What began as an assessment of a home reportedly housing a few dozen cats ended in the discovery of an extreme cat hoarding situation in a small town on the west coast of Newfoundland.
Janice Higgins, president of Scaredy Cat Rescue in Corner Brook, N.L., says she and other volunteers discovered at least 100 cats during a routine visit to a home in Cox's Cove.
"We discovered cats that are malnourished, that are suffering severe flea infestations," Higgins told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.
"I'm surprised at the amount of ear mite dirt that [a] small kitten's ear canals can hold."
Higgins said she first learned of the situation after a veterinary clinic in Corner Brook asked if the group could investigate.
According to Higgins, the woman who lives in the home only has three litter boxes for the mass of felines.
She said the owner feeds the cats by taking handfuls of kibble and throwing it on the floor.
'She does truly love the cats, but caring for them and loving them is not enough.' - Janice Higgins
"We've been telling her that nursing mothers and kittens need a steady supply of food, they need access to it at all times."
"The person there isn't aware of the stench or the condition of the cats," Higgins said, "She thinks she's doing a fine job … that's a giveaway that it's a hoarding situation."
On top of the cats roaming the house, Higgins suspects there may be more hidden in other parts of the home.
"We aren't sure if, or how many, cats are in one separate room that we haven't had access to … she says her cats are in there."
What happens next?
Higgins said 60 cats have been removed from the home, but she fears the owner will end up in the same situation down the road.
"She is very concerned about her privacy right now and the embarrassment that this has caused.," Higgins said. "She doesn't want to be known throughout the town or the province as a hoarder."
A similar situation played out in Corner Brook in 2012, when over 100 cats were discovered in a home on McWhirters Lane.
After numerous complaints to the city from neighbours about the smell coming from the home, the city demolished it.
"We don't know how many hoarding situations there are … it happens behind closed doors. The people become isolated; they don't allow people in their homes and it escalates," Higgins told CBC News.
Higgins said several rescue groups in the area have offered to take some of the rescued cats from Cox's Cove.
However, she said there is a need for money, food, litter and more foster homes.
"She does truly love the cats, but caring for them and loving them is not enough."