Rescued animals overload shelter; supplies needed

DONATIONS NEEDED: More than 100 dogs, cats and birds to be cared for.

Anchorage Daily NewsJanuary 16, 2012 

Dozens of dogs, cats and parakeets seized by authorities in two unrelated animal cruelty cases over the weekend have packed the Anchorage animal shelter and prompted a plea for donations of food, blankets and kitty litter.

One case involves 22 cats kept in crates stacked in an old hatchback parked in a South Anchorage industrial area, according to Anchorage police. Their owner has been living temporarily in a Conex-type building there, police spokeswoman Anita Shell said. On Saturday morning, after someone complained to animal control, police say they discovered the crated, chilly cats.

The other case is out of Eagle River. A maintenance worker sent to fix a broken pipe at a rental property discovered dogs in filthy crates and numerous parakeets. Animal control officers, police and a public health official ferried 39 dogs -- mostly various small breeds -- and more than 40 parakeets to the shelter Saturday.

"Over 100 animals in one day is a large number of animals to be bringing into the shelter, so that's partly why we're asking for the donations -- to supplement what we currently have on hand," said Brooke Taylor, spokeswoman for the Anchorage Animal Care and Control Center.

Police were alerted to the cats' plight at about 11:15 a.m. Saturday. James Hershberger, 58, told police he's from the Copper River area, where he has a heated cabin near Gakona. He was staying in the Conex-style building, in the 6300 block of Nielsen Way, while trying to get his vehicle repaired for the trip home. The building was heated with only a space heater that Hershberger used at night and didn't have insulation, Shell said. It wasn't clear whether there was any running water, she said.

The owner of the Conex told police that he let Hershberger stay there until he could fix his car but was hesitant to allow the cats inside, Shell said. Hershberger said it was because of the smell. So the 22 cats, including a mother and five kittens, were divided among four carriers, like what people use for airplane trips, and kept in the vehicle.

"He said he would use the space heater to heat up the car a little bit and then he used that also when he was sleeping," Shell said. "Then he said he would start the car and let it run to warm up and then let the residual heat keep the animals warm through the night."

When police checked the temperature inside the hatchback around 11:30 a.m. Saturday morning, it varied between 5 degrees below zero and 5 above, Shell said. The cats had no bedding material or access to food, water or litter in their crates, she said.

Inside the Conex, Hershberger had cat food, water and litter for the animals, she said. She didn't know if he hauled them inside or brought the supplies out to them. He also had a dog living in the container with him, she said. The dog wasn't seized, Taylor said.

Hershberger was cited for animal cruelty, Shell said.

Still, the cats appear to be in fair to good condition, Taylor said.

In the Eagle River case, a maintenance man sent to repair the broken pipe said on Saturday that dog crates were stacked to the ceiling. Dog poop was inches thick in places, repairman Robert Jones said.

Feces oozed through crates and onto dogs below, Shell said. An officer noted that "one of the dogs, a small dog, kept running back and forth into the bathroom like he was thirsty but the toilet was filled with fecal matter. So the dog couldn't even drink out of that," she said. The dogs not in crates didn't appear malnourished, though, she said.

Some of the parakeets -- little yellow, green, white and blue birds -- were flying free around the house. Some had laid eggs in their cages.

Daniel Hoffman, 51, and Lester Mendez, 46, share the rental off Hanson Drive in Eagle River. They were arrested Saturday and charged with two counts each of animal cruelty, police said. Both have bonded out of jail. It wasn't clear if Hoffman and Mendez were breeders or why they had so many animals, Shell said.

Veterinarians are assessing the health of each of the seized animals, Taylor said.

People have been contacting the shelter asking how they can help and whether they can adopt the animals.

The animals still belong to their owners and the legal process to free them is time consuming, Taylor said. Owners in such cases sometimes give up their animals voluntarily but more typically it takes a court order, she said. That often doesn't come until the criminal case is resolved, she said. Cats in one recent Anchorage animal cruelty case weren't freed up for a year, Taylor said.

Friends of Pets, an animal welfare and advocacy group, has offered to help and is monitoring the situation, said Michele Girault, the group's board president.

The quick police action shows that animal neglect and cruelty is being taken seriously in Anchorage, she said.

"I'm just so grateful," Girault said. "In years gone by, there wouldn't necessarily have been a cruelty charge."

In the meantime, people with the means to care for a dog, cat or bird could pick one of the other animals available at the shelter, Taylor said. That will allow the staff to concentrate more on all the newcomers.

Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.

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