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Police chief: Stiffer laws needed to curb hoarding
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MONROE - After the seizure of 55 live cats and five dead ones from a Monroe residence Monday, law enforcement is looking into instating new ordinances to better combat the problem of animal hoarding.

After the home of 78-year-old Monroe resident Delores Marti was condemned due to dangerously poor sanitation, Monroe Police Chief Fred Kelley said he realized that tickets alone cannot solve this problem.

Marti had been involved in three other animal hoarding incidents, once in October 2009, once in June 2012 and again in August 2013. Marti was keeping 51 cats in two houses during the 2009 incident.

"The current city code is insufficient for dealing with this sort of problem," Kelley said.

Currently, the Monroe city code prohibits any more than three adult cats or three adult dogs (a total of six animals) from inhabiting a residence, a number which Marti exceeded by more than 50. Five deceased cats were also found at Marti's home.

Kelley said the animal limitation ordinance was partially prompted by Marti's prior offenses. However, the ordinance was also influenced by citizen complaints about people with too many dogs leaving waste throughout their backyards.

Kelley said he is aware of no other animal hoarding incidents in Monroe.

"I wouldn't want to write an ordinance for only one person, but I think it might be necessary in this case," Kelley said.

Kelley said there was no evidence that Marti had actively sought out cats to steal from other owners but added it was likely that some of the cats may have been others' pets before she found them wandering.

Marti has not incurred criminal charges for any of her hoarding incidents. In this most recent incident, as in previous ones, she was ticketed for her actions, which carried a fine of $175.30.

Kelley said other communities across America have adopted animal hoarding ordinances separate from animal limitation ordinances. These ordinances treat the act of animal hoarding as a detriment to the community and as harmful to the animals, making the act a misdemeanor offense.

Marti's cats were discovered after a citizen complained of a severe odor emanating from her home on 19th Street. Marti claimed to live in the same house with the cats, although, given that the Monroe Fire Department was unable to enter the home without breathing apparatus, Kelley said that seemed unlikely.

"What I want to see is some solution so this doesn't occur again," Kelley said. "There has to be some root cause for it."

Marti claimed she had no mental problems and simply cared a lot for her animals, Kelley said.

"When you care so much about them you put them in an environment that's detrimental to their health - that's just counter-intuitive," Kelley said.

"The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," published by the American Psychiatric Association, designated hoarding as its own distinct mental illness in 2013. APA studies have estimated between 2 to 5 percent of the nation's population suffer from hoarding disorder, according to a 2013 APA publication.

Animal hoarding is not officially considered a distinct subtype of hoarding.

Without filing criminal charges, Kelley said it would be nearly impossible to force a person to undergo mental health treatments. Because of this, coupled with Monroe's limited selection of mental health facilities, the best option to prevent recurring animal hoarding incidents may be to impose greater penalties, Kelley said.

Marti will appear in court Friday for a hearing to determine whether charges will be filed against her. The Green County Humane Society temporarily sheltered the cats after their seizure, and a disposition for the animals will also be determined at the hearing.

For information about adopting a cat or donating to the shelter, call the Humane Society at (608) 325-9600.