Animal lovers throughout Western New York this month watched in disgust as the Wyoming County SPCA became the second area shelter accused of having cruel conditions this year.
Over the weekend, they did something about it, adopting nearly all of the cats given to the SPCA Serving Erie County after state police raided the Wyoming facility.
"The community has really stepped up and helped us put them all in well-familied homes," said Stephanie Hall, adoptions manager for the SPCA Serving Erie County. "We have a great community, we really do."
Excited children, senior citizens and young families flocked to the former Wyoming County satellite location the Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence on Sunday, which now will be run permanently by the SPCA Serving Erie County. They peered through black cages, hoping to catch the attention of a cat they could call their own.
"We weren't going to get a cat, but my mother-in-law talked us into it," said Chris Urban of Ransomville. "We remembered when we had cats, and what it was like to have a cat."
Urban's daughters, Sara, 7, and Brooke, 3, were engrossed by their new striped friend, Cutie. Their reasons for wanting to adopt the low-key cat were simple.
" 'Cause they're cute," Sara said.
Cutie, who was one of nearly 500 Wyoming County cats roaming free before state police raided the facility last week, may finally get the attention it deserves.
"With the kids, I'm sure they'll love it and spoil it rotten," said Tracy Urban.
Since the Wyoming County location was exposed for "deplorable" conditions under manager Susan Davila, about 480 cats were distributed to rescue organizations throughout Western New York. Most have been adopted, officials said, and others are being nursed back to health.
After publicizing its efforts this weekend to showcase cats for adoption at the Eastern Hills location, the shelter, without charging fees, adopted out 50 of the 60 animals Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"The public's been amazing," said Kim Zolnowski, volunteer coordinator for Erie County. [They're] just giving of [themselves] and in that selfless mold."
For some families, a rescued cat from a traumatic situation may be less attractive than a well-conditioned cat, said Zolnowski, whose volunteers have been working to care for and socialize many of the animals.
Barbara Bainbridge, of Niagara Falls, will be doing some socializing with India, a 3-year-old fluffy black cat she adopted Sunday.
"They're comforting for old people, and they're lots of company," said Bainbridge. "It's better than talking to myself."
Bainbridge took satisfaction in knowing she helped a cat who, less than two weeks ago, was living in a shelter where officials said cats were "literally coming out of the walls."
"I've heard of hoarding, but that was ridiculous," she said.
Authorities found feces around the small Attica shelter and urine stains on the ceilings when they raided it Feb. 15. Residents would routinely drop off cats and kittens by the boxload at the facility, volunteers said, but SPCA members said the cats were rarely adopted out.
Though authorities said the Eastern Hills shelter was much more sanitary than the Attica site, Frank Orr of Lockport said conditions there were improved Sunday.
"Before when we would come, the smell was just overbearing," he said.
Sunday, cages were spread around the shelter, with many of the animals sleeping in cushioned beds or cardboard boxes. More than a dozen volunteers answered questions from potential pet owners, and animal information was displayed clearly at the front of each cage.
The real problem this weekend was finding an animal that wasn't already adopted.
"We could not keep up with the adoptions," said Gina Browning, spokeswoman for the SPCA Serving Erie County. "We literally couldn't get the cats there fast enough."
SPCA officials added they have many other dogs, cats and other animals up for adoption, and Zolnowski said she could use more volunteers to help clean cages and socialize the cats. Those wishing to volunteer can contact Zolnowski at 629-3503.
One month before the Wyoming County raid, the SPCA of Niagara was cited for mismanagement and cruel and unnecessary euthanasia practices. Amy Lewis, supervisor of admissions and rescue at the Erie County organization, has been named as interim director at Niagara.
Last week, 30 Pomeranians were seized from a Fillmore Avenue home, whose owner was charged with 30 counts of animal cruelty.
The Erie County shelter, headquartered on Ensminger Road in the Town of Tonawanda, has played a role in investigating or cleaning up all of the incidents.
Browning said community members and other rescue organizations have been instrumental in getting the shelters turned around and animals adopted.
"Working together, I think it's an exciting time now," Browning said. "I think we have the potential to be a powerhouse region in the world of animal welfare."