HIGH POINT — As Bruce Nance backed into the driveway of the mobile home now known as the cat house, a gray and white straggler watched with yellow eyes from the window.
About 10 minutes later Tuesday morning, Nance emerged holding the cat in a mesh net.
"She eluded me yesterday. She didn't get away today," said Nance, a trapper whose official title with the SPCA of Florida is community cat coordinator. "She's gorgeous, too."
It was the 70th cat that Nance and other SPCA workers had removed from the house since Friday, when Kristine Pacek agreed to sign over the animals to the association. Pacek moved out of the 1,400-square-foot home in December, neighbors say, but left dozens of cats behind. She still owns the house.
The Sheriff's Office issued 65 citations, mostly for unvaccinated and unregistered animals, and levied $7,800 in fines, but agreed to dismiss the citations once all of the cats, ranging in age from an estimated 6 weeks to 10 years, are removed.
SPCA workers removed 42 cats Friday, and Nance trapped another 27 Monday. He was back Tuesday to search for hiding stragglers amid upended furniture, mattresses, cardboard boxes and other detritus, most of it soaked with urine and smeared in feces. Cats had made their way into the walls.
When he emerged the first time, Nance pulled down his blue surgical mask to reveal a white chunk of something hanging from his mustache. Vicks VapoRub, he explained, to contend with the smell.
"Last night I spit up a fur ball and I thought it was a kitten," he said with a wry smile.
Nance left Tuesday with four cats, including one trapped at a neighbor's house, for a grand total of 73. He suspects the house is empty, but left food near a front window and asked neighbors to keep an eye on the place and call if they see any cats, said SPCA of Florida spokeswoman Jessica Lawson.
Except for one dead cat, all of the animals rescued from the home have been in surprisingly good condition. Many suffered from upper respiratory infections, intestinal bugs and malnutrition, but SPCA officials were optimistic that none will have to be euthanized, Lawson said.
By Tuesday, 15 of the cats were on the adoption floor of the SPCA's facility in Lakeland, and five had been adopted. Any cats that are feral and not adoptable will be placed in outdoor rescue facilities, Lawson said.
The rescue effort has been an expensive one for the nonprofit group. Medical care for each cat ranges from $100 to $300. The association has asked for donations and collected about $600 so far.
Now that the cats are gone, what happens to what is almost certainly a ruined mobile home?
County Commissioner Diane Rowden, who helped organize the rescue effort, is working on that. Rowden planned to meet Tuesday with Pacek, who has not responded to messages from the Tampa Bay Times but reportedly has limited financial means.
Pacek's options for the home "are real slim at this point," Rowden said. "She's got to find somebody who will take it down and remove it."
The county building department has yet to receive a request to investigate the house as an unsafe structure, said county spokeswoman Virginia Singer. If and when that happens, the department would conduct an initial inspection and send a notice to Pacek that the building may be unsafe. The county building official would then seek to get on the property to do a full inspection. If the home is deemed unsafe, Pacek would receive a notice to take action within 60 days. She could appeal in the first 30 days.
The house is still considered a public health nuisance, said Al Gray, the Hernando County Health Department's environmental health manager. The department gave Pacek a warning on Jan. 22, mainly because of the flies breeding in the house. There is more work to be done, Gray said, and that will probably mean stripping down the interior of the house.
If progress at the home stalls, health officials could take enforcement action by levying fines of up to $500 per day.
"What I think everybody wants," he said, "is just the removal of that mobile home."
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.