Almost 300 Cats Removed From Animal Hoard In Iowa; Less Than 100 Still Alive

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Animal hoarding is a serious disease. It not only affects the suffering individual, but more so the poor creatures at the center of the hoard. For the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, they’ve been called in to save dozens of cats from hoards–in the last month alone! But when they arrived at the home of one person in Madrid, IA, they were shocked to their cores. What they discovered was utterly devastating. There were almost 300 cats jammed into the home, but for more than 60% of the felines, their quarters were a bit tighter.

But what made these felines different? They had lost their lives to the hoard and were now being stored in freezers and refrigerators around the property.

Photo: @ARLIowa

Of the 300 cats removed from the hoard, 193 of them were deceased. 

It began on May 28th, 2018 after deputies from Polk County arrived at the home located on 158th Ave. They had been called for a civil matter, but when they arrived, they noticed an “overwhelming number of cats in and out of the house”. The press release provided the following details on the situation involving almost 300 cats. 

Photo: @ARLIowa

The deputy also observed the front door to the house open and could smell a strong odor of cat feces and urine. The deputy contacted an animal control officer to the address. Animal Control officers, along with the Animal Rescue League – Iowa (ARL) personnel, arrived at the address. After an evaluation by the ARL vet it was determined that the cats were living in horrendous conditions.

Photo: @ARLIowa

On June 4, 2019 at 9:00 am the Polk County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at 12797 NW 158th Ave for an investigation into animal neglect. The ARL, Polk County Emergency Management, Des Moines Fire Department, Mobile Crisis, and Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) assisted in this incident.

At 4:05 pm, 65-year-old Dennis Carlson was arrested and charged with 5 counts of animal neglect and 3 counts of failure to dispose of a dead animal. The case number for this incident is 19-3828. This incident remains under investigation. No further information will be released at this time.

When the ARL received the call to assist in the animal hoard rescue, their shelter was already full.

But even with the 1,100 felines already in their care, they couldn’t say “no” to helping these 300 cats. The team spent the entire day on Tuessay, June 4th removing felines from the home. The animals were living–or stored–at multiple locations and structures around the property. However, the conditions were so horrendous, they had to take special precautions during their rescue efforts. 

When ARL rescuers arrived, the smell was overwhelming even from the street. Dozens of cats were pressed up against open windows, trying to get fresh air. Air quality levels inside the house were so toxic that ARL rescuers were required to wear respirators and protective suits and were only allowed in the house for 30 minutes at a time.

Image screenshot via

Inside, multiple feet of feces and garbage covered every square inch of the home, including kitchen counters – and dead cats filled refrigerators and freezers, alongside the owner’s own food. Cat urine soaked the curtains that hung near the floor. Bags upon bags of cat feces were stacked in living areas.

Photo: @ARLIowa

“This is by far the worst hoarding case the ARL has seen in more than a decade. It’s absolutely horrendous. I don’t even have the words to describe how bad this is.” said Tom Colvin, CEO at the ARL. “We were already over capacity prior to this rescue with more than 1,100 cats in our care, so we are going to need a lot of help from the public with this one.”

As the 300 cats were removed from the home, survivors were loaded into cars and rushed back to ARL’s headquarters.

Their emergency medical team stood by waiting to treat the most critical of cases. With the overwhelming amount of cats that had passed away, it was a mystery just how many viruses or diseases could be found.

Photo: @ARLIowa

We were told there could be hundreds of cats, and as we continued to search, what we found was truly horrific.

Packed inside a refrigerator and freezer in the house, alongside the owner’s own food, were multiple dead cats. But it kept getting worse. We discovered more refrigerators and freezers in other buildings – all filled with dead cats. It took us over an hour to remove all of the cats who had been “loved to death” by this hoarder – 193 cats in total.

Photo: @ARLIowa

The [surviving] cats were all terrified when they arrived, but as soon as we gave them vaccinations, flea treatments, and got them settled in their new, clean condos, they all fell asleep. What had been a chorus of cats was suddenly silent. They were finally safe. Almost all have fleas and upper respiratory infections, and many have broken teeth, skin infections and other infected wounds. We won’t know what else they’re facing until lab results come back.

Sadly, many of the kittens that they discovered were only DAYS old. The poor neonates born into the chaos and misery were found weighing as little as 4 ounces! 

We placed the youngest in incubators in our Kitten NICU to help them regulate their body heat, and we began bottle feeding the unweaned kittens until we could identify if any of the females would nurse.

Photo: @ARLIowa

These fragile kittens had already been through so much in their short lives. We cannot believe they survived these toxic conditions.

With the lax laws facing animal abusers in Iowa, the ARL are quick to point out one of the reasons this could keep happening. 

“This case illustrates how Iowa’s weak animal cruelty laws continue to fail both Iowa’s animal and human victims,” said Colvin. “No one, neither cat nor person, deserves to live in such toxic conditions. Iowans deserve better and have demanded their lawmakers do better. It’s time they not only listen, but act.”

Image screenshot via

The ARL lobbied Iowa lawmakers in the 2018 session to strengthen animal cruelty laws, including requiring mental health evaluations for offenders, like in cases such as this. The bill passed unanimously out of the Iowa House, but Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver refused to bring it to a floor vote before the session ended.

But hoarding cases are NEVER cut and dry. For Dennis Carlson, later posts indicate that he suffers from severe mental illness. What seems to be a huge concern here is that he was apparently classified as a dependent adult. This means that it was known that he couldn’t take care of himself and had a “caregiver”. Clearly a caregiver who failed miserably at their responsibility!

Photo: @ARLIowa

Another commenter on the rescues Facebook page added more information to this situation, although we cannot confirm. 

This gentleman was also found to be the victim of a case of dependent adult neglect and abuse. So whoever was supposed to be taking care of him and wasn’t should be held responsible in my opinion.

At this point, the focus needs to be to get help for the surviving felines from the 300 cats–and for Mr. Carlson.

The totals as of yesterday are at 97 living cats and 193 deceased cats removed from the home. If you are interested in helping the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, there are numerous ways to do so. Here are the best ways to help according to their social media.

Here are 4 ways you can make a BIG impact:

1. DONATE: With all the rescued cats in need of medical care, monetary donations are a huge need. Donate at We also need supplies to help feed and care for these cats. Dry and wet cat and kitten food, kitten supplies and other cat items on our Amazon Wish List and Kitten Registry are huge needs. 

2. FOSTER: We currently have over 300 cats available for adoption, and getting them into foster homes will open up space in the shelter to house the additional cats from this rescue. If you can give a cat a break from the shelter for just 30 days, it would help a lot. Bonus points if you help find them a new home while they’re with you! To start fostering, go to

Photo: @ARLIowa

3. VOLUNTEER: We’re seeking volunteers to help with tasks around the shelter such as cleaning, feeding and restocking to allow our staff to care for the large quantity of pets in our care. You do not need to go through volunteer orientation to help with these shifts! We’ll teach you everything you need to know on the spot. Email Cass at to volunteer.

4. ADOPT: If you’ve been thinking about adding a new pet to your family, there is no better time than NOW! All of our available pets can be seen at Not able to adopt right now? Please share this information on your social networks to help spread the word.


Related Story: SHOCKING UPDATE On The MORE THAN 300 Cats Discovered In Toronto Apartment Animal Hoard

Related Story: 172 Cats, 1 Man Saved In Overwhelming New Jersey Hoarding Situation


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