This is the ADN article written about the situation in 2002. We really don't want anything like this to happen again.
Houston woman welcomes all strays, but neighbors and authorities have run out of patience
Anchorage Daily News By Debra Mckinney 9/19/2002
Time is running out for the Houston cats: Poncho, Geronimo, Delilah and the rest. If Sunny Radebaugh can't find homes for them soon, their days could be numbered.
She has only 41 left. A drop in the bucket. When animal-control officer John Hodge first stopped by in July to investigate a growing number of complaints, he saw as many as 150 cats, he figures. Some inside the house, some in cages, some on the loose. Old cats, young cats, kittens all over the place.
''The odor was overwhelming,'' he said.
TX: Radebaugh, 57, says she didn't ask for so many cats. But people dump them in the woods nearby and they find their way to her. Then folks started showing up at her door with cats. Eventually she amassed so many, her home became a kind of flophouse for homeless creatures in which everywhere you sat was a cat.
Houston had no animal-control facility at the time. So Radebaugh filled the void. She started accepting donations and adopting out cats, calling her operation Mother Nature's Lost & Found, with the slogan ''Lost, abused, abandoned, confused. All creatures welcome.''
The more cats Radebaugh welcomed, the more difficult it became to live next door.
''Miserable'' is how Tom Runyon, owner of the adjacent apartment building, describes the situation. While Radebaugh's been playing Mother Nature, he's been going out of his mind trying to deal with the damage the cats do, from ripping screens and tearing up insulation to using his property as a litter box.
Some say the conditions at Radebaugh's are appalling. Some say she's doing the best she can with what she's got. Either way, she's got a big mess on her hands, with possible licensing and zoning violations hanging over her head. According to Houston Mayor Dale Adams, her cats have become a nuisance and a public health issue, and therefore they've got to go.
The question is, where?
Radebaugh, who describes herself as fully disabled and living on assistance, says she loves these cats, ''every single one that comes in the door.'' The way she tells it, everything she has goes to them.
''I've hawked my jewelry,'' she said. ''I hawked every gun I own -- except the one I carry.
''I've been the brunt end of a lot of people talking: 'She's doing this, and she's doing that.' Well, at least I'm doing something. There's nowhere between Wasilla and way up north where people can find sanctuary for their pets. I'm the last stop before euthanasia.''
This all started, she says, with a half-drowned kitten she pulled from the Little Susitna River behind her home about five years ago. Her mother, who lives with her and has Alzheimer's disease, had a heating pad going, so she put the kitten in her lap to warm up.
''My mom comes out of this stupor and goes, 'Oh, you're lost, too.' ''
Watching her mother respond to and care for that kitten gave Radebaugh ideas. As more stray cats wandered up from the woods along the river, she started luring them onto her porch with food. She put up fliers and spread the word.
People started to deliver. Some came to her door with cats they no longer wanted or could no longer keep. Others dumped off litters.
''I've been in my driveway and seen people throw cats out the window, hit reverse and go,'' Radebaugh said. ''I've found boxes on my porch.''
Radebaugh's Houston operation may have started with the half-drowned kitten, but her propensity for collecting cats began much earlier down in Seward, where she once lived. Dee Johnson-Hilbert, animal-control officer at the time, said Radebaugh had 36 cats running loose and breeding freely on an old bus parked in her yard. All contracted a form of feline herpes and had to be destroyed at considerable cost to the city.
In Houston, Radebaugh started off keeping the cats inside her house. In the basement, the living room, the bedrooms, the bathrooms -- in a bedroom closet, even, according to Margaret Carson, an animal advocate who has taken several of Radebaugh's mother cats and their litters to find better homes.
When the population exploded, Radebaugh started keeping cats in outdoor pens covered by tarps and in cages and airline pet carriers stacked like cordwood on the bus. The bus gets to people. But Radebaugh says she lived in that bus herself for five years; it's fine.
Eventually, the line got fuzzy between the so-called feral cats wandering up from the river and her own cats running loose. Whoever's cats they are, Runyon's apartment complex next door got swarmed.
''She says they're wild,'' Runyon said. ''But they're rubbing against my feet, and I'm shaking my leg trying to get them off.''
His tenants have complained of the smell, of fights and of hungry cats lurking around trying to mooch food. Some have caved in and fed them.
''I've threatened eviction over it,'' Runyon said.
Kimberly Dailey, Runyon's sister, manages the building. She says cats even scratched the paint on her car. And one day she carried groceries inside, and by the time she returned for a second load, a cat had jumped in her car, torn into a bag and was munching on a piece of chicken.
Radebaugh has offered to pay for damages or repairs.
''It's not repairs we're looking for,'' Dailey said. ''It's a solution.
''The people living here can't take it anymore.''
The feral cats, which Radebaugh believes are causing all the problems, really aren't hers, she says. They've been abandoned by bad pet owners, and she can't bear to see them starve.
''I'm getting blamed for everybody else's irresponsibility,'' she said.
Sandy Knudson, who adopted a dog from Radebaugh, sticks up for her.
''She's trying to do the best she can,'' she said. ''It's just gotten out of hand.''
When the Alaska Humane Society heard about Radebaugh's operation, board member Sue Wirth drove to Houston to check it out. She was alarmed by the lack of medical care, including spaying and neutering, rampant ear mites and no testing for feline leukemia and other potentially disastrous diseases. She saw some cages so small that cats could barely stand up in them and had barely enough room to lie outside their tiny litter boxes.
Wirth started bringing food and medical supplies while working with Radebaugh to improve conditions. The smallest of the cages are now gone. Wirth also started evacuating cats. In the past several months, she and other animal advocates have taken about 65 cats and kittens. Some of these Houston cats are with them, some are in foster homes and some are at the Humane Society's own no-kill cat shelter in Anchorage, a licensed facility where cats are cared for by a team of volunteers and receive regular veterinarian care.
Wirth is not the only one taking issue with Radebaugh's rescue work. Evelyn Rohr, president of Houston's new animal control board, first visited the shelter last winter.
''I was horrified,'' she said. ''She just does not have the facility or the knowledge to be running something like this. Sure, they're alive, but the quality of life is dismal.''
''If she does deeply care for these animals, then she's killing them with kindness.''
Rohr was instrumental in helping launch Houston's animal-control program. Last year, after her dog was disemboweled by two loose dogs, she went door to door with a petition. Those who signed agreed to help offset costs with licensing fees.
With a supportive mayor and city council, Houston began service in July. For now, its facility amounts to a fenced-off area behind City Hall that can handle a couple of outside dogs. Any other animals must be boarded with local kennels.
Hodge, the part-time animal-control officer, has a big job ahead of him. He started capturing Radebaugh's feral cats last week while, next door, Kimberly Dailey felt conflicted. Seeing that first cat get hauled away had her in tears.
''It just tears me up to have to see these cats caught and taken off,'' she said. ''But they never should have been put in this situation.''
Fortunately for this first cat, which was to be euthanized, Hodge found someone who needed a barn cat.
As for Mother Nature's Lost & Found, its future is up in the air pending zoning decisions. According to Mayor Adams, the area where Radebaugh is leasing her home is zoned for commercial use. What exactly that means regarding the cats has yet to be determined.
The bottom line is, the outdoor cats, at least, must go. The city last week sent a letter giving Radebaugh 30 days to make significant progress toward compliance or the matter will be turned over to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for enforcement.
In the meantime, Radebaugh is calling those who've adopted from her to see if they might foster a cat or two. And the Humane Society, Friends of Pets and other animal advocates are doing what they can to get the cats out.
Radebaugh said she plans to fight this thing ''to the wall.'' Even for the troublesome, feral cats.
''They're not MY cats. But I'll stand up for them because I don't think they should be killed,'' she said.
''If I have to take these cats, go find a piece of property and sit there with cats in a camper until I can find a safe place for them, I will.''
Reporter Debra McKinney can be reached at email@example.com.
Cutline Sunny Radebaugh visits cats she houses in a bus behind her house in Houston. She says she rescues abandoned and feral cats, but animal-protection groups and Houston city officials are concerned about conditions in the shelter, and neighbors have complained about noise and damage to property.
Elmo, found by a hunter along a road, naps on the pelt of a St. Bernard-mix dog that was Radebaugh's pet.
Radebaugh says she has sold many possessions, including jewelry and guns, to raise money for improving the care of her cats.
When the cats became too numerous to keep indoors, Radebaugh used an old bus she once lived in as an annex to her makeshift shelter. Radebaugh and her cats also attracted attention from authorities when she lived in Seward.
John Hodge, chief animal-control officer for the city of Houston, says he saw as many as 150 cats on Sunny Radebaugh's property the first time he went there.
Poncho and Sissy pass time in cages at Radebaugh's house on Monday. Animal-protection groups are concerned about conditions in the shelter, and neighbors have complained about the noise and smell.