Cat hoarding indicates greater concerns
Too much of a good thing very rapidly ceases to be a good thing. This is especially apparent with domestic animals. A pet can be a sweet, loving member of a family. Two or three can be a lot of work but still manageable and rewarding.
But 45 is too many of anything. Until May 22, Mary Baca, 52, was living with at least 45 cats in her home. On that day, she and her cats were removed from the premises.
While her story is sad, both for her and her cats, it’s indicative of a greater problem with domestic animals in Socorro.
A House Full of Cats
On May 9, a few locals made a formal complaint at the Socorro County Sheriff’s Office. Deputy Ed Sweeney, along with Deputies Lee Armijo and Roy Cordova, met with Baca at her home on May 12.
After discussing her options for what could be done next, the officers made it clear that the cats would have to go. While she was unhappy with the situation, Baca was cooperative.
Over the next 10 days, Sweeney organized a task force consisting of 11 sheriff’s department employees and city employees to deal with the situation. On May 21, Sweeney spoke with Baca once more and made his final assessment of the situation at the house. The next day at 9 a.m., the task force arrived at the house, Baca left, removing 14 cats on her own, and the premises were sealed to prevent any animals in the house from straying.
“She did admit things were out of hand,” Sweeney said. “We did not realize how out-of-hand it was until we went in to get the cats.”
Over the next six and a half hours, the task force removed another 29 cats. Inside the house, the task force found three dead cats and the skeletal remains of at least two more. Buried in shallow graves in the back were plastic bags containing remains of over 100 more cats. Fortunately, the city furnished excavation equipment and a dump truck to assist in clean-up.
At the end of the day, the locks were changed, and the owner was left to consider what to do with the house, something yet to be determined. All 29 of the cats recovered were sent to Socorro Animal Haven, with the city footing the bill. All 29 were determined to be either too sick or too inbred to be nursed back to health and released for adoption and all of them were put down.
Officials were in the process of trying to recover the other 14 Baca removed from her home.
“Animal Control is now aware of where she took them, and they’re attempting to recover those animals,” Sweeney said.
As it stands, Baca is not being charged with any criminal offenses. The sheriff’s office is still discussing its various options.
When asked whether Baca would be charged with a crime, Sweeney said, “A decision hasn’t been made, so I’m hesitant to comment.”
A Sad Story
For some years, Mary Baca lived with her husband, Paul T. Baca, and a few cats. On Jan. 31, 2009, her husband died, ending a 13-year marriage. Meanwhile, the cats started to breed with strays and with each other and things quickly spiraled out of control.
On April 9, 2010, Baca was advised by Socorro Police Department Officer Alfredo Jojola that she was in violation of city ordinances regarding sanitation and keeping her animals from going astray. Jojola gave her two months to clean the premises and keep her animals properly restrained, but it was to no avail. Baca was fined $198 on June 29 by Socorro Municipal Court, and she was told to get rid of all of her cats and to clean her premises by July 2.
A Bigger Problem
Mary Baca’s case is just one example of a greater problem within Socorro: domestic animal control. While the city’s animal ordinance is fairly comprehensive, and while it does outline that domestic animals must be either sterilized or properly restrained or confined, Socorro still has a large population of stray animals. The city’s entire animal control staff consists of three people: Animal Control Officer Frank Marquez, Alfred Jojola, who runs the animal shelter, and the shelter’s manager, Nicole Winders.
Sterilizing a domestic animal isn’t terribly expensive, though. The animal shelter charges $30 to sterilize male animals and $60 for females. Veterinary offices in town have similar fees. A van comes down from Santa Fe as part of the Santa Fe Humane Society’s Mobile Spay/Neuter Program for inexpensive sterilization procedures, and will be in town the first weekend of August.
Socorro’s large stray population is a result of uncontrolled breeding and unenforced ordinances.
“Enforcement is a problem,” said Beverly Junger, an animal control advocate. “It’s gotten better as far as strays on the street, (but) I think the problem is that people don’t view it as a community problem.”
Junger suggested that Socorro’s various animal control resources raise money with balls or other charity events and hold adoption events.
Baca’s story is that of a grieving widow whose pets were not sterilized. With those initial conditions, it took merely three years for the situation to go totally awry.
For more information on adopting and spaying/neutering pets, call the Socorro Animal Shelter via phone at 575-838-3103 or by e-mail at email@example.com.