Authorities rescue over a dozen cats from hot, feces-filled camper at 59 Gunn Road in Southampton

Last modified: Tuesday, July 08, 2014
SOUTHAMPTON — Town and state animal welfare officials donned protective masks and entered a condemned, feces-filled camper at 59 Gunn Road Thursday to remove 11 cats that had apparently been living there for years. Two more were rescued from the property using traps. The animals are now in the care of an animal shelter in Westfield.

One official said the heat alone in the trailer put the cats at risk, similar to a car with the windows up in the dead of summer.

“Nothing should be living in there,” Board of Health Chairwoman Lisa Brodeur-McGan said Monday.

No one was living in the camper but its former occupant, Russell C. Neuhauser, 67, returned regularly to feed and water the cats, according to Brodeur-McGan and his former neighbors. He had lived in the camper until it was condemned in May 2012 due to the lack of running water, a working toilet and sewage system, as well as an accumulation of trash, according to court documents.

On Monday the overgrown property was deserted. The camper was padlocked and the windows were mostly shut and covered up. The stench of cat urine and feces was so powerful that being near the camper caused a reporter’s eyes to water, making it impossible to get close.

Among the trash littered around the steps were empty cat food cans and the disposable face masks that health officials used when entering the camper to remove the cats. A pile of what appeared to be cat litter and feces stood over two feet high and several feet wide. There was also a shed or workshop that had fallen into disrepair at the end of the driveway.

The property is in stark contrast to others in that section of Gunn Road, where nearby homes are large and well-maintained.

In documents filed in Western Housing Court in Springfield, Brodeur-McGan wrote that the cats needed to be removed immediately from the “unsanitary and life-threatening environment” because of the feces, heat and lack of ventilation.

According to neighbors, Neuhauser no longer lives in Southampton — the Gazette was unable to determine where he now lives, and town health officials say they don’t know where he lives.

The matter came to the town’s attention July 1 when police were on the property to supervise an effort to repossess a tractor Neuhauser owned, according to Health Agent Brianna Eichstaedt.

She and investigators with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals visited the property with police last week on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, Western Housing Court Judge Robert G. Fields authorized the Board of Health to remove the cats.

The animals are now at the Westfield Homeless Cat Project, a shelter at 1124 East Mountain Road in Westfield.

“They seem OK. They’re a little shell-shocked,” said Denise Sinico, who runs the Westfield shelter. “They’ll feel 100 percent better when they’re all shaved and cleaned up ... They were covered in feces.”

Meanwhile, Brodeur-McGan said Monday that after numerous attempts, she was finally able to reach Neuhauser on Sunday and he has been cooperative. She would not say where she met him, or how she managed to find him.

But she said he apparently believed he was giving the cats sufficient care. He provided them with food and water, she noted. Eichstaedt said they did not appear underfed.

“His cooperation will be weighed heavily when criminal prosecution is considered,” Brodeur-McGan said. For now, the case is civil, not criminal, she said. “A typical cruelty-to-animals situation involves intent, and preliminary investigation has revealed no malicious intent.”

Court documents

The housing court judge’s order also included a temporary restraining order that bars Neuhauser from the property until a hearing Wednesday at 2 p.m. and prohibits him from bringing any animals to the property.

According to court documents, during an inspection last Wednesday, health officials found an odor “so strong and offensive” that it was “almost impossible to stand next to the window for any period of time due to the smell.” The heat coming from an open window was “indicative of the fact that no air or proper ventilation exists,” Brodeur-McGan wrote in the filing.

She also wrote: “The condition of this trailer is not much better than a car with the windows up in the dead of summer and any reasonable person could not leave these animals in this trailer in the heat or cold.”

The documents describe Neuhauser’s failure to respond to numerous requests since 2010 by the former health agent and former building inspector to inspect the camper after they received complaints about it being a public health hazard. In May 2012, after an inspection, officials condemned the camper for human habitation.

After receiving tips from people who suspected Neuhauser was again living in the camper in May 2013, health officials sent another notice reminding Neuhauser that he was prohibited from living there.

Brodeur-McGan said Adam Kinney, a former town health agent, checked the property 10 times over the last year and never found evidence that Neuhauser was living there, nor any signs of cats on the property.

Cats cared for

After receiving preliminary health checkups, the rescued cats will now be bathed and have their matted fur shaved off, according to Sinico. Meanwhile, veterinarian care will require pulling many rotted teeth and treating infected gums as well as other health problems. They will also be spayed and neutered, she said. Some have bite wounds from fighting, she said.

Sinico said most of the cats do not mind being petted and all will be available for adoption when they are fully recovered.

To offset the cost of the surgeries and other costs associated with taking in the 13 cats, there will be a fundraising tag sale at the shelter July 11 through 13, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Donations of litter and canned cat food can be dropped off during that time, she said, and checks can be mailed to the shelter at 1124 East Mountain Road in Westfield.

Meanwhile, town health officials still have a lot of work ahead of them at 59 Gunn Road. The camper and the pile of feces both present public health hazards and will need to be removed, Eichstaedt said, although the board has not yet talked about how to proceed.

“The first thing on our mind is to make sure that the public is not at risk,” she said. “We don’t want neighbors to be affected and we don’t want him to go in there.”

Brodeur-McGan said the rescue of the cats was a tremendous amount of work for Eichstaedt — on the job for only two weeks — and temporary animal inspector Cara Pease of Whately.

In fact, the town had been in the midst of hiring a new animal inspector, Brodeur-McGan said, but was forced to make an emergency appointment for this situation. The possibility of an animal bite meant that a qualified animal inspector who was vaccinated for rabies was required, she said.

Therefore, on Wednesday, the Select Board held an emergency meeting to temporarily appoint Pease, who spearheaded the rescue along with officials from the MSPCA.

Southampton Police Chief David Silvernail said police were on hand to keep the peace in case conflicts arose, but Neuhauser was not on the property.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.