HIGH POINT – For the past three years, a two-bedroom mobile home on Highpoint Boulevard has housed up to 70 cats.
The scent of feces overpowers the neighborhood, even on colder winter days. Cats and kittens gather near a front window on a bare mattress, congregating when a passerby gets close enough. Loose cats roam the neighborhood and burrow under homes.
But because the home’s owner, Kristine Pacek, comes by to give the cats food and water, and because the cats are in good health despite their living conditions, she is not doing anything illegal, according to Corporal Bert Stockton, who supervises the Animal Control Officers with the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.
Pacek, who does not live in the home, could not be reached for comment.
High Point resident Nancy Whitney-Conway, who lives behind Pacek’s home, said the cat situation has been going on for three years. The number shrank to three cats at one point, Whitney-Conway said, and a group of concerned neighbors started complaining this past August when the odor became unbearable again.
“It was horrible, and we were told there were at least 50 cats living in the house,” Whitney-Conway said.
Whitney-Conway said the cat problem has continued despite High Point’s two pet limit, and the homeowner’s association has given Pacek multiple deadlines to clean up and take care of the cats.
Meanwhile, neighbors live with the smell, the flies and fleas and stray cats roaming the neighborhood. Judith Mottram, who lives next to Pacek, said she doesn’t have guests over because of the smell and the garbage left at the residence.
“My concern is for the health and well-being of our folks in here. It’s not a good situation; it’s frustrating for me,” said Jim Woolcock, president of High Point’s Board of Directors.
Woolcock said High Point’s homeowner’s association has “very little enforcement power.” They can write infractions and impose fines that can easily be ignored.
“I think there have been fines assessed that have never been paid,” Woolcock said. “We’ll never get the money, I’m sure, the property isn’t worth anything now.”
Woolcock said plenty of High Point residents are upset by the run-down home, foul smells and stray cats – which he called “aggressively belligerent” – but the association has no legal right to go on the property, remove the cats and clean it up.
“People see these things and expect the administration and board to handle them,” Woolcock said.
Woolcock questioned why Hernando County couldn’t get more involved, adding that hoarding cases in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties are often in the news.
“They claim there is nothing they can do if the cats are fed and have shelter. But the health and welfare of the neighbors should have some kind of bearing on the situation,” Woolcock said.
Hernando County Sheriff’s Office records show animal services has been called to 8265 Highpoint Blvd. more than 10 times since October 2013.
The Hernando County Health Department received a sanitary nuisance complaint for the property on Jan. 21, said health department spokeswoman Ann-Gayl Ellis. Ellis said that was the first complaint the health department had from the address, and said further details were unavailable because the investigation was on-going.
Corporal Bert Stockton said Pacek had been unwilling to communicate with animal service officers in the past. She finally met with animal control and the health department on Jan. 22 and was told she could work with law enforcement to clean up the residence and find homes for the cats, or face a “full blown investigation” and face the courts and hefty fines.
Pacek told officers she didn’t want to go to court. Stockton, who has not been in the home, said the conditions were “deplorable” but the cats were in “fairly good condition” despite their surroundings.
On Jan. 29, Pacek was issued citations for each of the 65 cats not being licensed or vaccinated, which can be dismissed once the cats receive shots and licenses.
“If the conditions do not improve she could be investigated for animal mistreatment,” Stockton said. “We at the sheriff’s office are working with this lady to allow her to be the responsible party for the animals versus going in there, collecting the cats and putting the burden of 65 cats on the animal services shelter and taxpayers.”
Stockton did not say if Pacek has a deadline to clean up the residence and find homes for the cats, but said it wasn’t “open ended” and animal control officers would be checking back on the residence.