Nearly 60 volunteers have emerged to aid more than 100 cats seized from a Marion couple in December, and officials say more help is needed.
Volunteer Myni Ferguson, who is helping coordinate the effort, stood surrounded by dozens of crates and cages Thursday at the Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force clinic south of Columbia Falls.
Inside the containers are 112 cats — down from the original estimate of 120 — removed from two dingy, urine-soaked trailers last month and moved to the clinic while the cats’ former owners face criminal charges in District Court.
Edwin and Cheryl Criswell officially were charged with aggravated animal cruelty Thursday. An arrest warrant has been issued, but the couple has not been arrested.
In the meantime, Ferguson said volunteers are preparing for the likelihood of an extended stay for the felines, which are recovering from a variety of ailments.
“Everybody’s kind of put their lives on hold for this,” Ferguson said, adding that the cats likely will remain at the clinic until the criminal charges are resolved.
Ferguson said the animals are suffering from a broad array of health issues, though none have died. Some are blind and others have advanced periodontal disease, an affliction that can cause teeth to fall out.
“That can be pretty ugly,” she said. “We’re trying our best to save some of their teeth with antibiotics.”
Ear mites and skin lesions also are prevalent, she said, but the largest concern of those who initially cared for the animals appears to have been averted. Almost all of the cats were suffering from severe dehydration when they arrived at the facility on the night of Dec. 23, Ferguson said.
The lack of water combined with the freezing temperatures inside the trailer could have combined to create a fatal situation, she said.
“I really think if we hadn’t got those trailers out of there by New Year’s, they wouldn’t have survived,” Ferguson said.
The Spay and Neuter Task Force volunteered its facility after news of the animals’ condition came to light in mid-December. The animals are being housed in surgical rooms but will soon be moved to a mobile unit currently being renovated outside the clinic.
Ferguson said care of the animals has been a team effort involving Task Force volunteers, the county animal shelter and the Humane Society of Northwest Montana. She estimates that between 700 and 800 volunteer hours have been spent caring for the animals.
She hopes to maintain that level in the coming weeks as volunteers continue spaying and neutering the animals in hopes of eventually finding homes for them. So far, 47 of the cats have been spayed or neutered and plans are in place to surgically alter all of them by Jan. 17.
Cat litter, food and expertise are highly needed, Ferguson said, but volunteers also are needed for duties as simple as holding the cats to help assure they maintain friendliness toward humans.
Many of them stick their paws through cages and purr when visitors pass by, and all of them — from adults to kittens — eventually will make great pets, she said.
“I’m not envisioning these cats going out fast,” she said. “We’re kind of at the mercy of the court.”
The cats can’t be released for adoption until the Criswells’ criminal case is resolved.
To volunteer services or make donations, e-mail Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Flathead Animal Control at 752-1310.
Reporter Eric Schwartz may be reached at 758-4441 or by e-mail at email@example.com