In the murky world of cat hoarding there is often self-deception (a false belief that they are doing good) and deception of others to obtain more cats. Facebook can be a used to present a false image.
This article deals with the lengths a cat hoarder will go to in order to obtain more cats. The family in this story differs from the Julianne Westberry case, in that Julianne apparently saved cats out of greed and fraud, while this case deals with a mother and daughter who truly appear to love cats. They simply can’t comprehend the problems that arise in trying to save too many.
Alexandra Ann-Marie Wingate and her mother, Sharyn Ann Wingate live inside a very nice home in Dunwoody, Georgia. At least the appearance on the outside is respectable. Inside, the cats in their care lived a nightmare. The two women have been arrested at least twice on animal cruelty and neglect charges since late 2011.
The first arrest on record for Alexandra (age 40) and Sharyn (the records list her as between 66-69) came December 1, 2011. The offense date was October 24, 2011. Dozens of cats were removed from the home at that time. If you click here, you’ll see five counts of animal cruelty and 67 counts of animal neglect. Records show they were released on a $1,000 personal resonance bond. Alexandra and her mother pleaded guilty, and received 12 months probation, according to this document. I believe they were also told not to take in more cats.
The second arrest on record came on October 3, 2014 when Alexandra and Sharyn were arrested after 70 cats were found inside the home. The conditions inside the home were so bad the staff who went in to rescue these cats had to wear hazmat suits (the same suits people wear for Ebola).
This time the bond was set at $5,000. I’m not sure how many charges of cruelty and how many of neglect the ladies are facing, but the photos showing the living conditions of the cats are pitiful. After Alexandra and Sharyn surrendered the cats, most of them were taken to DeKalb County Animal Shelter. Thirty four cats were taken by Good Mews, an animal rescue organization out of Marietta. Shelter workers say the cats are in good condition, but needed vaccinations and flea medications. Hopefully homes can be found for them.
Here’s a video of the home, and the conditions the cats were forced to live in – Note from Michael: I have removed the video as it clashed with software on this site preventing it working. I have some screenshots in its place:
Now for the big question; how did this happen, and why didn’t someone do something sooner?
Alexandra and Sharyn were reportedly ordered to receive mental health treatment after the first arrest. I haven’t been able to confirm, but I’ve heard they didn’t get help for their hoarding impulses. Instead, it would appear the ladies got creative in obtaining new, and more cats.
I’ve spent the past few weeks since this arrest snooping around the various Facebook pages that have addressed the issue of how more cats ended up in their care. Apparently, Alexandra has several different aliases she goes by on Facebook. One report says she has been able to get others to obtain the cats for her, without her name coming up. Also, Alexandra managed to convince one or more rescues that she would be a good foster to a cat, or that she wanted to adopt a cat on death row in a shelter. It’s not clear whether any of those who obtained cats for Alexandra knew of her prior arrest. Still, it shows a home visit before placing a cat in her care never happened.
Next we have law enforcement in the area. The DeKalb County police knew there had been a problem with hoarding back in 2011, yet they most likely never did a follow-up visit to be sure the ladies were in compliance with court orders. Had the police made routine house calls, Alexandra and Sharyn likely wouldn’t have taken in this latest round of cats.
The big problem is this likely isn’t over. Because Alexandra and Sharyn are true hoarders. They either believe no one else could offer the cats as good a life as they could (yes, they probably think this is true), or they were willing to go as far as necessary to save the life of a cat. Did they believe no one else out there would have saved the cats who eventually had to be rescued from THEIR care earlier this month? Maybe they knew the cats would have been euthanized if they didn’t offer a cat a place in their home, and couldn’t stand the thought of the cat dying in a shelter. I believe their downfall was in not thinking clearly about the care and expense involved in keeping a lot of cats. A few cats in their home quickly became a dozen, then two dozen, then 70.
This type of hoarding is happening throughout the U.S., where the hoarders truly believe they’re saving lives. The mental issues involved are practically invisible, with the hoarder believing they’re a vital part of the rescue community. The Dunwoody case should make rescues, as well as shelters, more aware of who they hand off a cat to. One problem is rescues meet prospective cat parents through Facebook. The problem on Facebook is you can be anyone you want to be, and these rescues and shelters are using Facebook profiles to form an opinion on a person. Just because a person claims to love cats on Facebook doesn’t mean a cat would have a good life in their care. Home visits are vital, and rescues and shelters need to find a way to make that happen.
Alexandra and Sharyn need professional help, or they’ll likely be facing more arrests in the future. One way the rescue community can help them is by memorizing their faces, and not obtaining any more cats for these two ladies. Even if they do love cats, someone needs to step up and save these ladies from themselves. And any treatment ordered by the court needs to be followed up on.