The owner of 56 cats and four dogs removed yesterday from a home in southern Chesterfield County has been charged with animal cruelty and has relinquished custody of the pets to county authorities.
They declined to say whether the owner, identified as Patti Wheeler, was living at the rental house in the 4500 block of Treely Road or whether it was being used solely to house the animals.
"Those are the things that [investigators] are getting into," said Alice Berry, manager of Chesterfield Animal Control.
Investigators are trying to determine why so many animals were being housed there. Berry said the owner was not breeding the animals for sale; it appeared all of them were being kept as pets.
Some neighbors reported seeing a woman periodically come and go from the home but not stay the night, authorities said.
Berry declined to describe what animal-control officers encountered after entering the home, other than to say that the conditions in which the animals were living amounted to "cruelty and neglect."
"The officers were suited up in hazmat gear with breathing apparatus as a safety precaution for them going in," she said.
Authorities couldn't remove the animals unless they found violations of law pertaining to sanitation and adequate food and shelter, she added.
All 60 animals were taken to the Chesterfield Animal Shelter at the county government complex, where their individual nourishment and medical needs were being provided, Berry said.
A veterinarian was at the shelter last night and all day today, Berry said. None of the animals is fatally ill, she added.
"We're trying to stay as quiet as we can" for the animals' welfare, Berry said. "We did stay closed [ today] because we have so much going on and for the movement of animals to proper housing after they have seen a veterinarian."
Berry said members of the Chesterfield Humane Society and the Richmond Animal League have assisted county authorities in caring for the pets.
Yesterday's operation was the largest since Chesterfield authorities confiscated 51 dogs in June from a 29-year-old man's home in Ettrick.
Contact Mark Bowes at (804) 649-6450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.