Lisa Kisiel, a case worker for the ASPCA’s Cruelty Intervention Advocacy (CIA) program, first saw the two tiny kittens whose eyes were sealed shut. Just days old, they lay with their mother and three siblings atop a ragged cardboard box and empty bags of Meow Mix, confined to a filthy closet with another nursing feline and her brood of five.
Throughout the squalid apartment, 75 other cats, ranging in age from six months to 14 years, suffered from upper respiratory infections and intestinal parasites. They competed for kibble that was scattered on top of dirty linoleum flooring. They breathed in the stench of urine and feces 24/7.
“It was a very toxic environment,” says Lisa. Following up on a neighbor’s complaint, she assessed the situation and moved the case to the top of her priority list. She and the team removed the nursing mothers and kittens first, and the remaining cats on two other occasions.
“When they’re so little, the chances of them coming out of such compromised surroundings and recovering are slim,” Lisa says. “But I knew if we pulled them immediately, they would at least have a chance.”
For four months, Puccini and Pierre, as they became known, and 13 others from the case were cared for by the Anti-Cruelty staff at the ASPCA Animal Hospital. According to Dr. Bonnie Wong, medical supervisor of the Anti-Cruelty group, they were treated for upper respiratory infections, ear mites, exposure to parasites and anemia, and kitten diarrhea. Warm compresses were applied to their sealed, swollen eyes and heat to their tiny bodies. Then, during Valentine’s Day week, they were adopted by Suzanne G., a Manhattan attorney whose two senior cats passed away in 2013.
These days, Puccini and Pierre run on three speeds: “eating, sleeping or running,” according to Suzanne.
Since 2010, CIA has intervened in more than 150 hoarding cases in the five boroughs, helping more than 4,000 animals. The team also links hoarders to social service agencies and other resources that provide appropriate human services.
“Building strong personal relationships so that we can do these interventions is key,” says social worker Carrie Jedlicka, whose background, like that of her colleagues, is conducive to nurturing clients’ trust. In this case, the client also received medical attention.
“What keeps us going is seeing the animals we rescue go on to happy endings like this,” adds Lisa, who initially was not sure the fragile felines would survive. “We see them at their worst, and it’s rewarding to see them at their best.”
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