BUFFALO, N.Y. — Even from the end of the driveway, Gina Browning knew there were big problems inside the Wyoming County SPCA in rural western New York. The stench cut through the 30-degree winter air and reached her and police officers who arrived to investigate reports of inhumane conditions.
Inside the shelter, the size of a small ranch house, cats swarmed under foot, cowered in cages and slinked through cracked walls. Litter boxes lined with wood shavings and shredded paper overflowed and medicine bottles and syringes lay everywhere.
"Every cupboard we would open, every closet, cats would walk out. There were crevices in the walls cats were coming out of," Browning, spokeswoman for the Erie County SPCA, said as the last of the cats — 518 in all — were rounded up last Friday in time for a weekend adoption blitz that sent dozens to new homes. State police raided the shelter and began removing the animals Feb. 15.
Volunteers have told authorities the numbers got out of hand as people dropped off litters of cats by the boxful at the no-kill facility, while others have questioned the willingness of the shelter's manager, Susan Davila, to place them in adoptive homes.
"It's a no-kill shelter and she did not turn any cats away," state police Lt. John Aquilina said. "It just grew. It took on too many cats to be handled properly and safely."
Authorities said there was plenty of food on hand, but some water dishes were empty or dirty. The shelter is located in Attica, 30 miles east of Buffalo.
Investigators are going over the shelter's books and conducting interviews to determine whether charges should be filed, Aquilina said. Davila has been interviewed, he said, declining to disclose what she said about conditions at the shelter.
A telephone listing for Davila is not in service.
Meanwhile, nearly two dozen organizations have come forward to care for and try to place the cats, Browning said. Between 40 and 50 had to be euthanized because of medical issues including tumors, ringworm and feeding problems. Some of the healthy cats were placed with families during a weekend adoption marathon at the Eastern Hills Mall near Buffalo, where the SPCA has a satellite office.
The problems appear to go back at least a year. A January 2011 notice in a local newspaper said the shelter was in desperate need of volunteers.
"The shelter has about 500 animals in its care and only a handful of people to help," the notice said.