A Fort Wayne couple pleaded guilty Thursday in Allen Superior Court to felony charges, admitting to letting their colonies of cats overrun two rental properties.
In June, Constance J. Anderson, 50, and Jeffrey G. Tourney, 45, both of the 600 block of Irene Avenue, were charged with two Class D felony counts of criminal mischief for damaging the two homes they rented by accumulating so many cats. To reach a felony level of criminal mischief, the damage caused must be in excess of $2,500. They also admitted to five Class A misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty.
On Thursday morning in Allen Superior Court, the couple pleaded guilty to all the charges without the benefit of a plea agreement.
That leaves any prison sentence or restitution completely up to the discretion of the judge. Sentencing will be this month.
According to court documents, the couple's animals caused $64,000 in damages to one home and $13,000 to another.
On March 1, city officials received a report of multiple abandoned cats inside a house on Elmer Avenue. When officers from neighborhood code enforcement and animal control arrived at the house, the smell of cat urine was obvious more than 15 feet from the house and numerous cats were visible through the windows.
So was the smell of decaying carcasses, according to court documents.
Firefighters measured ammonia levels at 150 parts per million, which meant that work in the house would require protective suits. Federal safety standards limit ammonia exposure to 35 parts per million for only 15 minutes at a time, according to court documents.
It took days to capture all the cats inside the Elmer Avenue house and many were found in poor condition.
As animal control officials and others investigated, they found the inside of the house was covered in cat feces and urine. The furniture had deteriorated and was "sticky" to the touch. Most metal surfaces were rusted, and the thermostat showed 58 degrees inside the house, which had no gas.
They also found a cat skull on the kitchen floor, and inside the refrigerator, covered with a brown sticky substance, were the bodies of 13 dead cats, according to court documents.
On March 7, 66 of the cats found inside the house were euthanized. Many dead kittens were found in the house, and there was evidence they had been eaten by other cats, according to court documents.
On March 8, Animal Care & Control officials told The Journal Gazette that a total of 98 cats were found inside the house: 84 living and 14 dead.
Anderson told investigators they moved into the house six years ago with a male cat and acquired a stray female that had kittens.
All of the cats found in the home came from that pair, she said.
The cats continued having kittens and soon the situation spiraled out of control. The couple shut the cats inside the Elmer Avenue property and ceded the house to the animals.
Anderson said Tourney stopped helping her with the cats after it became overwhelming but said that she went over almost daily to provide food and water for the cats, according to court documents.
But the air quality was so bad inside the house, Anderson said she could not stay inside for more than three minutes, according to court documents.
The couple said they had no cats at the home where they moved after leaving the Elmer Avenue house, but when the property owner checked that house March 13, he found a number of cats there, according to court documents.
More dead cats were in the freezer, and bags and boxes of dead kittens were also found, with some of the kittens' bodies in pieces and others appeared to have been struck with a blunt object.
Twenty-three live cats and 21 dead cats were found at the second house. Court documents did not include the address of that residence.