QUEENS, NY (NBC) - Catching cats is not an easy job, but that's the situation in a small Queens, New York apartment: Too many cats and a cat hoarder who's been caring for them.
Carmen, who did not want to show her face or give her last name, has names for all 50 of her cats.
"Bambino, bambinuchi� " she began.
Animal hoarders generally grow very attached to their pets, experts say.
"They probably wouldn't consider themselves hoarders," said the ASPCA's Fiona Knight.
But she said neighbors started complaining about the smell of Carmen's apartment
"Most of the time, neighbors, that's how we find out about cases like this," said Knight. "They complain about smell of ammonia and smell of cat urine. It crosses the line when there are just too many when it starts effecting not only the owners health but also the cat's health"
That's what happened to Carmen.
Now she suffers from asthma and emphysema.
"The doctor says I can no longer have my cats or any other animal with hair," she said in Spanish.
But how did Carmen get to this point where there are literally cats all over her apartment?
She says she started with two cats that were dropped off on her porch.
Then three more were dropped off.
Those cats started breeding more and more cats were dropped off over the years and within five years those five cats morphed into 50.
"I don't know if it's big heart but I don't like to hurt anyone especially animals," she said. "I love animals"
That love has left her bankrupt.
Feeding 50 cats and keeping them healthy costs her more than $1,000 dollars a month.
"I have lots of debt," she said. "Debt with the bank, debt with the credit cards. They're all maxed out."
In hoarding situations the ASPCA will remove the animals in various stages to make sure they can find shelters.
The service is free, and since Carmen is complying she will not be fined.
The cats will be taken to the New Rochelle Humane Society, where they will be given veterinarian care and put up for adoption.
Carmen had this message for those looking to adopt: "That they take care of them they're good cats... that they love them because they're good."
The ASPCA's Knight says hoarding is nothing new, but they are finding new ways to solve the problems it raises.
"I think there have always been hoarders but I think now there is more of an understanding of it and some more resources to deal with it -- like the cruelty intervention advocacy program at HLE (humane law enforcement) - having an agent and a mental health professional dealing with these cases," she said. "I think in the past if the officer investigated a hoarding case, and no animal cruelty was found, the case would be closed as there were no services in place to help the hoarder."
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