The owners of Haven Acres Cat Sanctuary in Florida have been arrested and charged with 46 counts of animal cruelty for “hoarding” 697 cats.
Steve Lefkowitz, 65, and Pennie Lefkowitz, 59 of High Springs opened the shelter in 2003 and claimed to keep felines on “eight acres of rural, agricultural land,” according to the Haven Acres website. Alachua County Animal Services says most of the cats were living in a large warehouse.
The cats were removed from the sanctuary in June during what the Humane Society of the United States calls “the largest case of car hoarding the organization has ever seen,” according to the North Florida Herald.
Almost 100 of the cats had to be euthanized, and the rest are receiving treatment from veterinary students at the University of Florida in preparation for adoption, according to a local TV station. An adopt-a-thon is scheduled for August 26-28.
The owners were charged Monday with third degree felonies regarding the cats, with an additional count for a rooster on the property. They have currently been released on bond.
In June, Pennie Lefkowitz told authorities that she and her husband were not hoarders, and that they just wanted to help as many cats as possible.
“I was just tired of seeing so much euthanasia and wanted to know what we could do personally,” said Lefkowitz, who spent more than $33,000 on the shelter last year alone, reported MSNBC.
Florida State Attorney Bill Cervone told the Gainesville Sun that the couple opened the shelter for good reasons, but then became overwhelmed by caring for the throng of cats.
“I view this as a case of hoarding,” said Cervone. “These people started out well intentioned… but they were in way, way, way over their head.”
He expressed optimism about the shelter owner’s future, and that their “mental health issues” will be addressed to prevent the accumulation of cats from happening again.
The Lefkowitz couple also share their home with 200 cats, a dog, several horses, and roosters, their website indicates.