A Lucca Street home deemed by many the “worst house” they have ever seen, was the site Monday morning where 47 cats and two turtles were removed due to unsafe living conditions.
“I’d take a meth lab any day of the week,” said Jason Waddell, senior agent with the Medway Drug Enforcement Agency, which was called in to help at 354 Lucca St. “In my 17 years in law enforcement, this is the worst house I have ever seen,” due to what he said was “animal, and probably human waste,” throughout the house.
“It’s basically a large toilet,” said Linda Applebaum, Wooster’s law director, who was also on the scene. She said there is “toxic ammonia,” and no litter boxes in the house.
She noted this case was “complicated” and took a long time to resolve because Wayne County does not have a humane agent, an issue she is going to work on moving forward.
“We need to come together as a community ... and ask these questions. Why does Wayne County not have a humane officer?” Applebaum said.
Waddell and Medway were called to help remove the animals as ammonia levels were too high for first responders to handle without any form of respirator or breathing apparatus. Those ammonia levels exceeded those seen in meth labs.
An average meth lab, Waddell said, averages between 50 and 60 parts per million (ppm) of ammonia in the air. This home on Lucca Street registered 70 ppm. He added the issue was exacerbated by the fact they couldn’t open any doors or windows for ventilation, otherwise the cats would run outside.
And even after a few hours at the scene, Waddell told Wayne County Humane Society workers to stop going inside the house, as their equipment was not suited to handle the concentrated levels of ammonia.
“We had the equipment they needed,” Waddell said, of the breathing suits Medway uses for meth lab calls.
Monday’s search warrant was the latest event in an ongoing saga involving Laurie Patterson, the occupant, said Justin Reed, Wooster’s property maintenance inspector.
Patterson was sent to Heartland Behavioral Health Care in Massillon on July 5, as she was found incompetent to stand trial in her second case brought against her by the city for property maintenance violations.
Reed said the city brought two cases of property maintenance violations against Patterson due to the deplorable conditions inside the home.
Court records show the home was deemed unfit for human habitation and condemned to be demolished, unless it was repaired.
An affidavit filed by Reed in Wayne County Municipal Court states that during a November 2015 inspection of the home, “the property was littered with rubbish, garbage, filth and animal waste. It was apparent the cooking facilities had not been and were not useable.”
Follow-up visits yielded no progress and the home was condemned on June 20, 2016.
Yet, Patterson continued to reside at the home and another inspection in November led to a second case filed against her for residing inside a property deemed unsanitary and unfit for human habitation.
She was found incompetent to stand trial in the second case.
Reed said Monday that the house will be torn down, but the cats first had to be removed.
“This is the worst house I’ve ever been inside of,” Reed said Monday at the scene.
Medway and Wooster Police were on scene, along with the Wayne County Humane Society to take care of the cats, per its contract with the city of Wooster for cat control services.
Alice Stanford, executive director of the WCHS, said this case is one of the worst she has seen personally.
The cats were taken to the humane society facility where they were cleaned and their initial health issues documented. Numerous cats were covered in fleas, some had hazed-over eyes and many were underweight.
It appeared to everyone at the scene that the cats were inbreeding with each other and not properly cared for. At least one cat removed from the home was pregnant; several other kittens appeared to be born one day ago.
Stanford noted that their specific health conditions would not be known until their vet checked each cat out.
Applebaum said it is her intention to bring an animal cruelty case soon and a hearing will be held within 10 days regarding the cats.
“This is a drain on our resources and the humane society’s resources,” Applebaum said, adding that having a humane agent could have resolved the issue “sooner; we would have less cats.”