A Crofton couple charged with animal cruelty are accused of keeping more than 80 cats in a house filled with animal waste before authorities seized the animals last month and had them euthanized.
Steven Canterbury, 44, and his wife, Stacie Canterbury, 41, of the 1800 block of Ralston Place have each been charged with 16 counts of failing to provide necessary veterinary care and air and space to the cats. Conviction of each count carries a sentence of up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
One cat was found dead under a couch. Another was said to have exposed the others to feline leukemia, a contagious, fatal virus.
"In the front room, the smell of ammonia from the urine was so powerful it would actually bring tears to your eyes," said Greg V. Chaney Sr., a Crofton police officer. "It made the decomposition room at the morgue smell like roses."
This is the worst case in recent memory of animal collecting in Anne Arundel County, said Tahira Shane Thomas, the county's animal-control administrator.
The Canterbury case reached her agency's attention after a county schools official notified the Department of Social Services that the clothing of the couple's son smelled of animal waste. The boy was temporarily sent to stay with a family member, but no child neglect or abuse charges have been filed, police said.
Steven and Stacie Canterbury did not return several calls seeking comment. No date has been set for their trial.
A young man who answered the door at the couple's house in a quiet, single-family neighborhood said the cat urine and feces had been cleaned up. He said he is living with the family, but does not know how to contact the Canterburys. He declined to give his name.
Animal cruelty charges were filed in separate cases against Susan Tichnor, 67, of the first block of Emerson Road, Severna Park, and Bonnie Holden, 47, of the 7800 block of Sellnor Road, Jessup.
Tichnor and Holden are accused of keeping 24 and 17 cats, respectively.
All 125 of the cats confiscated in these three cases were euthanized as a result of illnesses, Thomas said.
Randall Lockwood, a psychologist with the Humane Society of the United States, says cases where so many animals are found fit the profile of a disorder called animal hoarding.
"This is not like collecting Beanie Babies," he said.
Animal hoarders most often accumulate dogs and cats, he said, but he also has seen cases involving horses, llamas, reptiles and parrots.
The large number of animals often leads to unsanitary living conditions. Lockwood estimates that 5,000 to 10,000 Americans suffer from this disorder.
"Virtually all of the hoarders we hear about without intervention or monitoring start up again at the same location or move and start up again," Lockwood said.
In Howard County, authorities seized 37 animals, primarily dogs, from a woman's rural, 40-acre property in 1997. The county returned to take 18 dogs in January 2001, and 19 animals in March. While most of the dogs seized in March were adopted out, all of the animals in the previous cases were euthanized because they were in poor shape.
The Canterburys have encountered trouble before.
A number of cats previously were removed from a house the Canterburys rented on Twig Lane in Bowie, across the Anne Arundel County line.
Animal waste there attracted flies that swarmed nearby garages and porches, said former neighbor Julie Seymour.
"We're talking hundreds of flies," Seymour said. "It was just the most despicable thing in the world."
Seymour said the problems went on for more than two years.