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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

11 kittens freeze to death

The garbage bag in Melissa Steele's bathroom contains grisly proof of the frigid conditions inside her Syracuse apartment.

Mixed among the food wrappers and used tissues are the bodies of eleven tiny kittens who died from probable cases of hypothermia. Steele said she is saving the corpses as proof that her landlord is responsible.

"He is to blame," Steele said, cradling two of the dead kittens in her cupped hands. "There are no lights and no gas. That's why they froze to death."

Steele and her landlord's property manager, Syracuse Homes, disagree on whose responsibility it is to pay the National Grid bill. Service was disconnected last week, and Steele has been living in a veritable ice box ever since.

In an effort to keep warm the five surviving kittens and her 16 adult cats, some of whom are pregnant, Steele has placed all of the animals in three pet carriers buried beneath a mountain of blankets, clothes, and couch cushions. They do not have access to food, water, or the litter box except when Steele releases them for brief periods of time each day.

"That, I don't care to go into," she said, insisting they are receiving adequate care. "I do what I have to do to keep my cats warm."

Steele has declined to allow anyone else to care for the cats, even temporarily, and warned that anyone who tried to take them from her would "leave in a body bag."

Fearing the cats might succumb to the bone-chilling cold, CBS 5 News Reporter Steve Flamisch decided to call the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Within the hour, an SPCA van loaded with animal carriers was parked outside Steele's Pond Street apartment home.

Despite her earlier threats, Steele -- who has had dealings with the SPCA in the past -- appeared to suddenly welcome the opportunity to relinquish some of the cats. She watched as cruelty investigator Betsy Puffer and another staff member placed all five kittens and 11 of the adult cats into carriers and loaded them into the van. Puffer allowed Steele to keep seven adults.

"The other adults should be fine," Puffer said. "They are of a good body weight and she is doing her best to keep them covered with blankets."

Puffer informed Steele that the cats had to be fed at least once daily, and that a water dish had to be placed in their carriers. Steele agreed.

That may be a moot point, however.

Late Friday, the Syracuse City Codes Enforcement Department informed CBS 5 News that it had condemned the building, meaning Steele will be forced to vacate. The department of social services will work with her on finding alternative housing, and Puffer said the SPCA is prepared to seize the remaining seven cats, if necessary.

Steele is hoping for financial donations, and said she is willing to sell some of the cats for $50-$100.

This to me, sounds like an irresponsible person, who cannot pay her own bills. She is also being an irresponsible pet owner or rescuer, whichever one she claims to be. I would never allow any animal to suffer and freeze to death--even if it is the fault of the landlord. She could have done any number of things to save their lives and she chose not to.

She could have called the SPCA herself, she could have taken them to a friends house, hotel (if possible), or bought a space heater or one of those disks you heat up in the microwave. There were many options and she chose none of them!

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