Roosters crowing, iguanas slithering, tarantulas spinning webs, and rabbits hopping about in a cramped South Buffalo apartment Monday created one of the more unusual settings for an SPCA animal seizure.
It took three SPCA vans, five SPCA officers and dozens of steel cages and cardboard containers to clear George and Ellen Zimmerman's second-floor apartment of more than 100 winged, four-legged and eight-legged "pets" they signed over to authorities responding to an animal mistreatment complaint.
"It was stinky. Lots of fruit flies, . . . a very pungent smell as you walked through the front door," said SPCA Peace Officer Lindsey M. Styborski, whose uniform was coated with rabbit fur as she removed animals from the tiny, two-bedroom apartment.
Standing across the street from their residence at Duerstein and Seneca streets, the Zimmermans expressed disappointment and anger over giving up custody of their animals, whose food, they said, cost them $400 to $500 a month, or about half of their fixed monthly income.
"This is rotten. People didn't want their animals and would leave them at our door. We didn't do anything wrong," George Zimmerman said of the urban menagerie he and his wife tended for the last two years.
"They're my babies. I'm mad, but what can I do?" Ellen Zimmerman said.
The Zimmermans dismissed the stench authorities encountered, saying the officers were unaccustomed to the smells of so many different creatures living together in close quarters.
"The house was crowded but clean," George Zimmerman said.
It sure was crowded: about 50 chickens of different varieties, nearly the same number of rabbits, 14 degus (a South American rodent), seven tarantulas, two iguanas and three ferrets.
The bigger rabbits, named Pork Chop, Steakums and Ground Round, Ellen Zimmerman said, had free run of the apartment. But she added that all of the different animals' cages were cleaned on a daily basis and bedded with freshly shredded newspapers.
"We sanitized the house everyday with Clorox, washing the floors and using air freshener," Ellen Zimmerman said.
Neighbors watched in a mixture of amusement and shock as the clucking of hens and crowing of roosters filled the air Monday afternoon while SPCA officers made repeated trips to their vans with caged animals in hand.
"It's crazy. You don't know who your neighbors are anymore," Michelle West said.
The Zimmermans were charged with one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty and are scheduled to appear in Buffalo City Court at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 18.
"They just got in over their heads. They didn't know who to turn to. The animals kept breeding," Styborski said.
She explained that the charge was based on a lack of medical care and an insufficient supply of food for the large number of animals, though the creatures were generally healthy.
More than 100 charges of animal cruelty could have been lodged, Styborski said, but because the couple readily cooperated with authorities, only the one count was issued.
The maximum penalty for a conviction on the misdemeanor charge is up to one year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
As for the future of the many animals, the SPCA hopes to find suitable homes for them and hand off some of the creatures to other animal rescue organizations.