A deal has been worked out to remove more than 70 cats from the home of a Chester Township woman who faces 186 civil and criminal counts of animal cruelty stemming from a March 26 raid on her feline-infested, million-dollar house, officials said last night. In a letter to Chester Township officials, Wanda Oughton agreed to allow animal control officers and health officials take the cats from her home and also volunteered to pay for veterinary care and shelter for the animals. A coordinated removal effort by Chester Township health officials, police and the Morris County Office of Emergency Management’s Animal Response Team is expected next week. The animal response team includes volunteer animal control officers and veterinarians from throughout the county.
A shelter for the cats is being set up at an undisclosed site in Mendham Township. “This is a very good development,” said Lt. Rick Yocum of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “We will be able to assess the health of all of the cats and consider adoption possibilities.” Acting on a tip, SPCA officers, accompanied by police and armed with a search warrant, raided Oughton’s home two weeks ago and discovered 93 cats. The 12-room house was infested with urine and fecal matter from cats who ruled the two-story brick-faced structure isolated at the end of a cul-de-sac in an upscale neighborhood in western Morris County. A total of 22 cats were removed that day and remain at a veterinary hospital in Roxbury. Oughton was subsequently served with animal cruelty summonses. She pleaded not guilty this week via a letter sent to the Chester Township Municipal Court by her attorney, Lawrence Fox.
No date has been set for a hearing, court officials said. Officials worked behind the scenes over the past week to find a non-confrontational way to remove the remaining cats. A meeting was held Monday with the Chester Township mayor, police chief, administrator and health officials, as well as with SPCA and county officials to devise a removal plan. Morris County Emergency Management Coordinator Rick Loock said a temporary shelter is being prepared. Once the cats are removed, they will be thoroughly examined by veterinarians and taken to their new home.
“The well-being of those animals and the lady who lives in the house are our number one priority,” said Loock, who credited township health officer Diane Trocchio with opening a dialogue with Oughton and taking steps to try and help clean up her house. Oughton has lived in Chester Township since 2005, according to documents. The house was up for sheriff’s sale last year, but Oughton paid back taxes in January, canceling the sale. Oughton, who has declined comment, refused to leave the residence and remains there with an adult daughter and the cats. Trocchio said she does not have authority to condemn the house unless there is a public health issue.