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TWO MALNOURISHED YOUNGSTERS REMOVED FROM SQUALID CONDITIONS

Two malnourished children living in garbage and cat waste were removed from a Newton Street home in Buffalo on Friday after police got a call from a neighbor saying the children were truant and an 11-year-old was walking down the street with an open beer.

"It was sad, really sad," said Buffalo animal control officer Chuck Loubert. "The poor kids, they hadn't eaten for a week or a week and a half. The little girl, her arms were a little bigger than a broomstick."

Following the 911 call early Friday afternoon, Buffalo Police and Child Protective Services spent six hours at the house. Animal control was called in after 27 cats were discovered in the home.

Loubert and several police officers at the scene felt so bad about the children's condition that they took up a quick collection. One of the officers then went to a fast-food restaurant to buy them some burgers, fries and drinks.

"The conditions in the house were just unbelievable," Loubert said. "The food was rotted in the refrigerator. The litter boxes were overfilled. The kitchen sink was piled up with dirty dishes. And the cat feces had been there for months and months."

The ammonia-like smell from the cat urine was overpowering, and the officers had to keep their distance from the children because of the severity of their head lice. Aside from the cat waste, the home was extremely hot and strewn with litter. The bathrooms didn't have any toilet paper and the food in the refrigerator was coated in mold, Loubert said.

"The kids had no beds," he said. "They were sleeping on couches in the attic."

The two children, an 11-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl, reportedly rarely left the house. The children also apparently have a 16-year-old sister who wasn't at home at the time, Loubert said.

Police did not release the names of any of the family members and said Saturday that Child Protective Services is investigating the matter. Loubert said the mother will be charged with cruelty to animals. It was unclear Saturday whether any other criminal charges would be filed.

The cats, all of which were flea-ridden, were removed from the home. One was euthanized Saturday because it was so sick, Loubert said.

The two younger children are currently staying with a former foster parent who took them in for free in an unofficial capacity so that they wouldn't be sent to a shelter. Social Services Commissioner Michael Weiner said he heard the mother and 16-year-old daughter are staying at a shelter.

St. Augustine's Center is the preventative services agency responsible for working with this family, Weiner said. On Monday, he said, he plans to find out what happened in this family's case.

Foster parent Suzanne Hunter, who is temporarily caring for the children, told WIVB TV-Channel 4 Saturday that she believed the children's plight is a result of cuts to the Erie County Department of Social Services.

Weiner responded, however, that he is not yet convinced that is the case. St. Augustine's Center was cut by a relatively small amount -- $15,000 out of a $180,000 budget this year, he said. In addition, no cuts were made to Social Services' foster care program.

"I'm not so sure this is directly related to budget cuts," Weiner said. "There may have been worker judgment that was at play here."

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com and gwarner@buffnews.com

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