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More cats taken from nonprofit operation

By Alex Bridges-abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Caring for Critters may have broken a deal with police last week by keeping too many cats, but housing the 24 felines didn't violate city code.

The Winchester zoning ordinance does not regulate the number of cats allowed in one residence or business.

Animal control officers in April 2009 struck a deal with Caring for Critters and the operator, Charlotte Wear, limiting her to no more than 13 cats in the residence. In March that year the owner surrendered to authorities 16 sick felines that were later euthanized.

Building inspectors in 2010 saw only four cats in a city home whose owner now stands accused of keeping 24 felines, Zoning Administrator Vincent Diem said Monday. Caring for Critters operates in the city's rental inspection district, according to Diem.

Regulations for the special district allow building officials to make periodic inspections of properties to determine if they meet certain safety and habitability requirements. The visit in 2010 was the last inspection by building officials, according to Diem.

Authorities responded last week to 344 Gray Ave. after receiving complaints about several dozen possibly sick cats housed in the duplex owned by Wear and operating as Caring for Critters. Animal control officers with the Winchester Police Department on Wednesday removed 24 cats from the nonprofit rescue operation after receiving complaints of sick animals kept at the residence.

Most of the cats removed and taken to the Winchester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have names and range in age from 5 months to more than 10 years. Officer Nancy Mellott identified 14 of the cats as spayed or neutered.

Diem said he didn't know whether Caring for Critters fell under the city's regulations for home occupations and businesses since the organization is classified as a nonprofit.

Regardless, the city zoning ordinance contains no regulations to limit the number of cats in or on a property.

Police indicate in court documents the number of cats housed at the facility violated an agreement made with animal control officers in April 2009. At that time Wear handed over more than a dozen sick cats to police.

City code requires owners to vaccinate domesticated animals such as cats or dogs. Authorities can impound an unvaccinated animal for 10 days if it bites another animal or law enforcement officer. Animals not claimed at the end of the 10-day period are given to the SPCA, according to city code.

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