Sunday, January 21, 2018
Public safety

Hernando woman moves out of house, but leaves behind as many as 65 cats

HIGH POINT — Kristine Pacek moved out of her little white mobile home in December, neighbors say, but her cats stayed behind.

Now the 1,400-square-foot structure on High Point Boulevard is the cats' domain. Perched on bookshelves, lounging on a feces-covered mattress, the felines — as many as 65 of them, authorities say — peer like prisoners through fly-covered window panes. The stench of cat urine hangs in the air.

"It's inhumane," said Pat Leber, who lives across the street. "They're living, breathing things."

Neighbors fed up with the situation have pleaded for help for more than two years. Now that officials at the highest level of county government have gotten wind of the situation, pressure on Pacek is mounting.

On Wednesday, the Hernando County Sheriff's Office gave the 39-year-old woman a deadline: Remove the cats by the end of the month or face the possibility of criminal charges such as animal neglect.

"We're giving her more time because we don't the want the animals to be euthanized," said sheriff's spokeswoman Denise Moloney. "We're trying to find homes for them where they'll be taken care of."

Pacek is willing to give up the animals but doesn't want them killed, officials say. She didn't return a voice-mail message from the Tampa Bay Times.

The Sheriff's Office already has issued 65 citations, mostly for failing to register and vaccinate the cats, and a few for signs of neglect. Pacek, who still owns the home, comes every couple of days to feed the cats, but some are missing hair and appear undernourished. She has racked up $7,800 in fines, Moloney said.

The Hernando County Animal Services shelter doesn't have room for the cats, but county Commissioner Diane Rowden is contacting shelters and rescue organizations to see whether they can share the load. If Pacek turns over the animals, the Sheriff's Office will dismiss the citations, Col. Mike Maurer told Rowden in an email.

"I hope she takes this deal," Maurer wrote. "It's best for everyone."

The Hernando County Health Department has deemed the home a public health nuisance and delivered a warning notice on Jan. 22, said Al Gray, the department's environmental health manager. Pacek could face $500 in daily fines, Gray said.

Neighbors say the home belonged to Pacek's grandparents, and she moved in a few years ago and started amassing cats. By 2011, the year she bought the home, she had dozens of them. High Point, a sprawling community of tidy mobile homes, has a two-pet limit. Pacek heeded a request in 2011 to get rid of the animals, and a trapper caught some that escaped, but her brood quickly grew again, said Jim Woolcock, president of High Point's board of directors.

The community's bylaws allow for fines of $25 a day per animal. The board gave Pacek a Dec. 31 deadline to remove the cats.

"She said, 'I'm working on it,' but she wasn't working on it," Woolcock said. "It is a hoarding problem, and it's gone to the extreme."

Neighbors such as Judith Mottram, who lives next door, want to be able to lounge outdoors again, but they want the cats to find good homes, too.

"It's so pathetic," Mottram said. "The animals didn't ask for all of this."

News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

     
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