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County granted custody of more than 300 cats seized from Plant City nonprofit

Doctors Anthony Spatola, Heather Campbell and Sarah Johnson examine a rescued cat at the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center in Tampa on Friday. Some 300 cats were confiscated from Fur 'N Feathers Farm in Plant City last week. A judge today approved a deal between the county and the nonprofit giving the county custody of the animals and requiring the nonprofit to close its shelter.  [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Doctors Anthony Spatola, Heather Campbell and Sarah Johnson examine a rescued cat at the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center in Tampa on Friday. Some 300 cats were confiscated from Fur 'N Feathers Farm in Plant City last week. A judge today approved a deal between the county and the nonprofit giving the county custody of the animals and requiring the nonprofit to close its shelter. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published May 9, 2018

TAMPA — A judge Wednesday approved a deal between Hillsborough County and a Plant City animal shelter that gives the county custody of more than 320 cats seized last week after inspectors found animals that were sick, flea-ridden and emaciated.

Many of the cats taken from Fur 'N Feathers Farm on Bruton Road on Thursday were suffering with an upper respiratory infection. Six were so sick they were euthanized.

The deal means the county can begin adopting out the animals as soon as they are healthy. Without it, the county would have to wait 30 days after custody was awarded to give the owner time to appeal.

Fur 'N Feathers president Jean Wilkes has also agreed to permanently close her shelter. The county is letting her keep five cats that are personal pets.

She could still face charges for neglect, however. Animal Control Division officials have referred the case to the State Attorney's Office.

Wilkes could not be reached for comment.

The agreement is a relief for the county's Animal Control Division, which has scrambled to accommodate the influx of sick animals at its shelter on Falkenburg Road during kitten season. The shelter was already close to full with more than 200 cats.

Fur 'N Feathers was formed in 2014, according to state records. It has taken down its website and Facebook page.

To ensure that the shelter operation does not reopen, county staff may conduct random inspections, said spokesman Todd Pratt.

The farm also was home for about 100 exotic birds. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission assessed the health of the birds and determined there were no grounds to remove them, county officials said.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.