SUDBURY -- A Sault Ste. Marie woman whose 12 cats were removed from her residence in December 2020 has lost her court fight to have the felines returned.

The cats – two adult females, two adult males and eight kittens – were taken Dec. 29, after an animal services investigator issued cleanup orders Dec. 14.

"The compliance order required the appellant to ventilate and clean her apartment to eliminate the odour of ammonia by Dec. 23," said a transcript of the Ontario Animal Care Review Board released last month.

The investigation began last October, when animal welfare received complaints that at least 10 cats were in distress in the apartment, including allegations that at least one of the cats had head injuries as a result of fights with other cats. An investigator arrived Nov. 4 and was allowed to examine some of the cats, which he concluded were healthy.

But on Nov. 12, the investigator received complaints from a local animal hospital about one of the cats the woman had frequently brought to the hospital with wounds from fights with other cats in the residence. When the investigator followed up, the woman told him she would no longer cooperate with the investigation.

After a few delays, the investigator returned Dec. 14, where he made a few observations.

Strong ammonia smell

"The apartment smelled strongly of ammonia, which caused their nasal passages to become irritated," the transcript said. "The apartment was cluttered and dirty. There were empty, unwashed litter boxes sitting in the bathtub; and there was feces on the floor in the kitchen area."

She was ordered to clean up the residence to eliminate the ammonia smell by Dec. 23.

"On Dec. 22, 2020, the appellant notified (the investigator) via text message that she could not air out her apartment or throw out her garbage because her neighbour was threatening her with violence," the transcript said.

"The appellant posted on social media that she was looking to rehome the puppy who had just killed a kitten within her residence. By this time, five complaints in total had been initiated against the appellant."

When officials arrived Dec. 29, the apartment still had an overwhelming smell of ammonia, and they saw just two litter boxes for all the cats, and both were overflowing with feces and urine. The cats were seized and taken to an animal hospital for an examination.

The woman was also issued a notice Feb. 2 of this year that bills for caring for her cats, and having them examined by a veterinarian, now totalled more than $3,000.

"The appellant acknowledged that her residence was unsanitary and smelled of ammonia from cat urine, but denied that her cats were in distress," the transcript said. "The appellant further submitted that she should not have incurred the costs of veterinary care because her cats were healthy and did not need to be examined by a veterinarian."

A follow-up check of the apartment Jan. 14 found no cleanup had taken place since the felines had been seized.

Email trouble

The woman's case wasn't helped by the fact she failed to disclose the evidence she would rely on at the hearing by the board's deadline. She said she was having trouble with her email account, and was granted a delay on Jan. 26, with the board ordering her to provide disclosure by Jan. 29, ahead of a Feb. 2 teleconference.

"The order specified that any disclosure that was not received by the deadline would be excluded from the hearing," the transcript said. "Despite assertions that her email was not functioning properly, the board received numerous emails from the appellant from Jan. 5, 2021, onward, which included her notice of appeal and several photographs of the cats and her apartment."

At the Feb. 2 hearing, the woman said she couldn't properly ventilate her apartment because it was too small. And she said she couldn't take out the garbage because she was afraid her neighbour would attack her.

In its ruling, the board said the decision to remove the cats was correct.

"I have no doubt that the appellant cares about her cats," the transcript said. "She was so distressed when they were removed that the police had to be called because she threatened to commit suicide."

Against her religion

But the evidence showed the apartment was in even worse shape after the cats had been removed, the board ruled, and there was little prospect conditions would improve.

"On two out of the three site visits, there were no litter boxes available to the cats and on the one occasion where litter boxes were available, they were not usable because they were completely full of feces and urine," the transcript said.

"By the appellant’s own admission, she does not regularly clean her apartment or take out the trash, and she is unable to ventilate it. She also testified that it is against her religion to spay/neuter animals, and that she is looking for alternative living arrangements, however, a viable plan for alternative living arrangements was not presented at the hearing."

While the board refused the application to have the cats returned, it did reduce the statement of account the woman received from $3,095.71 to $2858.41.

Read the full transcript here.