by Morgan Solomon
This month marks the 10-year anniversary of a horrible animal abuse case in Athens, GA. The Athens Area Humane Society had a huge hand in helping the felines in this case, making sure they found new homes for as many cats as possible.
On the evening of September 2, 2007, Athens-Clarke County (ACC) Animal Control entered a home after reports of animal abuse. A neighbor, who was a veterinarian, called animal control after finding a dead cat in the window of the house on Merlin Court. Animal control and police began rescuing cats the very next day. Throughout the rescue, more and more cats were discovered, totaling 51 cats found in the home.
According to Patrick Rives, ACC Animal Control Superintendent, it is one of the worst cases he has seen in his 21 years of working in animal control. When he arrived on the scene, most of the cats were malnourished and becoming feral. They had to use traps to catch some of the cats. The house was covered in waste and feces, making it unbearable to be in there for more than a few minutes at a time. The team of rescuers took turns entering the house.
By the time they finished, they had rescued 48 cats. These cats were kept at the Athens Area Humane Society (AAHS) shelter, which was located on Beaverdam Road at that time, as well as in foster homes. While the shelter did not have the space to house this many cats, they did their best to accommodate them. Of the 48 cats, four were quarantined for rabies after biting rescuers. The rest were dewormed and pronounced healthy by University of Georgia veterinarians.
After investigating the house, it was concluded that the owner left the tub faucet dripping so the cats could drink water. There were around 100 empty cans and bags of cat food and signs that the owner would sporadically return to feed the cats.
On September 14, 2007, the man responsible turned himself in. Wilford Bradford Sims was charged with 51 counts of animal cruelty. Ultimately, he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 days in jail. A neighbor had confronted Sims in May 2007 about how he neglected the cats, and after this, he rarely went to the house.
AAHS did not have the funds for vaccines or spaying and neutering each cat, but with help from the Athens community, they were able to raise $3,500. With this money they were able to provide care for every cat and hoped that this would also help them get adopted.
The week after the cats were found, only four had been adopted. The shelter feared that they would eventually have to put the rest down due to lack of space and resources. AAHS, the county’s only contracted cat intake shelter at that time, had a policy where an animal must stay in their care for at least five days before being euthanized. Although the cats had been in their care for more than five days, they did not have any plans to euthanize them. In order to encourage adoption, the shelter waived the adoption fees. People could adopt the cats for $1 under a program called “Change their Luck for a Buck.”
Things turned around, and by the middle of September, 33 of the cats had found homes. On October 9, 2007, the last cat found its home. AAHS did an amazing job. They did not give up even in the face of an overwhelming case and were able to find homes for these cats with limited resources.
Lindsay Porter was the only employee of AAHS working when the cats were first rescued. She was able to meet most of the cats and had an integral hand in the intake and initial care process, along with her husband and staff of the University of Georgia Small Animal Clinic who stayed until all cats were processed. She remembers the cats being very scared and the whole experience being frustrating and exhausting. Despite the frustration, Lindsay says it was a rewarding experience to help these cats who had suffered such terrible abuse. She even went the extra mile and adopted three of the cats.
Black Cat and Gray Cat were considered two of the most feral cats, so Lindsay brought them home to live in her barn. She later adopted BC (short for Boss Cat) after he was brought to the shelter as a stray and the owner did not want to reclaim him. At first BC spent most of his time under the bed, but soon he became her “ambassador cat” who welcomes any foster animal that stays in Lindsay’s home.
Black Cat and Gray Cat spent eight years as barn cats before Black Cat passed away. Gray Cat then made the transition from feral to friendly when Lindsay decided to bring him inside. It took a while for him to warm up, but with the help and encouragement of BC, Gray Cat now lives a happy life indoors. Both cats are definitely mama’s boys and have come to love each other in their own “bromance,” according to Lindsay.
Thanks to AAHS and people like Lindsay who were willing to take in these cats as their own, this tragedy was transformed into a story of love and success for the animal community in Athens.
If you suspect someone of hoarding or other negligent behavior, please contact ACC Animal Control at 706-613-3540.
If you or someone you know adopted any of the cats from this hoarding case, we’d love to hear from you to share your stories, as the adoption records have been lost or misplaced since the case concluded. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.