The town of Secaucus charged brothers Martin and Joe and their 85-year old mother Mary Lewinski with animal cruelty last week after discovering 37 allegedly malnourished and dehydrated cats in their home on Centre Avenue on Sept. 26. Eighteen of the 37 cats were euthanized because they could not be saved, according to officials. The cats were initially discovered after an area gas main break in which residents were asked to leave their homes.
The town first charged Mary Lewinski, but later charged her two adult sons as well.
Lewinski claimed in another newspaper that the sons kept bringing strays into the house and she was stuck trying to take care of them, when she already had two cats of her own.
“This type of conduct will not be tolerated.” – Michael Gonnelli
Besides animal cruelty, they were charged with maintaining a nuisance, failing to register the animals, and possessing more pets than the six allowed by town ordinance.
The Lewinskis are due in court at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 18.
Issues of neglect
“Some of them had open sores, tumors, [and were] emaciated,” said Dr. John Hatch, veterinarian at the Secaucus Animal Hospital. “[The cats] were just not in good shape. It was sad to [euthanize them] but we felt we had no option but to do that.”
“This type of conduct will not be tolerated. We pride ourselves on being a pet friendly town, but no matter where you live, the situation we discovered was atrocious,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli. Officials said that they have never encountered such a severe case of alleged animal neglect.
Health Officer Vincent Rivelli came along when Hudson County Protective Services interviewed Mary Lewinksky last week. The agency makes sure senior citizens can take care of themselves or are being properly cared for.
“She was a pretty sharp woman. She was very alert,” said Rivelli regarding his impression of Lewinski. “She remembered all of her medications she takes.”
The town only permits up to six pets and no more than three dogs and three cats or six cats total. Exceptions to the rule are made for individuals fostering pets. Residents can maintain cat colonies if they are in the process of trying to reduce a cat population over time by spaying and neutering all feral cats in the area, and if they provide a safe environment, appropriate shelter, veterinary assistance, reliable feeders, and an inspection by animal control.
From a pet lover to a pet hoarder
When does a pet lover cross the line and become someone who has so many pets that the animals are neglected?
“It depends on how the cats are being taken care of,” said Dr. Hatch. “If they are all spay/neutered, vaccinated, and well-fed, I wouldn’t call that person a ‘hoarder.’”
According to the Humane Society, the causes of animal hoarding are still poorly understood but there is a general consensus that animal hoarding is a symptom of psychological and neurological malfunctioning, which might involve dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Treatment is difficult and has a low rate of success.
Hatch said that animal owners cross the line when for some economic reason they can’t cope with their animals and neglect to feed them, update their shots, and attend to their overall care.
“You create a death trap almost,” said Dr. Hatch.
A New York Times article published on Oct. 3 about the work of Dr. Burton, author of “Pathological Altruism” describes how self-sacrifice and generosity can become destructive once taken to extremes such as in the case of animal hoarding. The article quotes Dr. Gary J. Patronek, a clinical assistant professor at the veterinary school of Tufts University and founder of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium as saying, “It’s a very focal, delusional behavior.” According to the article, hoarders may think of themselves as animal saviors, rescuing pets from the jaws of the pound; yet they are not remotely capable of caring for the animal throngs, and they soon give up trying.
The causes of the Lewinski case remain unknown. The Lewinsky household did not answer calls to the house.
Available for adoption
The remaining cats are being held in the isolation unit at the Secaucus Animal Shelter, and the administration is seeking assistance from any individuals who might be willing to lend a hand. One resident has donated toward the cost of pet care and others are sought to adopt, foster, or offer similar monetary assistance.
Town officials pointed out that the cats are extremely friendly and will be spayed/neutered, disease-free, and current with all their shots.
“The [cats] are underfed, but that is easily reversible,” said Dr. Hatch. “They were covered with fleas. Most of them have no teeth, probably just from poor nutrition and infections. They are all leukemia/AIDS negative which is a big plus. We tested them all. They are very adoptable.”
“They are eating now, they are drinking now, they are using litter boxes,” said Gonnelli.
The town anticipates the initial cost to euthanize the 18 cats and initially treat the remaining 19 cats will be about $5,000. Spaying/neutering and providing ongoing individual treatment will cost an additional $3,000 to $5,000.
Anyone interested in helping out should contact Town Hall directly at: (201) 330-2000.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.