Cats rescued from the hoarder home in Albany Park face significant challenges, including malnourishment and severe, physical injuries. Credit: Provided/Castle Blackpaw

ALBANY PARK — Animal rescuers are scrambling to recover, treat and find foster homes for dozens of cats found inside a deceased man’s home last week — and they fear more cats could be trapped inside.

Since Friday, Autumn Ganza, head of the Castle Blackpaw animal rescue group, and other volunteers found at least 41 cats in a home where an elderly man’s body was found last week. One of the cats gave birth to kittens Wednesday, so volunteers are now trying to get medical care or find homes for 47 animals.

The person who inherited the home let rescuers in at first, but that person has since closed off the place — and Ganza and other rescuers think even more cats are inside.

“The person inheriting the house talked to his lawyer and decided that because the house is a liability, he doesn’t want us on the property anymore,” Ganza said.

Gretel Ulyshen, who also does rescue work in the city, found out about the situation from a friend and alerted Castle Blackpaw for help. She said neighbors had called the city and Chicago Animal Care and Control for months, but nothing was done about the home or the animals inside.

A spokesperson for the city’s Animal Care and Control Department did not return a request for comment.

Ganza said she spoke with the man’s family and offered help, hoping the group’s experience of working with feral, undersocialized cats and hoarder homes would appeal to them. They were asked to leave, she said.

The homeowner did not return Block Club’s calls for comment.

“They just want us out,” Ganza said. “I don’t particularly understand. I’m sure it’s an embarrassing thing to deal with and they have a lot going on, but we’re not charging them anything.”

‘It Was Deeply Upsetting’

Ulyshen said a neighbor realized animals may be trapped inside the home after authorities removed the homeowner’s body. 

“They’d seen cats in the window, many days after the body had been removed, and he was surprised and concerned,” Ulyshen said. “In the window, they saw eight cats huddled in a corner.”

When rescuers arrived, they found dozens of cats filled the house, many malnourished, sick and injured, Ulyshen said. Animal remains were found, as well, and no litter boxes were visible.

“It was deeply upsetting,” Ulyshen said. 

Ganza said rescuers are sympathetic to what the family is going through and just want to help.

“This kind of stuff is challenging, mentally and emotionally, on us, too,” Ganza said. “I do really feel for the family because they didn’t ask for this, and I’m sure this is absolutely horrendous for them. But it’s been really, really hard for us, as well, and we’re just trying to help.”

Beyond getting into the home, rescuers are struggling to find money for medical care and foster homes for the cats they could get out of the house.

Nearly all of the shelters in the city are overwhelmed and closed for intake, Ganza said, and many of the animals have physical ailments that will be expensive to treat.

Ganza has worked with Animal Care and Control in situations like these, but the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic mean the organization is at capacity, leaving Ganza without that much-needed resource.

“Nothing can go into the shelter right now,” Ganza said. “They’re going to have to start euthanizing for space. It’s just a really dire situation for animals everywhere in Chicago right now.”

Though some of the cats Ganza and Ulyshen rescued have since died, Ganza is glad they were still able to help the ones they did. 

“It’s gonna be a lot of work and a lot of shuffling. We’re still figuring out a lot of things but it’s still a win,” she said.

Ganza is now focusing on getting the cats the care they need. They’re being housed in an air-conditioned garage near her home while they wait to be medically assessed and vetted. After that, the chance of new, more rich lives for the rescues becomes a bigger possibility. 

“I want these cats to have a better life than they did,” she said.

She also hopes the situation can serve as a clear reminder of why it’s important to check on neighbors who seem to be struggling.

“I know that it’s mental illness,” Ganza said of hoarding animals. “And I know that he cared about them in the best way that he could and he loved them in his own way. But, you know, that kind of hoarding is pathological, and it’s just really, really sad. I wish he would have gotten the help that he had needed, because that’s no life for him, either.”

Those looking to support Castle Blackpaw and the care of the rescued cats can donate items through an Amazon Wishlist or give financially via Paypal, Venmo and Cashapp. Exact details for donating can be found on Castle Blackpaw’s Instagram page.

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