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By Autumn Ziemba

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — It’s one of the largest cases of animal hoarding ever in Lake County, and worse, the hoarder claimed to be running an animal rescue.

On Oct. 17, 2012, humane officers and staff of Lake Humane Society seized 85 cats and three dogs from a Willoughby home that they say was operating as the Western Reserve Humane Society.

The shelter had received numerous complaints from the community about animals at the home dating back to 2011.

When humane agents followed up, they found dozens and dozens of animals living in filthy, cramped conditions and in dire need of medical care.

“We couldn’t breathe, eyes were burning, throat was burning,” said Jennifer Sperry, the Lake County humane officer who led the investigation. “The animals were very ill. A lot of them sneezing, eye discharge, just lethargic, skinny, just not good conditions.”

“There was one cat that was missing all of its fur — scabs, crusty skin all over. Every corner you turned, there was a cat that needed help,” said Sperry.

“They just kept coming,” said shelter staff member Megan White, who assisted in seizing the animals.

White told Fox 8 not one of the animals was actually healthy. All had to be medicated, and some suffered illness and neglect beyond repair, forcing the shelter to humanely euthanize them.

So how could anyone claim to be running a safe haven for these animals?

“I believe [the hoarder] went into it with good intentions and just got overwhelmed and didn’t know when to say when,”  said Sperry.

Lake Humane Society will not identify the woman, but she was found guilty on five counts of animal cruelty.

She was sentenced to five years probation and will undergo routine inspections by the humane society.

So far LHS has adopted out 22 of the seized dogs and cats. Another 25 have received medical treatment and are ready for adoption, but dozens of other cats still remain in quarantine.

And while LHS is looking for adopters, they also want potential pet owners to know that not every “rescue” is just that.

“People really should be looking at those rescue organizations and checking into them, too, asking to see vet paperwork before they just adopt them out,” said Sperry.