Dozens of cats removed from elderly woman's home: no charges pressed

WESTERLO — Nearly 40 cats were removed from the home of Laura Palmer on Monday, after Albany County Sheriff’s deputies went to her home for a welfare check. Palmer, 73, ran for Westerlo Town Board in 2011.

An anonymous complaint last week prompted the department to check on Palmer’s home, where 30 cats were found in the house deputies described as “horrific,” according to a release from the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office called Albany County Adult Protective Services and the county health department to assess Palmer’s health and the home’s habitability, the release says.

“The air quality of the residence was questioned and concerning to my staff,” Sheriff Craig Apple said in a statement. “We were so concerned for the health and well-being of the homeowner…The residence, itself, is not fit for occupancy and is uninhabitable due to the number of cats, feces, cat urine, and garbage throughout the residence.”

A representative with Albany County Adult Protective Services told The Enterprise that, due to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act guidelines, a caseworker for Palmer would be unable to comment.

Members of the sheriff’s office emergency management Countywide Animal Rescue Team, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society found that none of the cats were aggressive and all appeared to be domestic; the cats were taken to the society’s shelter in Menands.

As of press time, Palmer had not been charged.

Last year, animal hoarding made headlines with the arrest of two elderly sisters who had lived in a mobile-home park in New Scotland, and then were living in a camper with dozens of cats.

“They’d show up and be hungry,” said Shirley Stannard, one of the sisters who was accused of hoarding cats last year. “I’ve never been a person who could turn away an animal in need. That’s one of my downfalls....When you care, you try to do what you can. Sometimes you make wrong decisions.”

The same year Palmer ran for town board, 2011, another Westerlo resident, Janet Sharpley, was arrested on 18 counts of animal cruelty for housing nearly 100 cats. Sharpley said at the time that she searched for other homes for the animals, but that she was threatened with calls to the police about her when she asked for help.

“Hoarders often profess great love for animals,” writes Gary J. Patronek, a veterinarian with a Ph.D. in epidemiology who founded the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium in 1997 to study the problem of animal hording from the perspective of different disciplines. That paradox makes hoarding cases tough to resolve.

Cats and dogs are the most often hoarded species, but wildlife, dangerous exotic animals, and farm animals have been collected, too. HARC has defined an animal hoarder as someone who has:

— Accumulated a large number of animals, which has overwhelmed that person’s ability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, and veterinary care;

— Failed to acknowledge the deteriorating condition of the animals and the household environment; and

— Failed to recognize the negative effect of the collection on his or her own health and well-being, and on that of household members.

The behavior crosses all demographic and socioeconomic lines. A hoarder, Patronek writes, may claim to be a pet rescuer yet, despite good intentions, hoarders are by definition oblivious to the extreme suffering, obvious to the casual observer, of their animals.

Animal hoarding is not recognized as indicative of any specific psychological disorder, he goes on. He suggests treating each case on an individual basis.

Sensitivity to hoarding as a human behavior in need of treatment was overlooked this week as Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an animal cruelty education bill. The law is intended to eliminate confusion about Agriculture and Markets Law “that may hamper criminal investigation and punishment of animal abusers,” according to a release by the New York Farm Bureau.

“When abuse happens anywhere, it is crucial for our law enforcement officers and district attorneys to be able to recognize it and prosecute fully, according to the law,” the farm bureau release said.
Apple did not return a call before press time.

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