CAPE CORAL, Fla. - It's a story you saw first on WINK - dozens of cats living inside a single home. Animal Services had to put down a number of the felines that were in horrible health. But Tuesday, the agency is pausing before pressing charges for animal cruelty.
Over 80 cats, close to a dozen of them dead, were taken from a home on NE 23rd Avenue in Cape Coral. But now, Animal Services is taking a proactive approach instead of pressing charges.
Ellen Washburn says she was only trying to help the colonies of cats inhabiting her home.
"When you see a hungry animal, hungry and thirsty, you want to take care of it," Washburn said Friday.
But take one look inside, and Lee County Animal Services says it's a clear case of animal hoarding.
"It was not suitable for humans to live in the home, certainly would not have been suitable for animals to live in the home either," Adam Leath, Operations Manager of Lee County Animal Services said Tuesday.
The house has been condemned, and ten cats were put down due to illness stemming from the overcrowded quarters. Still, Animal Services is choosing not to charge the Washburn's with animal cruelty yet. Instead, the case is being turned over to the county's brand new Hoarding Task Force.
"Trying to make them pay fines or taking them to court is only going to be a short-term solution to a long-term problem," Leath said.
Animal Services, along with agencies like Lee County Sheriff's Office, and FMPD created the team in October, after noticing a spike in similar hoarding cases in Southwest Florida. They're now offering the couple counseling through social services and DCF.
"What you're seeing, the cats, the deleterious condition of the home, all those are symptoms. What we want to do is get to the root of the problem. And honestly, what that's going to be is mental health counseling," Leath said.
As long as the couple continues counseling, and avoids taking in any more cats, they'll likely dodge criminal charges.