LOCKPORT – City resident Bobbie Mael called herself an animal rescuer as the executive director of the Eastern Niagara Animal Welfare Alliance. This past month she had even sought to take over rescue efforts for the City of Lockport.
But dozens of animals in her care ended up having to be rescued by the Niagara County SPCA on Monday and Tuesday.
The conditions came to light after Mael, 59, was jailed on Jan. 15 on unrelated charges. Facing incarceration in the Erie County Holding Center, she turned to members of her rescue group to help care for the animals.
But Amy Lewis, director of the Niagara County SPCA, said the task was too great and the group turned to the SPCA for help.
Lewis said that on Monday afternoon, her organization pulled at least 25 cats and 10 dogs out of Mael’s home at 28 Lincoln Ave. On Tuesday, Lewis said at least 10 to 15 more cats remained hidden in the house.
“There’s holes in the walls. We had to take the ductwork apart,” Lewis said of their search to find and trap the cats. At least one cat was burnt because it got stuck in the ductwork, while others were trapped in the ductwork and had to be removed. Many of the cats were suffering from upper respiratory infections and dehydration. One small dog appeared to have been bitten on the back by another dog several days earlier and was rushed to a vet for treatment.
Lewis said at this point Mael hasn’t been charged with anything, but she called it a clear case of animal hoarding.
“It could have gotten much worse if we hadn’t got there when we did,” Lewis said.
She added, “It’s definitely not a case of animal cruelty. It wasn’t intentional. But when people start collecting, they can become overwhelmed.”
On Tuesday, the SPCA searched a second home owned by Mael at 544 Willow Ave., where there had been reports of a colony of feral cats in a carriage house.
She said the cats in the carriage house had access to the outside from a second-floor window. The cats scattered when the rescuers arrived and they were unable to catch any. The same thing happened in the main house, where the second floor was under construction.
“We estimate there’s about 10 cats in the main house and another 10 in the carriage house,” Lewis said.
She said they took two black labs that were in good condition from the main house.
“They seemed happy to see us,” Lewis said.
She said they set traps and plan to take all of the cats from both houses to the SPCA shelter. She said after five days, all the animals become the property of the SPCA.
“By New York State law, we have to notify the owner and give them time to step forward,” Lewis said. “The reason for the law is so we don’t have to hold them indefinitely.”
In December, Mael told City of Lockport leaders she was interested in taking over the shelter contract for $20,000 a year. She said she planned to use a building on South Transit Road near the Transit Drive-In.
Her bid was rejected and the city renewed its contract with the Niagara County SPCA.
Lockport police have dealt with a number of hoarding cases over the past year and Police Chief Lawrence Eggert said it was time to discuss a local law that would limit the number of animals a homeowner can have in their house. He said there currently are no limits.
“I’m going to meet with the corporation counsel today,” Eggert said Tuesday on the issue of hoarders. “I’m an animal lover, but it just gets away from people.”