HIGH POINT - Bruce Nance lifted up furniture and checked peeled back walls for the last hold-outs at 8265 Highpoint Blvd.
A total of 73 cats were rescued from the unoccupied High Point home.
SPCA of Florida spokeswoman Jessica Lawson said the homeowner, Kristine Pacek, had not lived in the house for about six months, and returned to the home every few days to give the cats food and water.
Neighbors have been complaining about the multiplying cat population for three years, and the smells from the house, and flies and fleas coming from the property.
When members of the Lakeland-based SPCA entered the home Friday, they found dozens of cats climbing on counter tops in need of medical attention. The floor was covered in urine and feces; the litter boxes had long since filled and overflowed. Many of the cats, especially the kittens, were friendly, others fled the rescue staff.
The non-profit trapped and removed 42 cats from the house on Friday, and took them back to Lakeland for medical care. Some 15 cats were put up for adoption, Lawson said, and five had been adopted by Tuesday afternoon.
On Monday and Tuesday, Nance, a community cat coordinator, trapped the remaining 31 cats.
Nance, who has honed his cap-nabbing skills over the past five years, emerged from the home with dirty sneakers and fleas stuck to his socks and legs. But no cat bites or scratches, despite the skittish felines.
"I don't get bit; I do this seven days a week," Nance said.
One dead cat was pulled out of the home on Friday, and another was found in a trash can outside the home. Despite the unsanitary living conditions, many of the cats were in better health than expected, said veterinarian Kim Domokos on Friday. Many were treated for upper respiratory problems, intestinal parasites, diarrhea, hyperthyroidism and malnutrition.
Lawson said none of the cats recovered last week died or were euthanized as a result of their medical problems
Lawson said the High Point cats are being "strategically" adopted out, meaning all will not immediately be available for adoption, and some may go to foster homes or other agencies as to not overwhelm the shelter.
The cost to care for each cat, between the rescue, exam, spay and neuter, vaccinations and treatment, is between $100 and $300, Lawson said.
"People have been stopping by asking where they can see the cats, and how to donate," said Nancy Whitney-Conway, who led the neighborhood effort to address the cat problem. About $600 has been donated to the SPCA on behalf of the High point cats, Lawson said.
Whitney-Conway and other neighbors say their complaints to High Point management, Hernando County Animal Control and the Hernando County Health Department have fell on deaf ears for years.
Jim Woolcock, president of the board of directors of High Point's neighborhood association, previously told Hernando Today his organization has "very little enforcement power." High Point has a two-pet policy, he said, but the association only can write infractions and impose fines.
Animal control had assessed the cats and written $7,800 worth of citations due to them being unlicensed and unvaccinated, but said they did not have the authority to remove the animals because they had access to food and water.
The health department has been investigating a sanitary nuisance complaint at the residence.
Commissioner Diane Rowden and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office met with Pacek last Friday, and she signed over the cats to the SPCA.
The costly citations against Pacek should be dismissed after the cats are taken out of the home, Rowden said.
The SPCA of Florida is located at 5850 Brannen Road South in Lakeland. Shelter hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Kittens can be adopted for $50, and adult cats for $20. More information is available by calling (863) 646-7722 or visiting www.spcaflorida.org.
Matt Reinig contributed to this report.