Animal hoarding house busted in Niles

If you pulled onto the 900 block of Fourteenth St. in Niles Friday morning you’d be welcomed by police in hazmat suits and the sound of a loud fan.

Police were first called to 925 Fourteenth St. last night after receiving a call from a neighbor, Melissa Spurlock.

“I found a very sick, very ill baby kitten in my driveway,” said Spurlock, “I’ve been taking cats out of here for a long time and they were not in the best of health but this one fit in my hand, it was a baby.”

Disgusted by the neglected state of the kitten Spurlock told police they actually had to do something. She says there has been a cat skull in her backyard since she first moved into her home just under two years ago. Since her move Spurlock says she’s caught dozens of sickly kittens in a live trap she placed on her back deck.

Spurlock isn’t the only neighbor to have lodged complaints; older residents say the volume of neglected cats has been constant throughout the years.

“We’ve had cat feces, cat urine radiates from over there. We’ve had friends come over, and you can smell it the minute you walk out the door,” said Tammy Pressler. Pressler lives in the house adjacent to 925 Fourteenth St., she says she has called officials and animal control many times, telling them about the sheer number of sickly cats she has attempted to rescue.

“The city will come out and say do this, take this out, take this cat. Do this, do that,” but Spurlock says nothing ever changes.

That is, until Friday.

The Niles City Police Dept., Berrien Co. Animal Control and the Berrien Co. Fire Dept. executed a search warrant at the address. They removed ten cats and one dog still alive from inside the home, as well as two deceased cats.

Officers dressed in hazmat suits snapped photos of the rescued animals in crates outside the home. One officer told Pressler that this was worse than any case depicted on the television show “Hoarders.”

“He said they had not even begun picking anything up because the smell was so terrible that they had to have an industrial fan to blow it out,” said Pressler. Besides the smell, Pressler said that up until about a week ago the house looked as if it was “eating itself” with vines and plants covering doors and windows.

Detective Rick Kruger of Niles City Police Dept. acknowledged that the house was full of hoarded goods. He said there was minimal access to any of the rooms due to built up debris, furniture, clothing and garbage.

Kruger and fellow officers spent several hours trying to rescue several more cats beyond the 10 already caught felines. However, they were unable to get to the trapped animals thanks to the contents of the home. Officers set up more live traps and are asking neighbors to assist them once more in the rescue.

Chief Larry Lamb of the Niles Fire Dept. confirms that the house was cited for overgrowth on June 12, and has other past citations for parking violations. Those citations were written to homeowners Donald and Ronald Wheeler, police will not confirm the name of the man arrested on Friday until he is formally arraigned. Officers are now searching for the second listed owner of the home.

The arrested man could face charges of animal cruelty as well as violation of a Niles ordinance prohibiting homes from having more than four cats, Kruger said.

The fire department condemned the house due to “unlivable conditions.” Neighbors say they are relieved action was finally taken, and they are excited to see the house turned into a lot by the end of the year.

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