CLEARWATER — Jeffery Petracco had just evicted two elderly women from a home north of Lakeview Road and wanted to check on his property Wednesday morning.
When he arrived at the home at 1574 S Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., he detected an odor so potent he couldn't set foot inside.
Petracco called authorities and a Pinellas County hazardous materials team found the source: more than two dozen dingy cats.
"One of our officers said they were only allowed in 10 to 15 minutes at a time" because of the smell, said Pinellas County Animal Services operations manager Greg Andrews.
Officials from Clearwater, Largo and the county had to open windows and doors and set up fans.
"Situations like that, the ammonia levels can be very high," Andrews said. "Typically, it's not in good condition because of urine and cat feces."
One of the cats ran up a 30-foot tree and refused to come down, Andrews said. Officers recovered the rest and took them to the animal services facility in Largo. They remained there Wednesday evening.
"We have to have our veterinary staff assess their health," Andrews said. "We don't know how many are healthy at this time and how many are not. We didn't see any that seemed to be in any immediate health threat in terms of needing to be put down or anything because they were suffering."
Animal Services laid out traps with canned food in case there are more cats.
A report from the city of Clearwater late Wednesday had the number of cats inside the home at more than 100.
"That is incorrect," Andrews said. "We only took 26 cats from that home."
The owners of the cats have 10 days to retrieve them. After that, the felines will be taken through another round of examinations. "If they're healthy and friendly, then we place them up for adoption," Andrews said.
The tenants, Etta J. Harrington, 68, and Mary R. Mortensen, 72, could not be reached for comment.
Andrews said they were evicted for failure to pay rent.
Petracco, the landlord, did not respond to a voice mail by press time.
No charges have been filed pending further investigation.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4167.