinary evaluations before making a decision to file any more charges against Patti Wheeler.

Covered from head to toe and masked to breathe. That's the way Animal Control officers had to enter a Treely Road home Thursday to rescue 56 cats and four dogs.

They say the animals had over run the home and entering with hazmat suits was the only way to get them out.

"We wanted the officers to be safe and do there jobs properly so when we went into the house and the conditions were unsanitary, there was some concern for officers," said Chesterfield Animal Control Asst. Supervisor Rob Leinberger.

It's that concern according the Commonwealth's Attorney's office that prompted the animal cruelty charge before any others. The prosecutor on the case says if the conditions were bad enough that officers had to wear suits, then it was no place for 60 animals to live.

He now plans to see what medical attention the cats needed before making other decisions on charges.

Those involved in animal rescue say although a scene like this is shocking, it can happen easily.

"They try to do the right thing in the beginning and then it just spirals out of control," said Jemi Hodge of Richmond Animal League.

Hodge says most who horde animals start just trying to rescue a few of them but find themselves overwhelmed with the costs. The fear of getting caught sets in, ending with animals over running homes.

"The feral cats are usually in the higher numbers. It's a lot easier to hide 50 cats than it is hide 50 dogs. There are going to be barking, more feces and everything thing. It's a lot harder to horde dogs than cats," said Hodge.

The Chesterfield Animal Shelter is still trying determine whether the rescued cats are feral. Still no word yet when Patti Wheeler will be in court to face her animal cruelty charge.

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