ASPEN - The mysterious cat dumper has struck again.
On three separate occasions in May, someone anonymously dropped off more than three dozen sick and undernourished cats and kittens to animal shelters in Glenwood Springs, Aspen and Rifle. Sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday, Glenwood Springs-based Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE) was hit again after someone dropped off 20 adult cats at its facility near Colorado Mountain College's Spring Valley Campus.
It's believed that the same person is dumping the cats because of the general look and condition of the felines as well as the style of handcrafted, wooden crates in which they've been transported and left behind. Animal shelter directors say they are happy to take in the cats, nurse them back to health and adopt them out, but they would prefer that the responsible party step forward so that they will know more about the history of the animals.
"That's what we want to find out. We want people to know that if they will just call us, we will help them," said Leslie Rockey, director of CARE.
Rockey said the most recent batch of felines is in good shape. All 20 are adults; some of them may have upper-respiratory issues.
"They're not feral, they're friendly," she said. "They look similar to the ones that we got before."
The 13 male and seven female cats dumped off in Glenwood Springs bring the total number of mysterious drop-offs to 58 felines across the Roaring Fork Valley and Rifle since the beginning of May.
Rockey said because CARE currently has 31 kittens and 41 adult cats, receiving an additional 20 is a burden. The shelter also is housing 30 dogs. The dumped felines won't be adoptable for more than a week, she said.
To ease the burden on the Glenwood Springs facility, the Aspen Animal Shelter has agreed to take in some of CARE's ready-to-go cats and kittens to be adopted out in the upper valley, said shelter director Seth Sachson.
Sachson said all 23 kittens and cats that were dumped in Aspen in mid-May have been adopted and are residing in good homes. He said it's not as important to find out who's dropping off the cats as it is to care for them, but it would be easier to care for them if the person stepped forward.
"It's the same types of crates and the same people anonymously dropping off the cats," he said. "We don't know who's doing it. For a while I was going to put in a surveillance camera at the shelter. But then I thought, we were able to find good homes for all these cats, so it's all good. But now, if it's starting up again, I might."
Added Rockey: "Before people drop off animals at the shelter it is very helpful if they call us first. We might not be able to get the animals immediately into the shelter but we can offer a variety of help and assistance."
The type of assistance CARE can offer includes spay-neuter financial assistance, free behavior and training classes and the new CARE Pet Food Bank that can provide free food to those in need, she said.
"With nearly 60 cats now being left outside of local shelters this person obviously has a cat situation and we would like to help them out," Rockey said.
She said to ease the burden on shelter operations, CARE might do a special offer on adoptions, providing pets at a discount and barn cats for free.
"We will help all of them. It's just hard when they all get dumped at the same time," she said.
Sachson said he doesn't know the exact total of veterinary bills the Aspen shelter racked up in mid-May as a result of health care for the sick kittens, but the tally easily ran past $1,000.
"In our batch, all of the adults were healthy and the kittens were terribly sick with upper-respiratory and bacterial infections. Some of them had diarrhea and weren't growing normally. It was a long haul and a handful to get them to the point where they could be adopted," Sachson said.
The work involved transporting them to and from the vet's office, administering medicine and continually cleaning their eyes, he said.
"As of a week ago, we found homes for every single one," Sachson said. "The good part of the whole story is that the community really rallied."
Sachson said he doesn't know if it's illegal to drop off an animal at a Colorado shelter anonymously. Every sign points to the same culprit, unless there is a "copycat" cat dumper in the Western Slope, he said.
"It may not be illegal but it certainly is unethical," Sachson said with regard to the recent practice of leaving behind wooden-crated animals on the shelter's steps in the dead of night.
The Aspen shelter requires that people bringing animals to the facility sign them over and leave details about their medical histories.
Rockey said unlike some of the felines dumped in Aspen, the cats dropped off in Glenwood Springs were not feral or semi-feral.
"They're freaked out and scared. We'll know more about their personalities Thursday. We're just letting them chill out now. We were able to handle all of them. They may not be completely socialized," she said.
For more information, call CARE at (970) 947-9173 or the Aspen Animal Shelter at (970) 544-0206.